Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

Gods aren't on side of angels this time

Cleveland Press September 11, 1970

"By me, angels have wings," says Morris Mishkin. "So when you have wings you come back and we'll talk."

Morris Mishkin (Zero Mostel) is an aging tailor with a bad back, a dying wife (Ida Kaminska) and a burned down tailor shop not covered by insurance.

He rails at God because God has not been good, but the training of a lifetime cannot be denied and in his apartment he dons a yarmulka (skull cap) and mutters his prayers in Hebrew as he shuffles about.

So in his kitchen there appears a fellow named Alexander Levine (Harry Belafonte) who is black, Jewish, tough and who keeps using the four-letter word for excrement.

Mishkin is panicky but this cat tells him to keep his cool as he produces a scrap of paper to show that he is a certified, bona-fide angel.

Levine had just been sent to heaven but was turned back at the pearly gates. In trouble all his life, he now is on probation.

To get a permanent berth upstairs he has been assigned a job -- work a miracle and help Mishkin. There is one catch; Mishkin has to believe.

"The Angel Levine" is expanded from a short story by Bernard Malamud. It has been directed by Jan Kader, Czechoslovakian filmmaker responsible for "The Shop on Main Street" which also starred Miss Kaminska.

Kader's forte is the depiction of the tiny, telling detail; the handling of material basically fragile.

He succeeds in depicting the relationship of Mishkin and his wife, fails in the bigger story of Mishkin and the Angel Levine.

Mostel is superb; his weariness, his exasperation, his disbelief all indicated with a look in his eyes, a gesture, a shrug.

Miss Kaminska glows with a love that neither 40 years of marriage nor impending death has dimmed.

Their moments together are honest and revealing and nothing is more touching than when she sends her husband from the room -- refusing to share her death with him though they have shared everything else in life.

The bigger story never works however. Kader and the script writers have failed to pull it together, to give it resolution and meaning.

Even in a time when ambiguity is fashionable the vagueness of most of this picture is more boring than interesting.

One can understand why Mishkin would not believe. Belafonte is only adequate but even a better actor would have trouble with the role.

There are overtones of "Here Comes Mr. Jordan," but comedy, though occasionally present, is not the main drive of the film. Nor are Levine s story and character believable, even in terms of fantasy. How, for example, can he manage to try romancing his mortal girl friend?

What will remain with you is the story of Mishkin and his wife, a story of common people; people seldom depicted on film and hardly ever so well.