Hackensack residents recall the making of Israel’s first feature film

Hackensack residents recall the making of Israel’s first feature film

Paul Tyras had worked in the motion-picture industry in his native Czechoslovakia, but he waited tables after arriving in the newborn state of Israel in 1949. Less than five years later, however, he was back in the saddle, serving as production manager for the first feature-length English movie made entirely in Israel.

“Hill 24 Doesn’t Answer” producer Jack Padua found Tyras in 1953 through the Israel Defense Forces’ film unit, where Tyras had begun working. In return for the IDF’s help in getting the movie to the big screen, director Thorold Dickinson (best known for his 1940 gothic thriller “Gaslight”) made an educational training film for the army.

Charles Ticho, who now lives in Hackensack, was chief recording engineer on the film.

“I was the only person in Israel then who had experience in organizing a production, so the army gave me a special release to work on the film,” recalled Tyras, who later moved to Hackensack and became an investment adviser.

The wartime drama about the birth of the state in 1948, whose production Tyras supervised from beginning to end, became a classic that foreshadowed future blockbusters such as “Exodus.” The film had a profound effect on Eric Goldman, now president of Ergo Media in Teaneck. Goldman acquired the film about a decade ago and recently re-released it.

“As a kid, I happened to see ‘Hill 24’ on TV and it made an incredibly powerful impact on me and my understanding of Israel,” said Goldman. “When I got involved in film distribution, I met the owner of the movie, and when he retired we arranged for me to take over ownership because he wanted it to have a good home.”

Goldman used a facility in Northvale to re-master the 1955 black-and-white movie before releasing it on DVD and got help from the Israel Film Institute in making three new prints. The 101-minute DVD of “Hill 24,” which will premiere Sept. 12 at the JCC of Manhattan, also includes interviews with some of the original cast and crew, some of whom may attend the premiere in person. Wine will be served.

“This was truly the beginning of the Israeli film industry,” said Goldman. “The actors who worked on this film went on to most interesting careers – Haya Hararit to co-star with Charleton Heston in ‘Ben Hur,’ Edward Mulhare to follow Rex Harrison in ‘My Fair Lady,’ Arik Lavie to become one of Israel’s great balladeers, Margalit Oved to lead the Inbal Dance Troupe, and Michael Wager to work closely with Leonard Bernstein. If you go through the credits, you see many other pioneers in moviemaking.”

Also appearing in the film, in a cameo role, is the late Shoshana Damari, an iconic Israeli vocalist. British cinematographer Gerald Gibbs filmed the picture and Paul Ben Haim, winner of the Israel Prize, wrote the music. The screenplay was by Canadian-born Peter Frye and Lithuanian-born Zvi Kolitz. Hararit won the Hommage Award at the Cannes Film Festival for her performance as the love interest of one of the four soldiers who would later die defending “Hill 24″ on Jerusalem’s periphery.

Another Hackensack resident indispensable behind the scenes was Charles Ticho, an American recording engineer who had decided to visit family in Israel in 1953 after losing his job in Chicago. What was intended as a short trip turned into a longer one when he fell for a young woman there.

“I went looking for a job,” related Ticho, who now lives on the same street as Tyras. “I found the Israel Motion Picture Studios in Herzliya, where the big television studios are still located. While I was working there, this production came along. I had several jobs on ‘Hill 24.’ I was the principal recording engineer, I did wardrobe, I assisted in production, and I drove the sound truck.”

Unversed in Israeli bureaucracy, Ticho went to the licensing bureau on the Friday before production was to begin, seeking a truck-driver’s license. “They said it took three to four months, and I said I needed it today. They just laughed.”

Ticho’s initial romance fizzled after a few months, but it was at IMPS that he met his future wife, Jean (Yochi), an executive secretary in the firm’s Tel Aviv branch. Now married 40 years, the Tichos recently hosted a screening of the re-mastered “Hill 24″ in their Prospect Avenue building.

“Watching it now, in one respect I was pleasantly surprised by the production value and the effort that went into it,” said Charles Ticho, whose self-published book, “From Generation to Generation,” includes reminiscences of the making of “Hill 24.”

“I realize how many difficulties we had and how much we had to improvise, so I was proud that this had survived and is still a viable motion picture. But I also felt bad because I was watching so many people I’d worked with who had passed away.”

For Jean Ticho, the Hackensack screening marked the first time she’d ever seen the movie from start to finish. “Because I was working for the studios, I saw sections when they finished filming them,” she said.

“Watching it now was very emotional for me, because I had worked with the crew. When they had to get paid, they came to Tel Aviv to my office – but the money wasn’t there.” She laughed. “Charlie was lucky because I was in love with him. When money would come in, I would call his uncle and tell him to send Charlie to get paid.”

Tyras said that most of those involved in the production had no previous experience, although they were working under a renowned British director. “It was a miracle that it came to fruition,” he said.

Charles Ticho said that despite their naïveté, the “Hill 24″ crew “knew we were doing something of historical significance. As a result, we were willing to pioneer and take chances – and be underpaid – because we were participating in an adventure.”

The DVD is available for sale through jewishvideo.com and hill24doesntanswer.com for $39.95.

Israeli filmmakers at work on “Hill 24 Doesn’t Answer.”
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