The Apprenticeship Of Duddy Kravitz


Reviewed by: Monica Wolfe Murray

The Apprenticeship Of Duddy Kravitz
"Dreyfuss is a force of nature. His energy is boundless, his eyes sparkle with ideas, he runs (not walks), he gushes (not speaks), he laughs like a hyena." | Photo: Courtesy of Fantasia International Film Festival

A military unit marching in the sun. Upbeat, loud music, young guys in uniform, looking alike from a distance, rhythmic energy. The camera moves in and small differences emerge. The step is not equal and simultaneous. The smile is not identically plastered on every face. The recruits break rank to avoid horse manure in the road. Duddy Kravitz (Richard Dreyfuss) plunges sideways into a parked car and disappears.

The moment he skives off, you know Kravitz is not like the others. And you know the film is going to show you why. In fact, the film is the first page of Duddy's CV. And this is how it reads:

Copy picture

Who is Duddy Kravitz? A young ambitious guy. Full of energy, hard working, tenacious. A Jew. Eyes wide open for opportunities. Fast learner. Gutted that someone has already invented Kleenex. Full of spunk.

What Duddy reads: "It Pays To Increase Your Word Power".

Duddy's first jobs and ventures: worker in his uncle's factory, waiter at a lake resort, filmmaker, heroin courier, pinball machine owner, land developer, cab driver.

How does Duddy do it? Tips and tricks. He lets the rich guy win at snooker, bribes influential colleagues (with booze), cheats and steals from friends, trades with gusto, uses people and borrows (non-Jewish) identities to gain advantage, gambles.

References: "What's in in for me, that's your philosophy" (brother Lenny); "A born pusher... a little Jew on the make" (uncle Benjy); "It's little money brokers like Kravitz that cause anti-Semitism" (a despairing colleague).

Key to Duddy's success: Duddy's ambition.

Key to Duddy's downfall: Duddy's ambition.

The world around him - Montreal in the late Forties - is weird, misleading and full of contradictions. His father (Jack Warden), who looks larger than life, knows all and lives every minute with relish, maintaining an unexplained, awed respect for the local gangster (Henry Ramer). His industrialist uncle Benjy (Joseph Wiseman) keeps the head of Lenin on his mantlepiece. Duddy's friend Virgil (Randy Quaid) wants to use his money ($1000) to "organise all the epileptics of the world". A colleague masturbates, looking at drawings of the female reproductive system in his manual of anatomy.

Dreyfuss is a force of nature. His energy is boundless, his eyes sparkle with ideas, he runs (not walks), he gushes (not speaks), he laughs like a hyena. His skin seems to itch all the time. He leaps out of the screen and runs in circles around you until you grow dizzy.

Despite its pioneering spirit and relentless drive, the Duddy Kravitz story is a sad one. It is a story of corruption and loss, the loss of innocence, the pillage of the land. So relentless is this ambition, there is little room for love, a secondary interest, done on the run, messy and mixed up with business. For a while, Duddy's girlfriend (Micheline Lanctot) becomes his moral arbiter, his conscience. To compel him to do the right thing, she uses the whole inventory of persuasion, from coaxing to coercing. In the end, however, she too is left behind.

Duddy dreams of buying a beautiful blue lake, building a town and bringing in the tourists. He would create jobs, he would be a "public benefactor". Kravitzville, this majestic monster, enslaves him, consumes all he has - money, friends, lover, family - and ultimately, turns him into another creature.

Duddy's apprenticeship is over. He doesn't smile so much, but has credit at Wilenski's.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2004
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The ambitions of an energetic young Jewish Canadian in Montreal, 1948.
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Director: Ted Kotcheff

Writer: Mordecai Richler, based on the novel by Mordecai Richler

Starring: Richard Dreyfuss, Micheline Lanctot, Jack Warden, Randy Quaid, Joseph Wiseman, Denholm Elliott

Year: 1974

Runtime: 121 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: Canada

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