Samuel Landau was a Polish actor of Jewish origin, born on 9 August 1882 in Włocławek, Poland the son of merchant. He is known mainly for his roles in films and theatre performances in Yiddish.
Landau’s love affair with the cinema began in 1913, when he appeared in Kara Boża (God’s Punishment), Fatalna klątwa (The Fatal Excommunication) and Córka kantora (The Cantor’s Daughter). Sadly, none of the films is known to have survived to this day.
The actor also starred in Ślubowanie (The Vow) (1924), the first film in Yiddish in inter-War Poland. Despite the numerous controversies, the adaptation by Zygmunt Turkow proved to be an instant hit. In 1932 it found its way to the USA, and was re-edited to be screened in 1948 for the American audience under the title A Vilna Legend. In 1937 a new version of the film was produced, but with no success. Landau starred in both.
Another important production with Landau’s participation was a film directed by Jonas Turkow, W lasach polskich (In the Polish Woods) (1929). As the production was censored, the version screened in cinemas did not much resemble the original. No copy of the film is known to have survived.
In the 1930s Yiddish film producers would usually choose “safe” subjects for their movies, far from politics. Therefore, it was mainly comedies or melodramas which were created at that time. A good example of cinema from those years is Judeł gra na skrzypcach (Yiddle with His Fiddle), a musical about a family of travelling musicians, starring Samuel Landau. The film was one of the most commercially successful Yiddish productions of the time.
Landau’s other ventures included Dybuk (The Dybbuk) (1937) dir. Michał Waszyński. Devoted to traditional Hasidic beliefs and culture, the film achieved great success, being acclaimed by both Polish and foreign critics as the best Jewish film.
His subsequent films, Błazen purymowy (The Jester) (1937) and List do Matki (The Eternal Song) (1938), were also very popular, as they swiftly combined everyday-life subjects with Jewish culture.
Samuel Landau was killed in 1942 in the Warsaw ghetto.