1996 TV Movie Review: In the Presence of Mine Enemies
- Carol Serling explains Rod's motivation
- Rod Serling called the real star of production
In the Presence (Still) of Rod Serling
By Shelly Lyons (firstname.lastname@example.org)
November, 1942, Warsaw, Poland. Just two months before, 350,000 were taken away to be exterminated by the Nazi's in what was called the "Great Action." In the Warsaw Ghetto, there are rumors of revolt.
In this remake of "In the Presence of Mine Enemies," we are concerned with the the week prior to the revolt, particularly the story (fictional) of one family—Rabbi Adam Heller (Armin Mueller-Stahl), his daughter Rachel (Elina Lowensohn) and son Paul (Don McKellar)—and their physical, emotional and spiritual struggle to survive during the 1943 uprising.
Chad Lowe stars as the Nazi-with-a-conscience-spawned-by-love, Lott, who first delivers Rachel to an "interview," then offers to escort her to freedom via a journey through the sewers of the city. Meanwhile, Paul, filled with hatred for the Nazis, blocks the narrow passage for Rachel's attempted escape. The Rabbi implores his son to let his sister pass. Paul agrees only if she goes without her Nazi escort. Such is the tension and drama in this tale of love, hate and sacrifice.
The film, produced by Nelle Nugent and directed by Joan Micklin Silver, is a remake of a Rod Serling script that aired as the final installment of the classic "Playhouse 90" series on television. It starred Charles Laughton and a then-unknown actor name Robert Redford.
Shot in Montreal, Quebec, exactly eight days prior to the 53 anniversary of the January revolt, "In the Presence of Mine Enemies" is premieres on Showtime April 20 at 8 p.m. (ET/PT).
On hand in Los Angeles to discuss the movie were: Armin Mueller-Stahl, Elina Lowensohn, Mrs. Carol Serling, Joan Micklin Silver and Jerry Offsay (Pres. Programming Showtime). Serling, widow to the legend named Rod, seemed to hold her husband in the same reverential awe that most fans of "The Twilight Zone," "Requiem for a Heavyweight," and "Night Gallery" do.
How much did this story mean to her husband? "It was terribly important to him ... Rod was Jewish and that doesn't necessarily mean that it should have meant more ... this was written just 15 years after the war was over ... in those days people weren't talking about the Holocaust ... he felt it was very important to keep the story alive so that it would never happen again."
Both Lowensohn and Mueller-Stahl have special reasons why this story should be kept alive.
Mueller-Stahl, who plays the Rabbi father in this, and who appeared in the feature film "Shine," tells us "I was always trying to get rid of Hitler. He was all my life on my back. At the ripe old age of 8, Stahl's father was killed by a special German section, the last day of war. Sometime after the war, he made films about the war. "Then I was blacklisted in East Germany," he says, "I went over to West Germany. We made films about the second World War again." Soon he'd had enough and went west to make "Music Box." Mueller's persistence in his films has spanned three countries. "It's always important to keep these stories alive," he reiterates.
Lowensohn's history is also tied to the Nazis. Her father survived a concentration camp. But his parents and his first wife died.
But this is not a project of retribution for the stars, and it's not apologetic or conciliatory, but rather something close to their hearts which they try to define but never really articulate. Mueller Stahl says, "'Music Box' (he played a nazi war criminal) was a stone in my soul, and this was my heart-piece."
Lowensohn was attracted to the sympathetic portrayal of Chad Lowe's character. "There's compassion and soulfulness in people who were on the other side...and that I loved," she said. "There are a lot of people at this moment in the world who say that the story should never happen again and at the same time, they horde a great deal of anger towards the—some people in German...I think that by anger, we will not solve anything. And we have to forgive."
Joan Micklin Silver agrees with Lowensohn. "There are a great many shades between black and white," she says, then goes on to relay a story about meeting a couple in Montreal who had survived the Ghetto uprising. "They themselves had fought in it and had survived as a couple, and they still were a wonderful couple, named Brucke and Haika Spiegel. And she said to me that the reason she was so happy with the script was that it showed a decent Pole. Because she said if there hadn't been a decent Pole, she wouldn't have made it."
The real star of the project is dead, but immortalized yet again with the remounting of this project. Silver lauds Serling, "Rod Serling writes—or wrote—very big, meaty scenes that actors can really get into and do something with and work with and that was just a thrill for me as a director."
Mueller-Stahl gets in a final thought: "I, as a German, always was very unhappy to see all these ugly German people in films...and here is a good German again. It's a love story between a German officer and a Jewish girl." He should do the voice-over on the trailer, because on top of the ideology and the history and the adventure of the film, it's still 'boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy leads girl through the labrynth'.
"In the Presence of Mine Enemies" airs April 20 at 8 p.m. (1996) on Showtime. Rebroadcasts air: April 23 at 10 p.m., April 29 at 5:15 a.m. and 3:45 p.m.