Cut, no. 2, 1974, pp. 15-17
copyright Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 1974, 2004
gathered this filmography while preparing a course on the treatment of
the working class in film and literature. I hope others will add to it.
Working class figures can and do appear in any kind of film, often as
comic relief, as gangsters, or as servants. When looking at the filmic
treatment of a class not in control of the cultural apparatus, it is important
not just to trace out the image of that group in film (Image of Women,
Image of Blacks) but also to consider the kind of film styles used to
treat that group (e.g. the American Indian is usually treated within the
framework of the western) and the political implications of those styles.
this introduction, I would like to point out a number of ways we can look
at these films beyond just tracing out the “image” of the working
class. The mainstream way of filming stories about working class characters
has been the tradition of cinematic realism. In this tradition—which can be traced from Griffith through von Stroheim to the Italian
neo-realists, and cinema verite, and which was championed by Andrea Bazin—the details of the characters’ environment are made very clear
and are brought to our attention by the use of deep focus photography. “Realist” films about the lower classes bear a relation to literary
naturalism. Both artistic traditions emphasize the struggle against a
hostile environment and in both there is a certain pessimism as the main
character usually strives only to end up defeated. It is particularly
important to critique this way of treating the working class in political
terms. These films depict class conflict only as it relates to a single
individual’s “tragedy.” Obviously, films do not threaten the
bourgeoisie if they just show how rough things are for the working class
and always show that class as eternally defeated.
contrast to this mainstream cinematic presentation of the working class
are the films of the Russian Revolution, Dudow and Brecht’s KUHLE WAMPE,
and some of Godard’s films. All these films represent the search for a
revolutionary film style to correspond to revolutionary politics. Cuban
filmmakers have also consciously worked to find a “revolutionary” style, but few Cuban films that show the working class are available in
the United States.
with many actual work scenes are rare. In visual terms alone, manual labor
is a more interesting subject to film than someone sitting behind a desk,
talk -on a telephone. Yet we have more scenes in offices in film than
factory scenes because power is shown to lie in offices, and the potential
power of workers withdrawing their labor as in a strike is usually not
shown. In feature films, we are often given one or two employment scenes
only to show the gangster, singer, or sports figure’s proletarian origins
and to indicate what that character is “rising” from. The proletarian
world is tacitly acknowledged in many films, but class conflicts are displaced
into stories of crime, love, motherhood, winning something, or making
it on one’s own. In a film like JOE HILL, for example, Hill’s unionizing
efforts come to an end because he takes a murder rap for a woman he once
loved. We have many more films about the lumpen proletariat than the industrial
proletariat, but, rather than include a long list of “lumpen” films here, I have added only a few of those that pay particularly close
attention to the detailed depiction of milieu.
class position is not always clear. I was concerned in the course to present
some picture of blue collar marriage. Again we can see displacement of
class conflict in regards to women’s position in a film such as THE JAZZ
SINGER, in which Mama (or the sister in any gangster film) stays in the
ghetto, back home, while the male protagonist allies himself with a well-dressed,
beautiful woman. In fact, the use of a certain type of female in feature
films shows that beauty lets a woman rise in class, just as in real life
a change in clothes or an attachment to a middle class man can hide a
working woman’s class origin. A woman’s class position more often goes
down than up. She cannot get as good a job as her father had if she is
single; she marries into a husband’s class status; and, if her man dies
or if they split up, she is usually poorer than before. The real-life
Janie in Geri Ashur’s JANIE'S JANIE had a father who ran a business; then
she descended slightly in class position by marrying a blue collar worker;
and finally she had to go on welfare after their separation.
ways to use this filmography are to draw comparisons between documentary
film portrayals of the working class and fictional ones; to examine the
psychology and routine of everyday life, the problems of youth and the
learning processes in a proletarian milieu. We should look at the kinds
of working class militancy admitted into a film, strikes and unionizing
efforts in particular, and notice how the film explains the processes
of working class militancy (or more often presents its converse: working
class despair). We should also note the way poverty is depicted—never presented as bad as it really is, yet also tacitly shown as inevitable,
as some-thing about which nothing can be done (except in films from China).
Films from the thirties are interesting for the degree to which they include
or exclude or implicitly refer to the Depression.
general we can analyze the political philosophies behind any film, and
notice in particular the bourgeois ideology which focuses on the crises
and the resolution of those crises in the life of a single individual,
even when the problems and their resolutions can really only be explained
in terms of a class as a whole. To give an example, William Wellman’s
WILD BOYS OF THE ROAD shows ever increasing numbers of unemployed teenagers
hitting the road in the thirties and living in shanty towns outside large
metropolitan areas, but Wellman is forced to elaborate the resolution
in terms of the main characters, and in honesty he can only present a
solution for one of the three.
is obvious that the working class does not control the cultural apparatus—yet in a course or film series on the working class and film,
we are dependent on those films already in circulation. Students can understand
the caveat not to accept a film’s depiction of a group as truth because
they already know from experience how distorted the image of students
is in film. In discussing the filmic presentation of the working class,
students, blacks, women, American Indians, homosexuals, institutionalized
people, and so forth, we can begin by picking any film—LOVE STORY,
GATSBY, THE EXORCIST—and asking why that film would or would not
be an appropriate vehicle for the treatment of any one of the above groups.
It is effective to trace the image of oppressed groups in film but even
more effective to trace out where they are not.
The following is obviously not exhaustive, but suggestive, and was compiled
with 16mm availability in mind. While as up-to-date and accurate as possible,
bookers should check before ordering. Distributor abbreviations are explained
at the end.
FILMS DEPICTING ACTUAL WORK
BLUE COLLAR TRAP (1972), NBC Educational Enterprises.
THE CRY OF THE PEOPLE (Humberto Rios, 1972). A political history of Bolivia
which shows the working conditions of the miners. Tri.
FACTORY (Evelyn and Arthur Barrons). An excellent documentary about alienated
labor in a factory making love rings. Filmmaker’s Library.
FINALLY GOT THE NEWS (Bird, Gessner, Lichtman, Louis, 1970). Made with
the League of Revolutionary Black Workers; good sequences of Detroit assembly
lines; union struggles; organization of colleges to train youth for industry
job slots. Tri.
THE INHERITANCE (Harold Mayer for Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America),
Photographic documents of labor struggles in USA. McGraw.
INNER CITY DWELLER: WORK. A 19-minute depiction of urban worker get-ting
job training, finding a job, and being laid off. Indiana U. A V Center.
THE KITCHEN (James Hill, 1961). Restaurant workers working in terrible
conditions inside a “luxury” establishment; Marxist comment
on the capitalist system. AB.
MOVIN’ ON (Harold Meyer for the United Transport Workers Union). One hour
history of railroading. HM.
THE RISE OF LABOR. Similar to THE INHERITANCE. Encyclopedia Brit.
SEE YOU AT MAO (Godard, 1968). The opening sequence is a long tracking
shot of an automobile assembly line; construction noises are at full volume.
THE STOCKYARDS: END OF AN ERA. On the closing of the Chicago Stockyards,
black struggles in union, history of work there, ethnic neighborhoods.
Amalgamated Meat Cutters Union.
WORK (Fred Wardenberg, 1970). A 15 min. film showing assembly line labor;
provokes political analysis of alienated labor. Tri.
31 (Bo Widerberg, 1969). The 1931 dockyards strike and massacre brought
the Socialists into power in Sweden. Idyllic picture of rural working
class’ daily life and adolescent love predominate. FI.
THE ANGRY SILENCE (Guy Green, 1959). Strike in England. No one will talk
to the “hero” who is anti-labor and will not walkout with the
rest. Screenplay is by Brian Forbes. AB, Ideal, ROA’s.
BARREVENTO (Glauber Roche, 1961). Relation between strike and proletarian
life on the Brazilian coast. Depiction of striking fishermen, black magic
rituals, emotional relationships. NY.
BLACK FURY (Michael Curtiz, 1935). Strike is caused by unwitting coal
miner. Violence escalates due to anti-labor provocateur, gangsters. UA
THE COURAGE OF THE PEOPLE (Jorge Sanjines, 1971). Dramatic reconstruction
of 1967 massacre of striking Bolivian tin miners. Tri.
JOE HILL (Bo Widerberg, 1971). Sentimental picture of labor organizer.
I AM SOMEBODY (Madeline Anderson). Documentary of striking black hospital
workers, mostly women, in Atlanta. McGraw.
LIKE A BEAUTIFUL CHILD (Harold Mayer). Strike and development of Drug
and Hospital Workers Union in New York City. HM.
THE MOLLY MACGUIRES (Martin Rill, 1970). A secret rebel group in a coal
mining community in Pennsylvania in the 1870’s. FI.
THE MOTHER (Pudovkin, 1926), Sentimental version of Gorky’s novel about
an old woman who comes to militancy. Excellent action sequences. Typeage
of class figures through details of clothing and physiognomy. MOMA.
THE ORGANIZER (Mario Monicelli, 1964). Mastroianni plays a tacky comic
organizer, which is a low key way of getting the audience involved in
the story of the first unionizing efforts in Italy. WR.
NOSOTROS VENCEREMOS (Jon Lewis, Spanish only). An 11 min. documentary,
on the United Farm Worker’s struggles. Tri.
PACKINGTOWN, USA (Bill Adelman, 1969). A documentary showing the great
meat strike of 1904 in Chicago. Agitation over Sinclair’s novel, The
Jungle. University of IL., Champaign.
PEASANTS OF THE SECOND FORTRESS (Shinsuka Ogawa, 1971). Peasants, students,
workers, and the filmmakers themselves join in a five year struggle to
resist giving up land for a new international airport near Tokyo. Tri.
EL PROBLEMA DE LA CARNE (Mario Handler, 1968, Spanish only). A 20 min.
documentary on imperialist control of the meat industry and the strike
of packing house workers to keep company from closing due to competition
from U.S.-owned meat factories. Tri.
SALT OF THE EARTH (Herbert Biberman, 1954). Still the best “strike” film. Semi-documentary recreation of Chicano zinc miners’ strike in which
the wives of the workers play a large role. AB, Newreel.
THE STARS LOOK DOWN (Carol Reed, 1939). Strike in a Welsh mining town.
Story of a coal miner’s son who marries the wrong woman and struggles
to become an M.P.. MOMA.
STRIKE (Eisenstein, 1925). More class typeage; an especially unflattering
view of the treacherous lumpen. Spectacular picture of state forces repressing
working class’ struggles. AB, MOMA.
TOUT VA BIEN (Godard, 1972). Godard and Gorin’s return to commercial film
production. Fonda and Montand play roles similar to themselves. A French
journalist (Fonda) and a filmmaker of commercials (Montand) visit a sequestered
labor boss in France and work out the details of their lives in a way
less isolated from happenings in contemporary France. Much Brechtian humor
in the film. NY.
VALLEY OF DECISION (Tay Garnett, 1945). Sentimental story of a millhand’s
daughter (Greer Garson) and the owner’s son (Gregory Peck) falling in
love during Pittsburgh organizing efforts of the 1870’s. FI.
INNOVATIVE CINEMATIC APPROACHES
WAMPE (Slatan Dudow and Bertolt Brecht, 1932). Fragmented vignettes combine
to make a political statement about working class potential in Germany,
just before it was blocked by Fascism. AB.
THE LAST LAUGH (F. W. Murnau, 1924) Famous expressionistic treatment of
working class life focusing on the fall and rise of a hotel doorman. Camera
work by Carl Freund. Ivy.
METROPOLIS (Fritz Lang, 1927). Expressionistic architecture of the upper
city, the huge machines, and the workers’ homes below. Visual treatment
of alienated labor and the Massemench. Cop-out ending of the
joining of the head and the heart (management and labor!). AB, Radim,
PIGPEN (Pier Paulo Pasolini, 1969). Surreal portrayal of pigs eating the
bourgeoisie. New Line.
POTEMKIN (Sergei Eisenstein, 1925). Film classic showing class forces
rather than the fate of an individual. MOMA, AB, Film Classics Exchange.
PRAVDA (Jean-Luc Godard and others, 1969). With sufficient preparation,
a class can learn much from this film about revisionism in Czechoslovakia,
Maoist thought (the audio track draws heavily from On Contradiction),
and the politics behind film and TV imagery. Grove.
STRUGGLES IN ITALY (Godard and Gorin, 1969). Their most cohesive film
on the working class, in which a young militant goes through the details
of her daily life a number of times until she finally sees clearly her
relation to the working class. At present only French and Italian versions
are available. NY.
PORTRAITS OF WORKING CLASS YOUTH
BULLFROG (Barney Platts-Mills, 1970). Made with the cooperation of an
East End youth club in Brighton, it shows London East End youths get-ting
involved with an escapee from a reform school. NY.
491 (Vilgot Sjomen, 1963). A number of progressive films made in Sweden
in the 60’s showed class conflict but never found distribution. This one
shows juvenile delinquency and prostitution as resulting from class oppression.
KES (Ken Loach, 1970). Boy in Northern England fights being “tracked” into a coal miner’s life by raising a baby hawk. UA 16.
THE LONLINESS OF THE LONG DISTANCE RUNNER (Tony Richardson, 1963) Shows
the class nature of the punishment of JD’s. WR.
NAKED HEARTS (Edward Luntz, 1967). Location shooting; story of French
JD’s after they leave a reformatory. AB.
RAVEN'S END (Bo Widerberg, 1965). Portrayal of family life in Malmo, Sweden
in the 30’s, especially tracing relations between an adolescent boy and
his father. NY.
ROCCO AND HIS BROTHERS (Luchino Visconti, 1960). Unskilled youth go from
impoverished farm to Milan. One becomes a boxer. AB.
THE SOUND OF TRUMPETS (IL POSTO; Ermanno Olmi, 1961). Alienated ex-perience
of Italian youth in a big company. Romantic love episode. Ivy.
(Ousmane Sembene, 1970). 1/2 hour film on unemployed 20 year old young
man in Dakar. Presents picture of generational/ religious conflict, and
role of young women, as well. Tri.
WILD BOYS OF THE ROAD (Wm. Wellman, 1933). Interesting 30’s film that
presents a picture of hobo towns of jobless youth springing up during
the de-pression in the US. UA 16.
WOMEN'S POSITION, SEXUAL POLITICS
(Jean Vigo, 1934). A beautiful portrait of a couple and the crew of a
cargo boat on the Seine. Interestingly enough, when separated, the “helpless” woman finds a job and survives, while the man falls apart. AB
BITTER RICE (Guiseppe DeSantis, 1949). Migrant women laborers harvesting
rice in Italy’s Po valley. AB.
GERVAISE (Rene Clement, 1956). Story of a scrubwoman’s struggle to climb
out of poverty and how she sinks back in. From Zola. WR,
IT SHOULD HAPPEN TO YOU (George Cukor, 1954). Working woman becomes famous
for her name on a billboard. Twyman, AB.
JANIE'S JANIE (Geri Ashur, 1971). Woman who was a white working class
wife kicked her husband out. Now on welfare, she describes her new-found
A KIND OF LOVING (John Schlesinger, 1962). English youth marries the woman
he gets pregnant. AB.
THE LEATHER BOYS (Sidney J. Furie, 1963). Blue collar English marriage;
motorcycle gang and homosexuality theme. AB.
LUCIA (Humberto Solas, 1969). Epic Cuban film dealing with woman working
in the second and third of three sections. Focus on the role of women
in three stages of Cuban history (see review in this issue). Tri.
THE MARRYING KIND (George Cukor, 1952). Romanticized version of working
class sexual politics as a couple each tell a divorce judge their story
and then stay together. AB.
WEDDING IN WHITE (Bill Fruet, 1972). A young woman gets pregnant after
she is raped by her brother’s friend. She is then forced by her father
to marry one of the father’s drunken buddies, four times her age. Avco
THEME IN FILMS
(Dorothy Arzner, 1934). Based on Zola’s novel. AB, Sam Goldwyn 16.
MY LIFE TO LIVE (VIVRE SA VIE, Godard, 1963). Loosely based on Zola.
TWO OR THREE THINGS I KNOW ABOUT HER (Godard, 1966). Prostitution becomes
a metaphor for marriage and for the working class: selling one’s body
for food and shelter and consumer goods. NY.
LOVE A LA CARTE (Antonio Pietrangelo, 1960). Neorealist comedy about four
rebellious prostitutes who open a restaurant. AB.
MARKED WOMAN (Lloyd Bacon, 1937). See Charles Eckert’s excellent article
on this film in Film Quarterly, Winter 73-74, where he demonstrates
how the gangster motif is a displacement of class conflict. UA 16, Willoughby.
WATERLOO BRIDGE (Mervin LeRoy, 1940). Sentimental story; interesting to
analyze from a working class perspective. FI.
Almost all films about blacks in the U.S. or Europe take place in a working
class milieu, due to blacks’ history of class oppression.
BLACK GIRL (Ousmane Sembene, 1969). Class portrayal of white middle class
family taking a black servant from Dakar to Nice. Sembene shows her exploitation,
total personal alienation, suicide, and the white couple’s false consciousness
of what they did to her. NY.
EDGE OF THE CITY (Martin Ritt, 1957). John Cassevetes and Sidney Poitier
in the story of two youths working in a railroad yard and the conflicts
that arise because the black friend is superior to the other. FI.
HALLELUJAH (King Vidor, 1928). Early creative use of sound in films. Portrayal
of rural black milieu. The film seems stereotypical now, but was originally
banned in many areas for “frank” portrayal of black life. Emphasis
on emotion. FI.
THE LEARNING TREE (Gordon Parks, 1969). Picture of a black family in Kansas
in the 1920’s, based on Parks’ autobiographical novel. Motion Sound.
NOTHING BUT A MAN (Michael Rohmer, 1964). Southern black railroad worker
marries and settles in a small town, where he cannot accept the racism.
THE PASSENGERS (Annie Tresgot, 1968-71). Cinema verite portrayal of Algerian
emigrant labor problems, racism, and alienation in Paris. Tri.
THE STORY OF A THREE DAY PASS (Melvin Van Peebles, 1967). Black G.I. and
a young white French saleswoman have a weekend at the seashore. This is
the first major feature made by a black American director. Made in France.
BETE HUMIAINE (Jean Renoir, 1938). This film about railroaders used to
be available from AB. I hope they will re-release it.
GOING DOWN THE ROAD (Donald Shebib, 1970). An excellent portrayal of working
class youth in Canada. Two youths go from the sticks to the big city and
get jobs unloading cases of empty bottles. One gets married; both lose
their jobs. New Cinema Enterprises, 25 Britain St., Toronto.
GRIDO (Antonioni, 1957). Unemployed factory worker wanders through the
Po valley. Portrait of his alienation and the proletarian milieu in the
LE JOUR SE LEVE (Marcel Carne, 1939). A disastrous love triangle is played
out against the background of working class Paris. Ivy, Janus.
RAICES (ROOTS, Benito Alizraki, 195?). Four short stories about Mexico.
Indians, youth, and sexual politics. McGraw.
SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY MORNING (Karel Reisz, 1960). Young factory worker
rebels briefly against the sterile life that lies before him. WR.
SONS AND LOVERS (Jack Cardiff, 1960). Film version of D.H. Lawrence’s
early novel about growing up in a mining town. FI.
TONI (Jean Renoir, 1934). A psychological portrait of immigrant laborers
doing construction work in rural France. In cinematic terms, this film
pioneered in the use of deep focus cinematography. McGraw.
VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE (Sidney Lumet, 1962). Adapted from Arthur Miller’s
play, this film examines family life and sexual politics in an Italian
immigrant family of dockworkers in New York.
URBAN LIFE—SOMETIMES WORKING, SOMETIMES LUMPEN, SOMETIMES UNEMPLOYED
(Pasolini, 1960). Picture of alienated young man, slum life, Italian youth,
and the Roman underworld. AB.
THE BICYCLE THIEF (Vittorio De Sica, 1948). The most artfully crafted
of the neo-realist films, it shows one man’s desperate need for employment.
His bicycle, upon which his job as a poster hanger depends, is stolen.
The search for it takes us through Rome’s working class milieu. AB.
THE BIG CITY (Carlos Diegues, 1966). Fictional treatment of urban life
in modern Brazil. NY.
BLACK ORPHEUS (Marcel Camus, 1958). A Brazilian bus conductor is Orpheus
in this lovers’ tragedy set in the favelas of Rio. Janus
CATHY COME HOME (Ken Loach, 1969). A semi-documentary about the process
whereby the poor become homeless and lose their children. Excellent portrayal
of the problems facing a welfare mother. Time Life.
CAMPAMENTO (Tom Cohen and Richard Pearce, 1972). An half hour documentary
which depicts the unalienated labor of slum dwellers who rebuild their
own village in Allende’s Chile. Tri.
COOL WORLD (Shirley Clark, 1964). Cinema verite story set in Harlem, where
a gang of boys want to get a gun. OSTI.
THE CROWD (King Vidor, 1928). A man falls from a desk job to the streets.
A family melodrama. FI.
THE BELOVED COUNTRY (Zoltan Korda, 1952). Adaptation of Alan Paton novel
with location shooting in Johannesburg slums. AB.
CRY OF THE CITY (Robert Siodmak, 1940). New York City lowlife. FI. Compare
this film to Josef von Sternberg’s UNDERWORLD (1927). MOMA.
THE GIVEN WORD (Anselmo Duarte, 1962). Brazilian farmer in Northern Brazil
carries a huge cross to the church to save his sick donkey. The priest
refuses him entry and the working class in the town rally to his support.
GOSPEL ACCORDING TO SAINT MATTHEW (Pasolini, 1964). Christ is a revolutionary
telling off the Jewish priests for their class privileges, so they turn
him over to the Romans. AB.
THE GREAT DEPRESSION (Maurice Bailen, 1934). A 15 min. documentary about
a man seeking employment in downtown Chicago. Center Cinema Co-op.
GREED (Von Stroheim, 1923). What class do we call someone who rises from
shoving cars in a mine to a self-made dentist and down again to unemployment—-petit bourgeois? Von Stroheim’s eye for the life of the poor
puts this film on any list of films on the working class. FI.
THE JOYLESS STREET (G. W. Pabst, 1925). Early German “realist” film which dealt with the despair of the poor and near-poor in inflation-ridden
Germany. See also THE LOVE OF JEANNE NEY (1927) and THE THREE-PENNY OPERA
(1931). The latter film differs drastically from Brecht’s play. AB.
A MAN'S CASTLE (Frank Borzage, 1933). Love flourishes among the unemployed
in a shack by New York’s East River, but our hero turns to crime when
his wife becomes pregnant. Columbia.
MIRACLE IN MILAN (Vittorio De Sica, 1950). Urban poverty solved by strange
happy ending. AB.
LOS OLVIDADOS (THE YOUNG AND THE DAMNED, Buñuel, 1950). Buñuel
characteristically presents a pessimistic view of working class perversions—-an interesting rejection of liberal idealism. See also his NAZARIN
(1958), VIRIDIANA (1961), and TRISTANA (1970). All four distributed by
THE PAWNBROKER (Sidney Lumet, 1965). A part of this film deals with Harlem
life and a Puerto Rican employee. AB.
THE PICKPOCKET (Robert Bresson, 1959). Many of Bresson’s films, like Buñuel’s
take place in a poor milieu with a generally pessimistic outlook on the
future of the characters. See also his AU HAZARD BALTHAZAH (1966). Both
distributed by NY.
STRANGERS IN THE CITY (Rick Carrier, 1962). Puerto Ricans in New York’s
barrio. The boy is beaten by a gang and loses his job; the girl is raped
by her employer and becomes a prostitute. AB
UMBERTO D (Vittorio De Sica, 1952). The poverty of the old who have only
a pension to life on. James.
WORKING CLASS MELODRAMAS
of the other films are melodramas too.)
THE AGITATOR (John Harlow, 1945). Socialist agitator inherits the factory
upon the employer’s death. Janus.
LA BELLE EQUIPE (J. Duvivier, 1936). Five unemployed workers unsuccessfully
attempt to pool resources to get a music hall running. AB.
THE COMMON TOUCH (John Baxter, 1941). “Youth inherits business and
poses as a tramp to save a dosshouse from demolition.” (British Film
FORTUNE LANE (John Baxter, 1947). “Gardener’s son cleans windows
to achieve ambition to drive train.” (Brit. Film Cat.) UNIV 16.
HEROES FOR SALE (W. Wellman, 1933). War hero goes down then up, then down
again. This was an early story to deal with heroin addiction. A strike
drags the protagonist under, but he still dedicates himself to the poor.
OF MICE AND MEN (Lewis Milestone, 1940). Steinbeck’s famous portrayal
of lumpen. Other lumpen films are TOBACCO ROAD, MAN WITH A GOLDEN ARM,
ON THE WATERFRONT (Kazan, 1954). Corruption on the docks. Bad politics.
SATURDAY'S CHILDREN (Vincent Sherman, 1940). A family descends from middle
class status. UA 16.
THE SHIPBUILDERS (John Baxter, 1943). “Clydeside shipbuilder and
a loyal riveter fight to keep Britain a seapower.” (Brit. Film Cat.)
STAND IN (Tey Garnett, 1937). On Hollywood film industry proletariat.
THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT (Raoul Walsh, 1940). Bogart and Lupine in truck drivers’
crime story. The end is a courtroom melodrama. UA 16.
A NOUS LA LIBERTE (Rene Clair, 1932). Comedy which traces the uneven fortunes
of pals who escape from prison—one becoming the employee of the
THE CASE OF THE MISSING SWITCHBOARD OPERATOR (Dusan Majavejev, 1967).
Also listed as LOVE AFFAIR, it is a spoof on sexual politics, science,
and the lowest of jobs—rat catcher—in a Socialist country.
THE DEVIL AND MISS JONES (Sam Wood, 1941). Department store employees
get together and don't realize owner is in their midst acting as one of
them. They convert him. Budget Films.
THE HAWKS AND THE SPARROWS (Pasolini, 1965). Humorous jaunt of working
class young man and father to the big city accompanied by a crow who talks
revolution and whom they eventually kill and eat. AB.
HEAVEN'S ABOVE (John Boulting, 1963). Minister converts factory owner
to idea of wealth sharing. AB.
I'M ALL RIGHT, JACK (John Boulting, 1960). Hero cannot make it as a management
trainee so he becomes an inept and over-sincere laborer. AB, McGraw, ROA’s.
LOVES OF A BLONDE (Milos Forman, 1965). Young Czech woman escapes from
regimented life in a state dormitory and factory labor to run off to the
big city seeking romance. Witty look at Eastern European myths of personal
fulfillment through labor. AB.
LE MILLION (Rene Clair, 1931, AB) and MODERN TIMES (Chaplin, 1936, Cinema
Arts). Of the comedies dealing with working class life, Chaplin’s MODERN
TIMES has a more consistent class perspective than A NOUS LA LIBERTE.
Clair’s films deal with the rags to riches theme. Chaplin’s shorts, such
as THE IMMIGRANT, THE FLOORWALKER, and EASY STREET, are usually from the
point of view of a working class protagonist, which fact endeared Chaplin
to people all over the world. Even Brecht could admire Chaplin’s work,
not seeing in audience identification with Chaplin’s characters the same
pitfalls as in identifying with any melodramatic character.
ROSIE THE RIVITER (1944). Jane Frazee was the star of a number of B musicals
made during the forties by Republic. This one was designed to appeal to
the working woman, and in many cities there were midnight shows to draw
those women coming off the evening shift. Ivy.
ultimate rejection of socialist realism. Jokes about sex, Russia, and
the U.S.—to name a few. Cinema Five.
ATHLETES AND ENTERTAINERS
APPLAUSE (Rouben Mamoulian, 1929). American picture of the entertainer
as proletariat and of the way we purchase women entertainers’ bodies—to look at if not to possess. A good companion piece to Dorothy Arzner’s
DANCE, GIRL, DANCE (1940). WR.
THE BLUE ANGEL (Josef von Sternberg, 1929, McGraw) and
VARIETY (E. A.Dupont, 1925, Radim, MOMA, AB). Two German views of the
performer’s milieu. Here the “lower class” environment is presented
as a way to criticize bourgeois mores and values.
EVEL KNIEVEL (Marvin Chomsky, 1970), High school dropout becomes a working
class hero—a motorcycle stuntman. Story told in flashbacks. See
article in this issue of JUMP CUT. AB.
THE GREAT WHITE HOPE (starring James Eats Jones, 1970, FI) and a 90 min.
documentary JACK JOHNSON (Wm. Clayton, 1970, AB). Story of black boxer
who was forced into exile in 1910.
JUNIOR BONNER (Sam Peckinpah, 1972). Rodeo story starring Steve Mc-Queen.
KANSAS CITY BOMBER (Jerrold Freedman, 1972). Roller skating movie starring
Raquel Welch. FI.
THE LAST AMERICAN HERO (Lamont Johnson. 1973). See article in this issue.
THIS SPORTING LIFE (Lindsay Anderson, 1963, WR). Portrayal of athletics
as a proletarian existence. The film combines excellent cinematography
with a profound psychological portrait of two mismatched lovers. Compare
this film with others on the proletarianization of athletes, such as JIM
THORPE: ALL AMERICAN (Michael Curtiz, 1951, AB) or SATURDAY'S HERO (David
Miller, 1961, Columbia).
OF CULLODEN (Peter Watkins, 1964). A picture of the insanity of war. Hand
held, eye level camera follows private soldiers in battle; “You are
there” style TV news narration. Time Life.
KAMMERADSCHAFT (G.W.Pabst, 1930) and his WESTFRONT 1918 (1931). Two German
social realist films about WWI. In the first, a mining disaster brings
German and French miners together. AB, MOMA.
PEOPLE AND THEIR GUNS (Joris Ivens, 1970). Documentary by famous radical
filmmaker on the revolutionary forces in Laos. Imperial Entertainment.
LUMPEN CHASE FILMS
I WAS A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG (Mervyn Le Roy, 1932). Paul Muni tries
many ways to live outside the chain gang, saying finally, “I will
steal to live.” UA 16.
YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE (Fritz Lang, 1937). Eddie and Joan are modeled on Clyde
and Bonnie Barrow. Eddie is kept from working during the Depression. He
is accused of a crime, is on the run, and is finally shot by the authorities.
There is a false happy ending in heaven. This is the first in the long
line of proletarian chase films, such as BONNIE AND CLYDE, THIEVES LIKE
US, THE FRENCH CONNECTION, THE SUGARLAND EXPRESS. AB.
THEY LIVE BY NIGHT ( Nicholas Ray, 1949). Forerunner of THIEVES LIKE US,
i.e. adapted from the same novel. FI.
POINT (Richard Serafian, 1971). A young man drives a car ceaselessly across
the country. The background is a sensitive portrait of small town working
class people. FI.
additional information on documentaries, consult the catalogues of NET,
The Urban League, and the Canadian National Film Board. Also useful are
Educational Publications Department, “Catalogue of Documentary Films
on Labor.” 8000 E. Jefferson Ave., Detroit, Michigan, 48214.
AFL/CIO, “Films for Labor,” Pamphlet Division, 815 16th Street,
NW, Washington,. DC, 20006.
for Trade Union Groups,” University of Illinois, Institute of Labor
and Industrial Relations, 504 E. Armory Ave., Champaign, Illinois.
List of films available for rental, plus a pamphlet, “The Creative
Use of Films in Education,” Duane Beeler, Labor Education Division,
430 South Michigan Ave., Chicago, Illinois, 60605.
Macmillan/Audio Brandon; FI: Films Inc.; Grove: Grove Press; HM: Harold
Meyer Productions; McGraw: Contemporary/McGraw Hill; MOMA: Museum of Modern
Art (New York); NY: New Yorker Films; Tri: Tercentennial Film Center;
UA 16: United Artists Corp.; UNIV 16: Universal Films; WR: Walter Reade
16; Willoughby: Willoughby Peerless.
wish to thank Bill Hintz, Effie Landes, and Donn Gunn of the University
of Illinois at Chicago Circle’s Instructional Resources Center for their
help in preparing this filmography.