VCI Home Video // 1963 // 105 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // September 11th, 2005
Gleefully exploiting fraternal lentil lust since 1960!
Now we'll turn our attention to one of the major players in the Old Testament, Jacob, the man who would literally spawn the kingdom of Israel. With Jacob, the Man Who Fought With God you actually get two stories for the price of admission: that of the titular character, and a smattering of the coolness that was his grandfather -- the one, the only, Abraham.
The film opens with Abraham's story, briefly touching upon the defining moments of the Biblical patriarch, his deal with Lot for land, the eventual smiting of Sodom and Gomorrah, and his and his wife's trouble conceiving a child. As Abraham grows older and more forlorn, the Almighty says, "Let there be Cialis!" and bingo, both Sarah, his wife, and Hagar, his servant girl, get knocked up (not in that order). Isaac is born to Sarah, and Abe is suddenly a proud papa at the ripe old age of, like, 100. Meanwhile Hagar and her son Ismail take off and yada yada yada the Middle East gets forever plunged into turmoil.
But I digress. The film fast-forwards some, and thirty minutes into the whole thing we finally meet Jacob, the son of Isaac (whose biography gets short shrift). Jacob and his brother Esau were pretty tight-knit, until one day Esau returns from a long trip, famished. Being the good brother he is, Jacob offers Esau some lentil soup -- on one condition: Esau has to forgo his birthright and inheritance as eldest son. The sucker agrees, and then through some rudimentary special effects makeup, Jacob tricks his dad into giving him the birthright.
Realizing he has been snookered, Esau goes on the warpath and hunts down Jacob. Jacob flees and takes up residence with another tribe, where he begins a life of hard work and serious reproducing. But Esau is relentless. One day, while walking around pondering his fate, Jacob meets a strange man who picks a fight with him. For days the two battle it out, until Jacob realizes he's been grappling with an angel of God. Infused then with the enlightenment only a brutal smackdown from a celestial being can provide, Jacob sets out to make peace with his brother, no matter the cost.
A lot of OT history for your nickel with this release. With this and the rest of the "Epics of the Old Testament" discs, VCI is offering you the chance to really flesh out your 1960s Old Testament Italian film collection. For a crash course in Pentateuch happenings, this film should do the trick. Three generations are covered in this disc (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob), and if you decide to go on a Bible bender one night, do a double-header with Joseph and His Brethren to get even more of the story (Joseph was one of Jacob's sons).
The set design and costuming are again top-notch; seeing the standoff between the amassed tribes of Jacob and Esau, comprised of real people, is refreshing when compared to the computer-generated extras we see these days. The strongest aspect of the film, which is shared by the other discs in the collection, is the sense that the filmmakers take the material seriously. Some costly production obviously went into this bad boy, and while it's not seat-glueingly exciting, the narrative is competent and the production is terrific. Another suitable entry into the series.
Presentation-wise, not much is different. Same matted widescreen presentation; same choppy, dubbed mono track. I can unequivocally say, however, that the video quality for Jacob is far better than the other discs in this series that I've reviewed so far. While certainly not up to the clarity that DVD-philes are used to, compared to the brethren discs in the VCI collection, Jacob's visuals are the Sistine Chapel. Details are sharper, and colors are much stronger and more stable.
Those of us used to climactic battle scenes will likely be left cold because of the abrupt, but feel-good, ending here. Also, and this struck me as very interesting, a lengthy voice-over at the beginning relates how a good portion of Genesis is metaphorical and little more than fable traded by desert nomads over campfires. Hey, you may be in that school of thought, and more power to you, but I found this odd dismissal of Christian orthodoxy from a religious film kind of weird -- especially as the exposition text and narrator would return to map the lineage of Jesus Christ as fact.
If your bag is the Biblical Epic From Back in the Day, Jacob, the Man Who Fought With God will help piece together the puzzle. Kids will likely be bored, but a stronger presentation lifts this disc above its counterparts. Just know that Abraham, while denied top billing, commands about one-third of the film.
Not guilty. Pass the soup!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: VCI Home Video
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 105 Minutes
Release Year: 1963
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Actor and Bible Character Bios