The Light Ahead (1939)

“I’ll go where cruel fate leads me.”

The peculiar little film, The Light Ahead was co directed by Edgar G. Ulmer and Henry Felt and is set in a Russian Jewish country town in the 1880s. The plot revolves around the love affair between Fishke (David Opatoshu)–called Fishke the Cripple by the town’s inhabitants–and the blind orphan Hodel (Helen Beverly). When the film begins, Fishke and Hodel have had a quarrel. He works in the town’s bathhouse, and she plucks chickens for a living. Fishke decides that he wants to go to Odessa, for there he thinks he can make more money as a beggar. Hodel, however, refuses to go along with him. She thinks it’s better to earn a living plucking chickens all day than begging in the streets. Fishke is persuaded to return to town, and while he patches things up with Hodel, they still are too poor to marry.

The film becomes more interesting when adversity strikes in the form of a cholera epidemic. With 100,000 rubles in the town’s coffers, the townspeople want to build a hospital, and clean up the water supply. But the town is entirely controlled by the wealthy, and they are fixated on repairing the synagogue’s roof and employing animal slaughterers. Plus since they control the money, nepotism reigns. When people begin dropping from cholera, the town’s ruling class sink into superstition instead of pursing science, and this gives savvy bookseller Mendele (Isidore Cashier) an opportunity to help the young lovers.

Performed entirely in Yiddish, The Light Ahead has historical significance for the film buff–however, that said, it’s incredibly corny. With characters such as Isaak the Stutterer and Dobe the Hunchback–it seems that everyone has some sort of physical problem that they’re labeled with. Depending on your mood, at best this film may seem quaint–and at worst trite. DVD extras include a biography of Edgar G. Ulmer, an interview with David Opatoshu, and program notes.

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