Ephraim Kishon’s "The Policeman" wins a Golden Globe for Best Foreign-Language Foreign Film in 1972

Ephraim Kishon
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In 1972, seven years after his inaugural Golden Globe win and Oscar nomination for Sallah, director Ephraim Kishon repeated this triumph with his film, The Officer. This, he achieved with yet another character that, with time, would become iconic – albeit not quite as controversial this time around. The character of the dull, clueless police officer played by Shaike Ophir already made its first appearance back in Kishon’s 1967 film, Ervinka, followed by another cameo two years later in The Big Dig (1969). The character stole viewers’ hearts and in 1971 Kishon decided he would dedicate his next film entirely to Ophir and his onscreen alter ego. This time, he even named the character: Abraham Azulai – a kind-hearted albeit bumbling and clumsy police officer from Jaffa. Unsurprisingly, his commanding officers are in no rush to promote him and are in fact quite eager to see the back of him.
“When they called out my name as the winner at the Golden Globes awards ceremony, I thought I must be dreaming,” Kishon recalled. “I got up to get on stage and suddenly, there was Alfred Hitchcock clapping his hands for me.” Neither the Hollywood Foreign Press Association whose members choose the Golden Globe winners, nor the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences who decide all Oscar nominations could resist Ophir’s extraordinary performance and in particular, the film’s closing scene that has since become the single most famous sequence in Israeli film history – Officer Azulai’s farewell ceremony from the police force where he is honoured with a promotion to Sergeant and a special commendation for his work in an operation that was in fact orchestrated for his benefit by crime overlords.
The close-up on a teary-eyed Azulai giving a salute made even the most hardened of critics well up. Decades later and it remains every bit as difficult to stop yourself tearing up right there with Azulai. What is more, songwriters and composers Ehud Manor and Nurit Hirsh’s touching song, Ballad for a Policeman which is played throughout the final sequence and end credits only further increases the strain on one’s tear ducts. I said to Shaike, “I need you to be proud in this scene, and then go from proud to sad,” Kishon revealed. “I was sure we were going to have to do endless takes, but we didn’t. Already on our first take, Shaike’s eyes suddenly welled up.” Even all the tough-as-nails policemen who we got to appear as extras in the farewell line-up scene were moved by Ophir’s tears.” Kishon went on to declare that “Shaike was indeed a true genius. The press around the world was calling him Charlie Chaplin.” The Officer, Ophir once said, “was my greatest, most perfect, wholesome part. I treated it with the utmost seriousness.”
Notably, that same year saw Chaim Topol take home a Golden Globe and earn an Oscar nomination for his role in Fiddler on the Roof; Hollywood’s adaptation of the musical, Tevye the Dairyman, originally based on a book of short stories by Sholem Aleichem. “When Sallah was up for an Oscar, both Kishon and I were pretty flippant about the whole thing,” Topol admitted in his autobiography, Topol by Topol. “Meanwhile, with time and experience, we came to appreciate and truly grasp the huge weight the Oscars carried in the film industry. When I walked into that venue where the ceremony was being held in 1972, I spotted Kishon who was nominated for The Officer, and we ended up making eye contact. Kishon then took a single garlic clove out of his pocket and hurled it at me over people’s heads. He held up his little finger and waved it at me; it was a kind of signal between the two of us, as if to say, ‘keep it together.’ In the end, we both had to contend ourselves with just being nominated. We must try an onion some other time instead of garlic. And if all else fails – then zhug [Yemeni hot sauce – AK] it is.”

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