To the Editor:
The “importance” William S. Pechter attributes to The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz [Movies, November 1974] cannot be what he saw in the film, but what he saw with his mind, not his heart, and certainly not with his eyes.
Duddy Kravitz tells the tale of a community of Canadian Jews all of whom, with the singular exception of an ephemeral old-world caricature, are engaged in finagling, cheating, lying, thieving, pimping, and dope-pushing. This incredible crew of deracinated perverts, pushers, pimps, and poltroons is juxtaposed against two Christian protagonists who for sheer purity of soul, selflessness, kindness, charity, and all-around saintliness would try the patience of St. Francis.
I doubt that St. Peter would let the heroine (crucifix dangling from her neck from reel one to final fade-out) into paradise on the plausible grounds that all saints must be considered guilty until they prove their innocence. She (for the most part) is dedicated to trying to make an honest man out of Duddy. The rest of the time she devotes her energies to caring for a Christian lad, an epileptic, hopelessly paralyzed because of Duddy’s insatiable greed. . . .
It is this juxtaposition that makes Duddy Kravitz an anti-Semitic film, more so than some others now engaging the attention of the unwary moviegoer—and some hyper-aesthetic critics.
New York City
William S. Pechter writes:
Frankly, I find it hard to imagine that anyone responding to The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz on the evidence of his senses (whether eye, ear, nose, or throat, I’ll leave it to Max Geltman to decide) can come away from the film feeling other than that Duddy, however we may morally disapprove of him, is likable, and that his epileptic sidekick and his girl friend, however morally virtuous, are anything but a clown and a stick. (Indeed, the other article on the movie in the Sunday Times was by a Canadian critic complaining that the film’s Duddy had become too likable; and I think that even Mr. Geltman’s head count of virtuous Christians versus corrupt Jews is demonstrably inaccurate.) Nevertheless, these are times in which I find it hard to summon much fervor in trying to argue against someone who thinks he detects signs of anti-Semitism where I do not. It wasn’t long ago that I found myself feeling a bit of a foolish alarmist among my colleagues for arguing the anti-Semitic perniciousness of Jesus Christ Superstar, and it seems to me still, as it seemed to me then, that one’s seeing intimations of anti-Semitism presents a set of alternatives not unlike that of Pascal’s wager: better to speak out and risk looking foolish than be silent and reap the consequences, however indirect and delayed in manifestation. Today’s alarmism is increasingly tomorrow’s accomplished fact. So if Mr. Geltman perceives anti-Semitism where I see something quite different (an anti-intellectual, Herman Wouk-like atavism), we have no quarrel; let him act according to his perceptions. I only hope that, since Paramount Pictures is listed in the telephone book, his acting on what he perceives won’t stop at writing a letter to COMMENTARY decrying the obtuseness of its hyper-aesthetic movie critic.