The Magician of Lublin (film)

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The Magician of Lublin
Magician of Lublin.jpg
VHS cover
Directed byMenahem Golan
Produced by
Screenplay by
Based onThe Magician of Lublin
by Isaac Bashevis Singer
Music by
CinematographyDavid Gurfinkel
Edited byDov Hoenig
Distributed byCannon Films
Release date
Running time
114 minutes[1]
  • Israel
  • West Germany
  • English
  • German
Budget$6 million

The Magician of Lublin is a 1979 drama film co-written and directed by Menahem Golan based on The Magician of Lublin by Isaac Bashevis Singer. The film's title song was performed by Kate Bush.[2][3]


Yasha Mazur (Alan Arkin) is a turn-of-the-20th-century Jewish stage magician, womaniser, conman, and mystic. His great ambition is to figure out how to fly – an ambition he eventually achieves but not as a magic trick. He tours the western reaches of the old Russian Empire.

Yasha is married to Esther (Linda Bernstein), but he is rarely home in Lublin to see her and they have not been able to have any children. On the road, however, there are plenty of women to keep Yasha company. Among many others, there is the zaftig Zeftel Valerie Perrine and the Polish Catholic assistant, Magda (Maia Danziger), who tours and performs with him. Magda's brother is Bolek (Zachi Noy), who is incompetent; and their mother is Elzbieta (Shelley Winters), who is desperate. Magda herself, it transpires, is mentally unstable.

But the great loves of Yasha's life, and the great ambition of his love, are the aristocratic but poor widow, Emilia (Louise Fletcher), whom he would marry; and her daughter, Halina (Lisa Whelchel), whom he adores as if she were his own. But Halina is ill and needs medical care, that Emilia knows Yasha will never be able to provide; so she must keep herself free to marry someone who can pay for the medical treatment her daughter needs.

But Yasha's big break looms. In addition to demonstrating a Houdini-style escape from a tank of water while shackled, Yasha convinces his manager/impresario, Wolsky (Lou Jacobi), that he can fly. So Wolsky arranges for a booking at the prestigious Alhambra theatre in Warsaw. Yasha will at last make it big!

But then Zeftel arrives unexpectedly and innocently announces she is emigrating to America – to Buenos Aires – where a man has promised her work. But Yasha knows that Buenos Aires is in Argentina, and that man who is going to take her there is a pimp who is selling her into sexual slavery. What else can Yasha do, but perform a special show of magic and card tricks for the pimp and give him money, to save Zeftel.

Thus he misses his big break – and discovers the next morning that Zeftel had lied to him, after he attempts to burglarise the home of Count Zaruski to steal the money Emilia needs to take Halina to Italy for her cure, and so that Emilia will marry him instead of the Count. His attempt at burglary fails because he has a vision of blood and death that distracts him. He manages to escape, using his cape as wings to glide him safely to the ground. But he is emotionally fragile, knowing that he has lost Emila and Halina, as well as his career.

But real horror awaits. He makes it back to his rooms and discovers that Magda did not go to the theatre the night before. She stayed at home, dressed her face in a clown makeup, chopped her hair with a razor, and then hanged herself.

Now fully broken, Yasha returns home to Esther. His mystic vision of death having come true, he encloses himself in a brick hut with only a window, through which to receive food and communicate with people as a holy man, dispensing wisdom and blessings. Wolsky arrives, having read in the Warsaw papers about the holy man of Lublin who lives in a grave. He has brought Emilia with him, who asks Yasha's forgiveness and asks him to pray for her. She is now the Countess Zaruski, and Halina is at least in a sanitorium in Italy receiving treatment.

Another visitor from away has also come. She is a widow, heavily veiled in black mourning, who has also heard of the holy man in the brick hut, who spends his days in prayer and study of the torah, comes to seek his advice what to do. She is mourning the loss of her daughter who killed herself for love of a man, and she cannot forgive the man.

Suddenly she pulls back her veil and reveals that she is Elzbieta, come with Bolek and some friends to avenge Magda's death by killing Yasha. A battering ram is brought and attacks the brick hut, again and again, until its walls collapse and the hut is opened. Elzbieta and Bolek are ready to kill the man they blame for Magda's suicide.

But Yasha is not inside the brick hut when it is open. He is nowhere to be seen but neither could he possibly have escaped. All fall back dumbfounded by an apparent miracle, and then they see a skein of geese in the sky – and one goose in particular, chasing after it.

Yasha truly had learned to fly.


Actor Role
Alan Arkin Yasha Mazur, a magician from Lublin
Linda Bernstein Esther, Yasha's wife
Louise Fletcher Emelia, an aristocratic but poor widow
Lisa Whelchel Halina, her daughter
Elspeth March Yadwiga, their servant
Valerie Perrine Zeftel, one of Yasha's regular girlfriends, whose husband is in prison
Maia Danziger Magda, Yasha's assistant and lover
Shelley Winters Elzbieta, Magda's mother
Zachi Noy Bolek, Magda's brother
Friedrich Schoenfelder Count Zaruski
Shaike Ophir Shmuel, a friend of Yasha at home
Lou Jacobi Wolsky, theatre impresario and Yasha's manager
Warren Berlinger Herman


The film was a box office and critical failure.[4] As an example, Time Out London wrote:

...Golan overdramatises, tips into hysteria, and substitutes a specious mysticism that is sadly literal.[5]


  1. ^ "The Magician of Lublin (X)". British Board of Film Classification. 19 November 1979. Retrieved 8 December 2016.
  2. ^ "FAQ: – Love-Hounds – Kate Bush". Retrieved 12 April 2011.
  3. ^ Soundtrack at
  4. ^ Fountain, Clarke. "The Magician of Lublin > Overview". AllMovie. Retrieved 12 April 2011.
  5. ^ "The Magician of Lublin Review". Time Out London. Retrieved 12 April 2011.

External links[edit]