Released in 1955, Hill 24 Doesn’t Answer tells the story of four soldiers of very different backgrounds in the nascent IDF whose squad participates in an assault on the titular hill in 1948. Stuart Schoffman, who first saw the movie when he was seven, and recently re-watched it, believes it has withstood the test of time in a way better-known films like Exodus have not:
Widely forgotten today, Hill 24 was the first Israeli feature film, with a big budget of $400,000. The dialogue is in English with dollops of Hebrew. Directed by British filmmaker Thorold Dickinson, it’s an engaging neorealist melodrama, neatly packed into 101 minutes, with a stirring score by Paul Ben-Haim performed by the IDF Symphony Orchestra and a memorable cameo by Shoshana Damari, the great Yemenite Israeli chanteuse, as a Druze ululating in Arabic.
In 2003, the director Martin Scorsese told a British interviewer that “Hill 24 Doesn’t Answer is a unique film,” comparing Dickinson’s “rich sense of place” in action sequences to that of Alfred Hitchcock. “Dickinson is never afraid to push the emotion in a scene, and that’s rare in British film-making.”
In the back of the army truck that carries them to their destiny, the members of the squad share their backstories, starting with Jim Finnegan (Edward Mulhare, who later starred in The Ghost & Mrs. Muir on TV). As a British policeman serving in Haifa, he had been assigned to capture Holocaust refugees, illegal immigrants to British Mandatory Palestine. In the process, he fell in love with Miriam Miszrahi (Haya Harareet, later the love interest in Ben-Hur), a Jew, who was a supporter of the Zionist underground.
Inevitably, Finnegan, an incurable Irish romantic, switches sides, quits the police, and volunteers for the Haganah. . . . Finnegan quite naturally identifies with the downtrodden Jews, and the maverick British director identifies with Finnegan.