March 23, 1998 12:00 PM

A&E (Sun., March 22, 9 p.m. ET)

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This is not simply another “golden age of the silver screen” special, filled with classic clips and fond memories. Based on the book An Empire of Their Own by Neal Gabler (who comments frequently in the film), Simcha Jacobovici’s documentary tells the extraordinary story of a small group of Jews of East European background—among them Louis B. Mayer, Harry Cohn and the Warner brothers—who founded the major studios and made them into great temples of a secular religion based on the “American dream” of optimism, opportunity and community. The Hollywood moguls turned out movie after movie that, as the narration puts it, “celebrated the working class while extolling middle-class values.” The incredible success of their product gave them the status of potentates, but Hollywoodism asserts that their fear of stirring up anti-Semitism spurred the dream merchants to erase anything overtly Jewish from “their films, their lives and the lives of their stars” (thus did a Bernard Schwartz become a Tony Curtis). Suggesting that “Jewish concerns” slipped onto the screen in disguise, the documentary invites us to look at old movies in a new way—to see the shadow of an East European pogrom in a typical scene of violence in the American West. We might wish its perspective weren’t so narrow or its generalizations so broad, but the film is fascinating and provocative, particularly in arguing that anti-Semitism animated the congressional communist-hunters who bedeviled Hollywood following World War II.

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