The cinematic version of one of John Galsworthy’s greatest plays, “Loyalties,” is England’s latest contribution to the American movie scene. As displayed at the Mayfair Theatre, it is of particular interest to Jewish audiences by reason of its story of a young English Jew who innocently becomes entangled in a matter of British loyalties. Because of it, the latent anti-Semitism of the group is brought out.
Throughout his entire writing career, the late Mr. Galsworthy was interested in such fine distinctions. In “Escape,” for instance, Mr. Galsworthy concerned himself with the question of loyalties as regards an escaped prisoner who went to jail although essentially innocent.
An impartial writer, Mr. Galsworthy in his plays and novels always presented a problem, developed it and then left the answer for his readers or spectators to decide for themselves. A controversial writer, he was always the probing reporter, never the in dignant editorialist.
“Loyalties” is another point in case. The play, when it was first produced, caused quite a stir. There were some Jews who held it a notable contribution to the literature of good-will, a contribution to better understanding by reason of its objectivity and by its fairness in the presentation of a Jewish character in a difficult position. Others thought it unfortunate in that it brought up the race question. No one, however, as is so often the case in such plays, denounced its author as an anti-Semite. Mr. Galsworthy, superior craftsman that he was, had perceived a problem and presented it to the jury. Then, quite carefully, he withdrew before he committed himself.
SAME REACTION TO FILM
The picture, undoubtedly, will bring similar reactions as its director, Basil Dean, who also directed the play, has produced a faithful transcript. The story is told of De Levis, a wealthy Jew whose greatest sin was his social climbing proclivities and his desire for Gentile approbation.
He is conscious that his Jewishness is held against him; nevertheless he persists in attempting to break down the barrier. This is all shown in a scene where he is a house guest at a party attended by group of London sportsmen. After he leaves, a character says of him, after his losing a wager: “Losing that tenner must have cost him a pain.” It was a “sure-thing” wager which he had been forced into on the guise of it being the “sporting thing to do.”
De Levis is robbed that night. He develops a quite positive circumstantial case against Captain Dancy, one of the guests. The others, all Gentiles, resent this even though some of them feel certain that Dancy is guilty. But loyalty to a fellow officer, a fellow Gentile, and a fellow sportsmen cause them to stick with Dancy. They resent De Levis’ legitimate right to make an effort to get his money back.
De Levis accuses Dancy to his face. The matter is taken to libel court. De Levis is ostracized. But Dancy is found guilty. It is here that the play ends. The implication, of course, is that while De Levis is the winner he has lost any position he may ever have had in society or would ever have had. It brings up the question of the “white Jew,” the Jew who wouldn’t cause his Gentile friends any trouble; it skirts on the “some of my best friends are Jews” aphorism so often heard.
Though no new problems are presented in the picture, it is of interest to the Jew by reason of the objective restatement of some old problems. To many Jews, the whole philosophy of Jewish-Gentile relationship will be awakened. Is self respect for one’s own race or the respect of Gentile friends more important? Galsworthy seems to say that “self respect” is more important, though that has gained many more followers in the last ten years than there were in the day when Galsworthy first wrote the play.
“Loyalties” shows the gradual awakening of a Jewish consciousness to De Levis as his path becomes rougher. In this respect, it is analagous to the case of many Jews in this country and elsewhere who have awakened to their Jewishness in the little over a year since Hitler. In that respect, the late John Galsworthy shows himself as an admirable prophet as regards the underlying instincts of the Jew. He was probably one of the finest Gentile interpreters of the Jew.
Jacob di Alba, Italian rabbi of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, wrote homilies on the Pentateuch entitled “Generations of Jacob.”