The Juggler at the IMDb
Kirk Douglas stars in this black and white drama from 1953, as the titular ball manipulator.
It’s 1949 and boatloads of Jews are arriving in their new homeland of Israel following the end of World War 2. Amongst them are camp survivors including Kirk, who has no actual baggage but emotional baggage to spare. He’s managed to keep his slick haircut, but we know his time in the camp has left him a broken man.
Rather insensitively the Israelis put the camp survivors up in a camp and it’s not long before Kirk starts to get cabin fever. Any brush with authority signals loud musical cues that suggest Kirk is like a trapped animal. After a day in the camp he decides to head off to see if he can find peace elsewhere. Of course this is never going to happen and when an officer asks for his papers in a routine check Kirk kicks his head in and runs off thinking he’s killed the curious copper.
Kirk's chiselled jow and elaborate hair atract the attention of the locals and his tale of being an American tourist convinces no one. He does however meet up with a teenage lad in the park ; no, not like that, and the two go on the road together. The boy is impressed with Kirk’s juggling skills and his line in lame puns. The two arrive at a romote kibbutz but stray into a mine field that sees the boy blown up - but not fatally.
Meanwhile the cops are piecing together Kirk’s trail and put up some wanted posters that soon bring fresh leads. The kibbutz has no telephones so Kirk can relax and soon falls for a lonely Jewish girl who has a nice line in short shorts. Kirk finds it difficult to commit but agrees to put on a show for the kids with the help of his now somewhat healed up young friend. As the show gets underway the cops close in - will Kirk entertain the urchins or will his fate be a hail of bullets that signals there are no excuses for bobby bashing?
This was a strange film that was almost a travel brochure for the new state of Israel with some policeman punching added for good measure. There are lots of scenes of industrious Israelis building things or having a big community dance at sun down.
Kirk is portrayed as a damaged man from the off with his concentration camp tattoo flashed regularly so we know our sympathies lie with him despite his poor circus act and penchant for punching. He’s not that sympathetic but he does command your attention, although that’s not saying much given that much of the cast appear to be locals roped in by the production to deliver a couple of wooden lines.
There isn’t much in the way of social commentary with the Germans barely getting a mention. Kirk’s demons are to do with confinement and authority and they make the point well that it doesn’t matter who wears the uniform if you have issues, like Kirk.
The travelogue aspect is well done although I wasn’t buying the romance angle. Kirk’s juggling was quite good but his clown act and hand puppetry work was sorely lacking. The message about healing old scars and understanding mental illness were rote large throughout and at no point was the outcome in doubt. It was however an undemanding 90 minutes and although not worth juggling your schedule to catch it’s worth a look if you chance upon it.
THE Tag Line - Go for the Juggler, if it’s on. 64%