A STRANGER AMONG US (1992)

A review by Shlomoh Sherman


Director: Sidney Lumet
Writer (WGA):Robert J. Avrech
Stars: Melanie Griffith, John Pankow, Tracy Pollan
Plot:In this attempt to revisit the success of Witness in which a cop goes Amish, we here have a cop go undercover among the Hasidic Jews of New York City.
Genre: Crime - Drama - Romance
Also Known As: Close to Eden (Australia) (UK) (cable TV title)
Runtime:110 min
Country:USA
Filming Locations: 83rd Precinct, Bushwick, Brooklyn, New York City, New York, USA
Company:Hollywood Pictures
Motion Picture Rating (MPAA):
Rated PG-13 for language and violence
Language: English - Yiddish - Hebrew
Release Date: 17 July 1992 (USA)
Production Co: Hollywood Pictures, ISIS, Mansfield Picture
Quotes: Shayna: It's in the Kabbalah. Women understand the world better than men do. And that is why they weep more often.
Tagline:In a dangerous world of mystery and intrigue, she's going undercover searching for the truth.


On first appearence, and if you are completely ignorant of what Jewish Hasidic life is like in New York City, you will find this film to be a delightful, heartwarming murder mystery, involving a crime, an undercover gentile cop posing as an Orthodox Jewish woman, and a Hasidic community located in Brooklyn, probaly modeled after the Lubovitcher community of Crown Heights.

The police woman. Emily Eden, played skillfully by Melanie Griffith, is assigned an undercover role in an ultra-Orthodox community in which a murderer is hiding out. While investigating the crime and looking for clues for a possible suspect, she becomes attracted to and then gradually falls in love with a young Hasidic man who incidently is engaged to be married to another woman. Eden is intrigued by the life style and mores of this strange religious world of which she is not a part and has no real hope of ever joining. As the film moves toward the discovery of the murderer and the eventual apprehension of the criminal, the gentile police woman and the young religous Jewish man fall in love. There is a scene in which they attempt to make love but are stopped by the realization that to commit this act would not only be inappropriate for both of them but a grave sin and an act of btrayal on the part of the man towards his bride in an arranged marriage, a bride who he will not even see until they the day that they meet under the wedding canopy.

I will not be a spolier and reveal more of the film's story. You can rent the movie since it is a Hollywood classic. I will however insert my own personal feelings about an aspect of the film which is probably at variance with the view of any Orthodx Jew who has seen it.

I began by saying that you might find the film endearing. The Jewish community in general and the Orthodox community in particular love the film simply because the religious community is portrayed in a dream like fantasy manner which is a contrast with the harsh background of the crime of murder.

The community is presented to the audience as quaint as that of the Amish community in the film WITNESS. I dear say that neither the Amish of Pennsylvania nor the Hasidim of Brooklyn are quite that quaint and romantic in real life. As a matter of fact, most religious fundamentalist communities are rather harsh in comparison to the secular world of the 21st century. Their way of life and their mores are premodern with all that the statement connotates.

But that aside, the film's plot is an interesting one and if one can overlook the Hollywoodization of Brooklyn Jewish relgious life, one comes away with the enjoyment of a "feel good" movie and the moral that "crime does not pay". There is an additional subtext message to the audience at the film's end, to wit, Jews should only date and marry other Jews [!].

Oregon, OH May 19, 2009

As a postscript, I will add that you can see a more relaistic presentation of Jewish ultra-Orthodox life in the film PRICE ABOVE RUBIES [reviewed on this site]. PRICE ABOVE RUBIES was scorned by the Jewish Orthodox community and a few Orthodox leaders attempted to suppress its release.

Check out my review of A PRICE ABOVE RUBIES


Cast:
 Melanie Griffith ...  Emily Eden
 John Pankow ...  Levine
 Tracy Pollan ...  Mara
 Lee Richardson ...  Rebbe
 Mia Sara ...  Leah
 Jamey Sheridan ...  Nick
 Eric Thal ...  Ariel
 David Margulies ...  Lt. Oliver
 Burtt Harris ...  Emily's Father
 James Gandolfini ...  Tony Baldessari
 Chris Latta ...  Chris Baldessari
 Jake Weber ...  Yaakov Klausman
 Ro'ee Levi ...  Mendel
 David Rosenbaum ...  Mr. Klausman
 Ruth Vool ...  Mrs. Klausman


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