By Rachel Melikian
What do Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), Franz Werfel, Clark Gable, Sarky Mouradian, and Sylvester Stallone have in common? They were fascinated by the Armenian heroism explored in Franz Werfel’s book, “The Forty Days of Musa Dagh.” This literary-historical gem was published in 1933, translated into 18 languages, and instantly became a national and international hit.
MGM acquired the rights in 1934 to produce it. The studio attached the biggest stars, such as Clark Gable from “Gone with the Wind” and William Powell from “The Thin Man,” and assigned their biggest directors, Rouben Mamoulian and William Wellman.
The movie never reached the silver screen due to threats from many countries that it would be banned. These countries included all conquered territories by Germany such as Italy, in addition to France. Regardless, MGM continued to revive its interest over the decades.
Interestingly enough, the German government wanted the rights in 1989 to produce the movie. Beforehand many prominent figures including Pnadro S. Berman, Joseph Pasternak, and Walter Wanger considered it. That fascination continued throughout the 21st century from Sylvester Stallone to Steven Spielberg and Mel Gibson. However, all their efforts were halted by constant threats from the perpetrators of the Armenian Genocide.
In spite of all the obstacles, Sarky Mouradian, the US “godfather” of the Armenian film and TV industry, was eventually able to direct an independent film adaptation of “Forty Days of Musa Dagh.” In the 1970s, producer John Kurkjian acquired the rights from MGM for a short period. The film was made incredibly quickly; its scripting and production were completed within the span of six weeks to prevent Kurkjian from losing his acquired rights.
As no studio has been courageous enough to adopt this story, the Armenian heroism during the genocide, Mouradian and Kurkjian’s amazing 1982 version is worth seeing, as it is deeply moving. The push to adapt the Armenians’ heroism by the major Hollywood studios frequently gets revived, then fades away, and then gets revived again, as does the interests of world powers in the Armenian Question. Werfel’s book “The Forty Days of Musa Dagh” is available at Barnes & Noble in Glendale.
The United States Senate unanimously recognized the Armenian Genocide, on Dec. 12, 2019, and 405 Congress members voted for H. Res. 296 on Oct. 29, 2019, for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide. We appeal to filmmakers to bring the film “Forty Days of Musa Dagh” to the silver screen and bring it to the 21st century. With 2020 right on the horizon, let us celebrate the New Year with such good news.
Rachel Melikian is the former GCC Woman of the Year.