Kirk Douglas in The Juggler

Kirk Douglas starred in a memorable movie filmed entirely in Israel.

I recently watched a great old movie on TCM that I think you might like. It is The Juggler from 1953, starring Kirk Douglas, who died last week at age 103 (see a remembrance on page 43).

There are also 269 references in the William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History for Douglas (aka Isadore Demsky, aka Issur Danielovitch). Born in New York to Russian Jewish parents, Douglas, a superstar from Hollywood’s golden era, had nothing short of a spectacular career. A good story about Douglas can be found in the Oct. 24, 1997, issue of the JN titled “Turning to Torah.”

Kirk Douglas in The Juggler

The Juggler was the first movie by a major American motion picture studio filmed entirely in Israel. Although released more than 60 years ago, it has a story that is still relevant today, along with cinematography that captures Israel at a particular point in time.

The Juggler is from a novel of the same name by Michael Blankfort, who also did the script for the movie. In the film, Douglas plays Hans Muller, a famous juggler in Europe before World War II. Muller believed that even though he was Jewish, his fame would save him and his family. Instead, his family perished in the Holocaust.

Kirk Douglas in The Juggler

Kirk Douglas in The Juggler

Douglas plays a haunted character, suffering from a severe psychological disorder due to the misjudgment that cost his family their lives and sent him to the concentration camps.
The movie begins with Muller landing in Haifa in 1949, one of a boatload of refugees. He soon gets into trouble by assaulting a police officer, who is actually sympathetic to his plight. Muller then begins a cross-country trek, during which he meets a guide, Josh, a young orphaned Sabra. Both Muller and Josh land in a kibbutz, and … I won’t say any more and spoil the movie for you.

My curiosity was piqued, however, so I looked into the Archive to see if The Juggler made an impact in Detroit. Indeed, it did and was cited 49 times in the Archive.

The first citations for the The Juggler are an advertisement for its debut in Detroit at one of the city’s big downtown movie houses, the Madison, and an article in the June 19, 1953, issue of the JN endorsed The Juggler as a film “not to be missed.”

Kirk Douglas in The Juggler

It is interesting to see the impact of this film on Detroit’s Jewish community. For example, the June 26, 1953, issue of the JN noted that, during services that week at Temple Israel, Rabbi Leon Fram would discuss The Juggler. The movie was also featured at the 25th Balfour Declaration anniversary at the Avalon Theater in Detroit on Oct. 29, 1957. On Feb. 12, 1960, it was announced that The Juggler would be shown at the annual PTA meeting of United Jewish Folk Schools that year.

The Juggler is a great movie. The on-location scenes from Israel are unique and stunning, and the story is timeless. I highly recommend it for any movie lover and, in particular, for those interested in the early years of Israel.

Want to learn more? Go to the DJN Foundation archives, available for free at www.djnfoundation.org.

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