New 4K digital restoration
By The National Center for Jewish Film

The Light Ahead (Fishke der Krumer)

1939 Yiddish film classic directed by Edgar G. Ulmer


Public Exhibition Formats: Digital, 35mm

World Premiere New Restoration - New York Jewish Film Festival 2021 (Film at Lincoln Center Virtual Cinema)

The Light Ahead


David Opatoshu (Exodus, Torn Curtain) made his film debut as Fishke, a lame young man hopelessly in love with a blind orphan girl (Helen Beverley) in cholera-obsessed Glubsk (e.g. Foolstown). The impoverished couple dream of life in the big city of Odessa free from the shtetl’s poverty and stifling old-world prejudices. The benevolent and enlightened bookseller Mendele (Isidore Cashier as Mendele Mokher Sforim) helps them, turning small-town superstitions to their advantage.

This 1939 Yiddish film classic, made on the eve of World War II, is at once romantic, expressionist, and painfully conscious of the danger about to engulf European Jews. Audaciously adapted from the work of novelist S. Y. Abramovitch (1836-1917), whom Sholem Aleichem dubbed the grandfather of Yiddish literature, this luminous allegory of escape marries Edgar Ulmer's masterful direction (and set design) with superb acting by members of New York's Artef and Yiddish Art Theaters. Film historian J. Hoberman calls Beverley and Opatoshu "perhaps the most beautiful couple in the history of Yiddish cinema...their scenes have a touching erotic chemistry.”

One of the most important films in NCJF’s archive collection, The Light Ahead is arguably the finest of the four Yiddish films directed by Edgar G. Ulmer. Here, the director counterpoints his pastoral Green Fields to criticize the poverty and superstition that oppress a pair of star-crossed lovers. The script was written by Edgar and Shirley Ulmer and Chaver Paver, adapting the stories of Mendele Mokher Sforim.

The shtetl denizens’ embrace of superstition over science and modernity amidst a cholera outbreak makes The Light Ahead especially poignant for contemporary audiences. The film’s climax is a shvartse khasene (black wedding) or mageyfe khasene (plague wedding), a folk ritual believed to ward off disease when two of a town’s most marginal residents are married in a Jewish cemetery.

Edgar G. Ulmer (1900-1972)

One of the most versatile filmmakers in movie history, Edgar G. Ulmer, who best known for Black Cat and Detour, worked in a bewildering variety of genres, countries, and languages. An underground auteur largely unrecognized during his lifetime, Ulmer has since taken his place among cinema’s legendary figures—an inspiration for the French new wave and a precursor of the American independent film movement, as well as an innovative and unique stylist in his own right.

 Critics Choice

“A gem radiating warmth and honesty.” – Jewish Weekly

“An astonishing artifact that is equal parts vaudeville schtick, Talmudic exegesis, and ghetto melodrama.” – Village Voice

“Yiddish film producers will probably look to The Light Ahead... for their inspiration when new productions are under consideration. As well they might, for the film touches undreamed of heights.” – New York World Telegram, 23 Sept. 1939

“Central to the film is a riveting performance by Helen Beverley as the blind orphan, Hodel... Beverley and Opatoshu are perhaps the most beautiful couple in the history of Yiddish cinema, and their scenes have a touching erotic chemistry.”
– J. Hoberman, Bridge of Light: Yiddish Film Between Two Worlds


USA, 1939, 94 minutes, B&W
Yiddish with English subtitles
Produced & Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer
Adaptation and Dialogue Chaver Paver
Screenplay Sherle (Shirley) Ulmer, Edgar G. Ulmer
Dialogue Izidore Cashier
Editor Jack Kemp
English Titles Julien Leigh
Camera J. Burgi Contner, Edward Hyland
Assistant Directors Wolf Mercur, Fred Kassler
Sound N. Dean Cole
Associate Producer Peter E. Kassler
Landscapes and Settings Edgar G. Ulmer & Robert Benney
Makeup Edward Zenz
Costumer Aaron Mensch

Izidore Cashier (Mendele Moicher Sforim)
Helen Beverley
David Opatoshu (Fishke)
Rosetta Bialis (Drabke)
Tillie Rabinowitz (Neche)
Anna Guskin (Gitel)
Celia Budkin (Chaye)
Jenny Cashier (Dobe)
Yudel Dubinsky
Misha Fishson
(Reb Aaron)
Leon Seidenberg
(Alter Yaknehose)
Wolf Mercur (Getzel Ganev)
Leon Shachter
Wolf Goldfaden
Israel Mandel (Yisrolick)
Nuchim Brind (Chaim Shuster)
Morris Shorr (Hershl Kremer)
Zishe Katz (Badchen)
Benny Adler
Misha Budkin
Helen Beda
Charles Cohenn
Abraham Fishkind
Isaac Gladstone
Solomon Krause
Saul Nagoshiner
Isaak Rothblum
Ben-Zion Shoenfeld
Louis Weisberg

2021 Restoration

Restoration with funding from:
The Everett Foundation
Michael H. Baker Family Foundation
Sidney & Dorothy Stogel

Additional support from:
Mirowski Family Foundation, Jules Bernstein, Furman Family Trust, Anna & Nathan Flax Foundation, Arnold & Ruth Picker z”l Massachusetts Cultural Council, Brandeis University, The National Center for Jewish Film’s Reel Funder Donors

Special thanks
Shirley Ulmer z”l
Arianne Ulmer Cipes
Herman Axelbank z”l
Miriam Saul Krant z”l
Elliott Rivo z”l
J. Hoberman
Thomas Doherty

Executive Producer  Sharon Pucker Rivo
Co-Director  Lisa Rivo
Technical Directors Henry Felt, Rich Pontius
Academic Consultant Sylvia Fuks Fried
Prologue David G. Roskies
35mm Laboratory Cinema Arts, Inc
Film Transfer Gamma Ray Digital
Post Production Modulus Studios

© 2021, 1982 The National Center for Jewish Film

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