(2009) Documentary (Vitagraph) Ruth Gruber, Louisa Herz Leopold, Eli Wallach (voice), Dava Sobel, Lee Taylor, Harold Ickes, Manya Hartmayer Breuer, Tom Segey, Ike Aronowitz, Mordechai Rossman, Therese Plummer (voice). Directed by Robert Richman
Some people live extraordinary lives. We know about a lot of them – Amelia Earhart, Ernest Hemingway, Jackie Onassis – but some we hear little or nothing about. In a few cases that’s truly a shame.
Ruth Gruber is one. A strong-willed, sharp-as-a-tack woman who got her doctorate at 18, she worked for the government documenting Alaska as a homesteading location for soldiers prior to World War II, she also worked for the State department smuggling Jewish refugees into the United States during the war, documenting attacks on refugee ships after it.
She was a foreign correspondent for the New York Daily News and bore witness to some of the most significant events of the 20th century. She was often allowed where no other women were – to the new state of Jordan (she was the first female journalist allowed in) the Soviet Union and on board the Exodus, a refugee ship that had been denied access to Israel by the British and was turned back to send the Holocaust survivors to Germany.
97 years old when this was filmed (she will turn 100 this year), she is still as sharp as ever and is very objective about her own life story, which shows her journalistic training. She has a fascinating story to tell, and nobody tells it as well as she does during the course of the film.
Unfortunately director Richman (who was a cinematographer on An Inconvenient Truth) tends to use a lot of talking heads here and despite the fascinating subject, the movie gets awfully dry in places. That’s just kind of a forewarning.
The subject is so fascinating that you can’t help but be sucked in however. Ruth Gruber is the kind of role model that most women would be proud to emulate – if they knew who she was.
WHY RENT THIS: A portrait of an amazing woman who most people don’t know much about these days.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A bit talky and sometimes a bit dry.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a bit of smoking but otherwise nothing you couldn’t show to the kids.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Gruber was close friends with author Virginia Woolf early in her career.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $33,024 on an unreported production budget; the movie might have broken even.
FINAL RATING: 6/10
TOMORROW: John Carpenter’s The Ward