It’s Labor Day, so shouldn’t we watch a classic film or two that celebrate the labor movement or the plight of workers? We’ve thought of a few.
Hello, everybody. Your classic movie guys here to celebrate with you by NOT working.
Of course, as always you have your choice of genres. Would you like a drama? A comedy? Perhaps a documentary is your cup of tea.
There are the obvious ones. The 1940 classic The Grapes of Wrath. 1979’s Norma Rae and 1982’s Silkwood. All are first class films with first class performances and solid direction.
Best is Grapes of Wrath based on the John Steinbeck novel purchased for the movies by 20th Century Fox mogul Darryl F. Zanuck for $100,000.
It tells of an impoverished Oklahoma family (pictured at the top of today’s blog) migrating to California, and stars Henry Fonda in an Oscar nominated performance and Jane Darwell as Ma Joad, the family’s pillar-like matriarch (Darwell won an Oscar for her unforgettable handling of the part).
Zanuck biographer Mel Gussow wrote: In ‘Grapes of Wrath,’ Zanuck has taken an urgent problem (as he was to do later with racial discrimination, religious prejudice, and insanity) and dramatized it, making it palatable to a wide public, not by softening it but humanizing it. In 1939 it took considerable daring and courage for Zanuck to film ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ — while it was hot — and to do it so faithfully and movingly.
Norma Rae stars Sally Field (pictured above left) in another Oscar-winning performance as a poor Southern textile mill worker who embraces the union movement. Silkwood directed by Mike Nichols stars Meryl Streep as a real life whistle blower who spills the beans about working in a plutonium processing plant, and pays a steep price.
But it’s a holiday, and some folks want a little lighter fare.
We suggest you try 1980’s Nine To Five, a comedy about three secretaries (Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton) dealing with dimwitted bosses. And then there is the more recent Gung Ho, the 1986 social comedy starring Michael Keaton as a corporate minion who invites Japanese industrialists to revive his hometown manufacturing plant only to find himself mired in social and cultural misunderstandings.
An excellent — and largely unsung — look at white-collar worker frustration with corporate life is director Mike Judge’s 1999 comedy with an anarchistic bite, Office Space costarring Ron Livingston and Jennifer Aniston.
But our favorite is still The Devil and Miss Jones. That 1941 comedy with Jean Arthur, Charles Coburn (pictured below) and Robert Cummings about young employees in a department store who are trying to form a union is the perfect combination of entertainment and social messaging.
And for those of you out there who prefer documentary rather than fiction, seek out 1977’s Harlan County, USA, Barbara Kopple’s look at Kentucky coal miners on strike; or Roger & Me, Michael Moore’s 1989 tongue-in-cheek search for then General Motors president, Roger Smith.
In any case, Happy Labor Day!