“His Wife’s Lover (Zayn Vaybs Lubovnik)” is a 1931 Yiddish-language classic for good reason. It’s hailed as the first Jewish musical comedy sound film and was written by a woman, Sheyne Rokhl Simkoff (pen name Shin Ra-Chell).
“Lover” stars comedian Ludwig Satz as Eddie, a stage actor who sets out to prove that honorable women exist. Three main characters provide the conflict: Eddie, a working girl named Goldie and his woman-hating uncle. Eddie disguises himself as an intolerable elderly millionaire to see whether Goldie is swayed by money. Satz plays the impression to its extremes. Viewers and Goldie alike cringe whenever he opens his mouth.
The story’s rom-com sensibility is classic in its tropes: the invented identity, the bet gone awry, the battle of the sexes and the use of wordplay. “What good is my life if my wife loves me?” Eddie asks, fist clenched and clothes disheveled. It’s the kind of comedy that’s still accessible almost a century later.
Because of the original high-contrast black-and-white footage, some of new subtitles by the National Center for Jewish Film can be difficult to read. The lines are worth the extra effort.