Treasure Trove: David Matlow on a Hollywood film that told the story of Israel’s struggle with British troops

Sword in the Desert was the first Hollywood film to depict the struggles against the British in the creation of the State of Israel. Filmed entirely in California and released in 1949, the movie begins with a group of Holocaust survivors being brought illegally to Palestine on a freighter captained by an American, Mike Dillon. The captain reluctantly comes ashore to collect his $8,000 fee and is pursued by the British, along with the refugees. Eventually, he begins to sympathize with the Zionists as they work to free the country from British control.

Even during filming, there was an expectation that the film would be controversial because it showed Jewish settlers fighting the British and not Arabs. Universal Studios barred reporters from the set during the last week of filming because several London papers had carried adverse articles on the project. London’s Daily Telegraph reported that that British audiences would be surprised to see the harshness with which the British troops in the film treated Jewish civilians.

Early in the film, a Jewish refugee is asked “How long did it take you to get here?” The refugee responded “Two thousand years.” The wait ended 75 years ago, on May 14, 1948.