God, Man and Devil
USA, 1949, 100 minutes, B&W Yiddish with new English subtitles
Public Exhibition Formats: 16mm and Beta
"... an all-star version of Jacob Gordin's God, Man and Devil was likely the costliest production of Seiden's career, and, thanks to his choice of material, also the best."
- J. Hoberman, Bridge of LIght
A wager between God and Satan has dire consequences in this allegory based on the play by Jacob Gordin about the material world's false promises. Beware when money sounds sweeter than music, it cautions; those who win lotteries stand to lose all, including their spiritual treasures, families, communities and religion.
Poor, pious Torah scribe Hershele Dubrovner has a life that glorifies God until Satan, disguised as a business partner, turns him into a greedy, dishonest factory owner whose success desecrates both his religion and his community. Betrayal and abandonment replace serenity and familiarity; the instruments of good fortune become instruments of death. Not even music, previously Hershele's joy, can heal these rifts.
If the character of Hershele Dubrovner reminds some of Faust and others of Job, its no coincidence as God, Man and Devil combines elements of both stories. The wager at the center of the story is that for all his piety, the scribe can be corrupted --not by suffering (as in Job's case) or by the temptation of wealth (as in Faust's case), but by worldly good fortune itself. As the plot develops, Hershele amply confirms Satan's expectations, only to realize the gravity of his error after it is too later to rectify it. It is a simple morality play, timeless even though addressed in its specifics to a particular audience.
Medias Central European Film Festival (2013)
Montreal International Yiddish Theatre Festival (2011)
Baruch Center for the Performing Arts, New York (2009)
Vienna Jewish Film Festival, Vienna Film Archive (2008)
About Joseph Seiden
The credit for this film recording of God, Man and Devil --and it is, in fact, a recording of a stage production-- belongs to Joseph Seiden one of the first producers and directors of Yiddish films and easily the most prolific. Seiden began his career as a nickelodeon projectionist and a cameraman and went on, in the 1920's, to co-produce and co-direct a series of silent Yiddish-captioned newsreels. In 1929 he formed Judea Films and produced no less than 20 one-reel and two-reel talkies. Some were simply performances of liturgical music sung by famous cantors like Leibele Waldman but others were short fiction films such as The Shoemaker's Romance which featured Joseph Buloff and his famous Vilna Troupe, Style and Class with Marty Baratz and Goldie Eisman, and Oy! Doctor with Menasha Skulnick.
In the 1930's Seiden went on to produce and direct full-length Yiddish features like My Yiddishe Mama, Eternal Fools, I Want to Be a Mother, Love and Sacrifice and Her Second Mother. He worked in a cramped, makeshift studio on New York's West 60th Street employing his wife as a script girl, his son-in-law as soundman and editor and his son as a cameraman. Most titles were family melodramas, concerned with upward mobility of the second generation and parent-child relationships. One exception, The Voice of Israel was a splashy recreation of biblical scenes accompanied by leading New York cantors; performances from the film are available on the Great Cantors 2 Disc Set.
NCJF Film Restoration
Preservation and Restoration made possible by Mrs. Charles Rutenberg in fond memeory of Fred and Fanny Kesselman, Edith and Henry J. Everett in memory of Clara and David Everett and with the assistance of American Film Institute, Library of Congress, National Endowment for the Arts and Brandeis University.
Director Joseph Seiden
Producer Joseph Seiden
Play Jacob Gordin
Music Sholom Secunda
1978 Restoration © The National Center for Jewish Film
Producer: Sharon Pucker Rivo
Director: Henry Felt
Subtitles: David Fishman
Prologue: Michael Swirsky
Production Assistant: Fredda Band Lowenstein
Production Assistant: Miriam Saul Krant
Animation: Edward T. Joyce
Camera: Phred Churchill, Jeffery Liberman
Special Thanks: Henry Everett, Ruth Fein, David R. Pokross, Bernard Wax
Mikhal Mikhalesko (Hershele Dubrovner)
Gustav Berger (Uriel Mazik/ Satan)
Berta Gersten (Pesenyu)
Esta Saltzman (Tsipenyu)
Max Bozyk (Leyzer Badkhn)
Leon Schacter (Khatskl Drakhme)
Lucy Gehrman (Dobe)
Shifra Lehrer (Freidenyu)
Joshua Zeldis (Motl)
Digital Site Licensing (DSL) available - Contact us
Step down pricing for K-12 & public libraries may be available - Contact us
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Also directed by Joseph Seiden
Great Cantors 2-Disc Set (Performances from The Voice of Israel)
Also based on a Joseph Gordin play