Hester Street (1975)

Hester Street (1975)

“Some country, America, huh? The peddler becomes the boss, and the yeshiva bocher sits by the sewing machine.”

In late 19th century New York, a Russian-Jewish immigrant (Steven Keats) whose girlfriend (Dorrie Kavanaugh) is unaware he’s married struggles to adjust to life with his newly-arrived wife (Carol Kane) and son (Paul Freedman). Meanwhile, Kane receives support from both her caring landlady (Doris Roberts) and the studious boarder (Mel Howard) living in their house.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Carol Kane Films
  • Historical Drama
  • Immigrants and Immigration
  • Jews
  • Marital Problems
  • New York City

Writer-director Joan Micklin Silver found breakthrough success with this poignant look at life for Jewish immigrants at the turn of the century, as they navigated shifts between their old existence back in Europe and the hustle and bustle of New York City. Based on the 1896 novella Yekl: A Tale of the New York Ghetto by Abraham Cahan, the movie tells a simple yet powerful tale of marital challenges when cultural norms and expectations collide.

Despite her very low budget, Silver convincingly recreates a specific era and location in American history:

… and elicits a heartbreaking performance from Kane, who is perfectly convincing as a shell-shocked young woman unprepared for what she finds in America, yet who eventually adapts and finds her own voice.

To that end, sharing more about the directions the storyline goes in would give away spoilers; suffice it to say we remain invested and curious about how things will resolve, and the final outcome isn’t as gloomy as one might expect.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Carol Kane as Gitl
  • Strong supporting performances across the cast

  • Fine historical detail

Must See?
Yes, as a unique independent film. Listed as a Sleeper, a Cult Movie, and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.


  • Good Show
  • Noteworthy Performance(s)


One thought on “Hester Street (1975)

  1. Rewatch. A once-must, for its solid place in independent cinema.

    The film’s simplicity is its strength; yet it’s a deceptively ‘small’ story since it packs a lot (in terms of characters) into its 90 minutes.

    Kane is simply a marvel, giving a powerful performance with such a relatively quiet role. As much as I am somewhat repulsed by their words and actions, Keats and Kavanaugh are utterly convincing in their tempestuous l’amour fou.

    Special mention re: the ever-valuable Roberts who – as a supportive force to be reckoned with – is simply a joy.

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