Lejtes, Józef

(1901-1983)
   Arguably the best Polish director before 1939, Lejtes established his name in 1928 with the patriotic picture Hurricane (Huragan, 1928, Polish-Austrian production), the love story of a young insurgent and a proud noblewoman, set against the backdrop of the 1863 January Uprising. At the beginning of the 1930s, Lejtes quickly gained recognition for his cinematic treatment of recent Polish history. In The Wild Fields (Dzikie pola, 1932), he dealt with the fate of Polish soldiers trying to return to their country from Russia after the end of World War I. Another critically acclaimed film, General Pankratov's Daughter (Córka generała Pankratowa, 1934), focused on the political unrest in 1905. With its superb cast (Nora Ney, Franciszek Brodniewicz, and Kazimierz Junosza-Stępowski), Seweryn Steinwurzel's camera. Henryk Wars's musical score, and Lejtes's adroit use of the conventions of melodrama applied to the events of 1905, the film became one of the best-known examples of mid-1930s Polish cinema. The events of 1905 also provided the setting for two other well-received films by Lejtes: The Young Forest (Młody las, 1934) and The Rose (Róża, 1936). The former, voted the best film of 1934 by the readers of the weekly magazine Kino, deals with a conflict between Polish students and their Russian teachers. The latter, an adaptation of Stefan Zeromski's novel, focuses on the story of the Polish Socialist Party members and their fight against the tsarist regime. Some of Lejtes's other films referred to more distant and mythologized events in Polish history. His Barbara Radziwiłłówna (1936), with Jadwiga Smosarska in the leading role, portrays a love story between the king of Poland, Zygmunt August, and Barbara from the noble family of Radziwiłł. Another historical epic, Kościuszko at Racławice (Kościuszko pod Racławicami, 1938), deals with the 1794 national insurrection led by Tadeusz Kościuszko.
   Lejtes is also known for his skillful adaptations of celebrated contemporary literature: The Girls from Nowolipki (Dziewczęta z Nowolipek, 1937) and The Line (Granica, 1938), based on the novels by Pola Gojawiczyńska and Zofia Nałkowska, respectively. The Girls from Nowolipki depicts the dramatic stories of four young women who live in the same working-class Warsaw building, and The Line offers a fatalistic story of a man torn between two women with whom he has had an ongoing affair. Lejtes is also responsible for one of the greatest successes of Polish cinema in the 1930s, Under Your Protection (Pod twoją obronę, 1933), starring Maria Bogda and Adam Brodzisz. Because of Lejtes's Jewish origins, his name was removed from the credits (the experienced Edward Puchalski is listed as the director) in order to please the Catholic Church, the patron of this "Christian film."
   Lejtes, who also scripted several of his films, worked closely with the best prewar cinematographers, chiefly with Steinwurzel and Albert Wywerka. After 1945 Lejtes remained in Israel where he directed several films, including My Father's House (1947). From 1955 to 1958, he directed several television films in the United States, including an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955) and Bonanza (1959) and a full-length television film, Valley of Mystery (1967).
   Other films: From Day to Day (Z dnia na dżień, 1929), The Day of a Great Adventure (Dżień wielkiej przygody, 1935), The Signals (Sygnały, 1938).
   Historical Dictionary of Polish Cinema by Marek Haltof

Guide to cinema. . 2011.

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