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Baz Luhrmann’s Meyer Wolfsheim

In new ‘The Great Gatsby’ film, Jewish mobster played by Bollywood star

Marc Tracy
May 23, 2012
From the forthcoming The Great Gatsby.(IMDB)
From the forthcoming The Great Gatsby.(IMDB)

The talk of the day is the new trailer for The Great Gatsby (below), whose true title, it appears, should probably be something more like Baz Luhrmann Presents The Great Gatsby, a Baz Luhrmann Joint by Baz Luhrmann, what with the omnipresence of the unmistakable stylistic and thematic tics associated with the Aussie director (think Moulin Rouge). It stars Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway, Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan, and Leonardo DiCaprio as the former James Gatz, and they all get ample screen time. But watch closely and you’ll see a far more swarthy actor in a dapper suit now and then. This is the Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan, and he is playing none other than Meyer Wolfsheim, Fitzgerald’s fictionalized version of the real-life mobster Arnold Rothstein (both are Jews who fixed the World Series).

In the 1974 film starring Redford, Rothstein is portrayed by Howard Da Silva (remember the cardinal rule of cinema: Italians can play Jews, and James Caan can play Sonny Corleone), in what I seem to recall is a relatively by-the-book depiction. Fitzgerald’s Wolfsheim is a shockingly anti-Semitic caricature, even by 1925 standards, with a Yiddish accent, unsightly nose hairs, and, famously, cufflinks made of the “finest specimens of human molars.” What Lurhmann will do with him, I can scarcely imagine.

UPDATE: It’s been brought to my attention that Howard Da Silva was, in fact, born Howard Silverblatt.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.