Scripter Daniel Goldfarb’s uneven showbiz three-hander was inspired by Hollywood mogul Samuel Goldwyn, who once hired WASP screenwriter Ring Lardner Jr. to script a movie about anti-Semitism (to rival Daryl Zanuck’s “Gentlemen’s Agreement”) and then fired him for making the film “too Jewish.” Helmer Paul Mazursky displays a keen understanding of the producer vs. writer dynamic, solidly underscoring Goldfarb’s distillation of the Jewish experience in America through the mano a mano confrontations between doggedly assimilated studio honcho Samuel Baum (Richard Kind) and ultra-liberal screenwriter Garfield Hampson Jr. (Hamish Linklater).
Set in 1946, “Adam Baum and the Jew Movie” spotlights the mindset of the post-WWII Hollywood film industry, mostly controlled by Jewish immigrant studio heads, such as the fictional Samuel Baum. Determined to absorb his and every other Jewish immigrant experience within an idealized American panorama, Baum feels that Hollywood can afford to turn out only one Jewish movie a year and the Jew should be played by Cary Grant.
Within the confines of this short two-acter, Goldfarb gives Baum too much leverage, creating a one-sided diatribe that simply steamrolls over the social idealism of Hampson, who wants to express the true story of the tribulations and prejudices faced by European Jews struggling to create new lives in the U.S. Baum’s emphatic desire to Americanize Jewish culture is further manifested in the bar mitzvah of his son Adam (Gregory Mikurak), which emphasizes opulent spectacle and excess over Adam’s understanding of the Hebrew words he has so methodically memorized.
As played to the self-righteous hilt by Kind, Baum exudes the aura of absolute power, whether he is benignly offering Hampson some “expensive” cashews or off-handedly ordering his secretary to walk a few blocks in the June heat to buy a bottle of scotch. Displaying his well-honed comedic flair, Kind turns every Baum comment into a good-natured final edict, even making plausible the reasoning that “you can’t have a Jew write a Jew movie.”
Linklater makes the most of the limited opportunities Hampson has to score points. He creates a sympathetic image of a Hollywood intellectual, yearning to express his idealism, whose career will most likely be crushed by the impending Communist witch hunts. When self-deluded Baum throws down the final gauntlet, “Can you tell me I am not Cary Grant,” Linklater’s Hampson withers within his failure as he offers a trembling, job-ending, “You aren’t Cary Grant.”
During his brief appearances, Mikurak impresses as the callow Adam, who wants nothing more than to earn the favor and attention of his father. He actually appears triumphant when, after Adam’s bar mitzvah ceremony, Samuel Baum allows his son to repeat his Haftorah privately to his father.
Joel Daavid’s impressive art deco production design evokes the opulent splendor of Hollywood’s “golden years.”