The Return of Nathan Becker
Nosn Becker Fort Aheym

USSR, 1932, 85 minutes, B&W
Yiddish and Russian with English subtitles
Directed by Boris Shpis & Mark Milman

with new English Intertitles by
The National Center for Jewish Film

Buy Now

Public Exhibition Format: 35mm, Beta

"The Return of Nathan Becker fulfills the Zhdanov capsule formula for Socialist Realism ('a combination of the most matter-of-fact, everyday reality with the most heroic prospects'). True to its genre, the movie ends with a hymn to labor. 'We must win, we will win," the workers' chorus sings. 'Long live the day of victory!'"
- Inside the Film Factory edited by Richard Taylor and Ian Christie


This rare, newly restored feature was originally advertised as "the first Yiddish talkie from Soviet Russia." The plot centers on Nathan Becker, a Jewish bricklayer who returns to Russia after 28 years in America. After reuniting with his father (played with comic eccentricity by Solomon Mikhoels) Nathan leaves the shtetl to work in the new industrial center of Magnitogorsk.

There, he and his African-American friend Jim soon find that the work habits they acquired in America that helped them to "build New York together" conflict with the Soviet system. While the film's resolution emphasizes the triumph of socialist productivity, the screenplay by Yiddish author Peretz Markish reflects the warmth and humor of the Jewish spirit.

The Return of Nathan Becker is the only Russian Yiddish sound feature film produced in the Soviet Union and was made for domestic consumption as well as for export to the United States. The film uses the character of Nathan Becker to dramatize of the failiure of American capitalism and assimilation, while glorifying the success and productivity of the new Soviet system. The film also depicts the shtetl way of life was backward and grotesque and promotes a shift away from this life and traditional Jewish values. It is a product of the Communist regime's determined efforts to reduce the rich Jewish cultural heritage to "Communist in content and Yiddish in form only."

Solomon Mihoels, actor and director of the Moscow Yiddish State Theater who also starred in the 1925 film Jewish Luck has a leading role. The screenplay was written by Peretz Markish, the renowned Soviet Yiddish poet. Mikhoels was killed by Stalin's agents in 1948 and four years later Markish was executed along side the leading proponents of Soviet Yiddish culture.

Selected Screenings

Montreal International Yiddish Theatre Festival (2011)
Toronto Jewish Film Festival (2009)
New York Jewish Film Festival (2009)
Barbican Center for the Arts, London (1996)
Berlin Film Festival (1992)

Critical Acclaim

“Though it contains playful scenes, the rarely seen (and newly resubtitled) 1932 film is mostly on message: The Soviet Union is more dynamic, motivated, and accepting than the United States (Becker even brings an African-American friend with him to the new worker's paradise). The movie actually was made during a period in which Soviet antisemitism was receding, but of course that didn't last: Both scripter Peretz Markish and star Solomon Mikhoels were subsequently victims of Stalinist purges."
- Washington City Paper

"...the 42-year old Mikhoels is delightful. As in Jewish Luck, Mikhoels constructs his persona out of stylized bits of business. (In one comic throwaway, he picks up a handy bust of Marx, stares at it, and reflectively strokes his own beard.) His is an overwhelmingly tactile performance, as rigorous in its movements as a ballet dancer's. The fractured language he speaks is virtually his own -interspersed with chuckling, clucking and the continual humming of a nign (traditional prayer chant)."
- Inside the Film Factory edited by Richard Taylor and Ian Christie

NCJF Film Restoration

Restoration was completed with funding from the Coca-Cola Company, The National Foundation for Jewish Culture and The Nathan Cummings Foundation with additional support from Gosfilmofond, Sam Kortnicki, Brandeis University, American Film Institute, Massachusetts Cultural Council and the National Endowment for the Arts

Important note: The restored print was made from the only extant materials. The first reel is a low-quality Yiddish language version and the remainder of the film -including a re-edited part of the first reel- is a dubbed Russian language version.


Director Boris Shpis & Mark Milman
Screenplay Peretz Markish
Cinematography Yevgeni Mikhajlov
Production Design Isaac Makhlis
Assistant Director Emil Gal
Music Yevgeni Brusilovsky

1991 Restoration © The National Center for Jewish Film
Executive Director Sharon Pucker Rivo
Associate Director Miriam Saul Krant
Technical Coordinator Rich Pontius
Translator Robert Szulkin
Consultant Moshe Waldoks
Title Production Loren S. Miller
Title Animation Frame Shop
Laboratory John E. Allen, Inc.

David Guttman (Nathan Becker)
Solomon Mikhoels
(Tsale Becker)
Kador Ben-Salim
Boris Baboshkin
Elana Kashitzkaya
(Majke Becker)

Home Use DVD: $29.95

Does not include Classroom or Library Use Rights or Public Performance Rights. More Information


Classroom/Library Use DVD: $250

Does not include Public Performance Rights. More Information

Digital Site Licensing (DSL) available - Contact us

Step down pricing for K-12 & public libraries may be available - Contact us

Arrange a screening - Contact us

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