PITTSBURGH MADE: The Devil and Sam Silverstein (1976)

In The Jew In American Cinema, Patricia Erens calls out this made in Pittsburgh low budget film as one with “perhaps the oldest Jewish husband in crisis” and says, “Despite the amateur acting and a rather unsavory depiction of contemporary Jewish life, The Devil and Sam Silverstein delivers one overriding message. Unlike their Christian neighbors, the Jews are incorruptible and unconvertible. Thus, despite the temptation, the Jew manages to beat the devil — no easy task.”

It was directed and written — from a story by Sanford Robinson and Stan Cohen — by Russell Streiner, who most know best as Johnny in Night of the Living Dead. Maniacs like me also recognize him as the assistant director of the beer commercial in There’s Always Vanilla and the preacher in The Majorettes.

The Devil (Owen Hollander, who was in The Happy Hooker and Christmas Evil)  is upset that his son — Devil Jr. (Robert Trow, who was a DJ in town, as well as Ralph in There’s Always Vanilla, Detective Mills in Season of the Witch and was probably best known outside of Pittsburgh for playing Bob Dog on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood) — might never be good enough to take over the family business. If the Devil Sr. sounds like Brando in The Godfather, well, at least you recognize the impression.

The Lord of Lies wants his boy to corrupt Sam Silverstein (Allan Pinsker, who like many a Yinzer actor is also in Sudden Death), a senior citizen Jewish husband who says — to quote this film’s other title — My Wife Cut Me Off Forty Years Ago. First, El Hijo del Diablo wants him to embrace Christianity, then sell his soul for some young lust. Every time he’s close, things blow up, even when he’s picked to be in an adult film or is stuck washing off blackface next to a gorgeous dancer, one assumes at the old Edison.

Other actors who show up before Sam goes back to his wife Bessie include prank artist Alan Abel (who once got Buck Henry on TV as the president of the Society for Indecency to Naked Animals and also the PR for this movie; he promoted the film by persuading Allan Pinsker to become a candidate for president under the name Sam Silverstein and getting him on the news with Walter Cronkite),David Emge (Stephen from Dawn of the Dead) and George Kosana (Sheriff McClelland from Night of the Living Dead and My Uncle John Is a Zombie, who famously says, “Yeah, they’re dead. They’re all messed up,” “Boy, somebody had a cookout here” and “Put that thing all the way on the fire.”).

I’m always interested in the non-zombie films of the Night of the Living Dead crew. This may be PG but feels a lot like the early 60s nudie cuties that were once so scandalous and now seem so chaste.

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