Thursday, September 30, 2010

AND THE WINNER IS....

This is to announce the WINNER of the contest for a DVD of the landmark television miniseries “Rich Man, Poor Man.”

A&E Home Entertainment is releasing this long-awaited TV classic on DVD September 28th. “Rich Man, Poor Man” was the first miniseries produced on American television, and ran for 12 weeks beginning in February 1976. The excitement generated by that program led to later experiments in the miniseries format, including “Roots”. Its cast was a who’s who of Hollywood and 1970s television.

I still hope to post a review of the DVD as soon as possible. Here’s a link on Amazon for a detailed descripton of the item.

I have included entries left on my Facebook page as well as the comments left on the blog as contestants.

AND THE WINNER IS….IVAN G. SHREVE, JR.!!!!!!

Congratulations!!!!! (Balloons fall from ceiling, crowds cheer.)

Please email me at: JacquelineTLynch@gmail.com with the name and address to whom you’d like this DVD mailed. I’ll contact A&E Home Entertainment, and they’ll ship you your prize directly.

Thanks so much to everyone who participated, and to A&E Home Entertainment for providing the DVD.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Now Playing - The Bells of St. Mary's

We’ll have to postpone a review of “Rich Man, Poor Man” for now, but stay tuned on Thursday for the winner of the DVD contest.



In the meantime, here’s an ad for “The Bells of St. Mary’s” (1946) with Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman, “plus selected short subjects.” I love the “Bing Sings 5 Songs All Sensational!” and underneath that, just “Ingrid Sings.”

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Contest - "Rich Man, Poor Man" Series DVD

This is to announce the beginning of a contest for a DVD of the landmark television miniseries “Rich Man, Poor Man.”

A&E Home Entertainment is releasing this long-awaited TV classic on DVD September 28th. “Rich Man, Poor Man” was the first miniseries produced on American television, and ran for 12 weeks beginning in February 1976. The excitement generated by that program led to later experiments in the miniseries format, including “Roots”. Its cast was a who’s who of Hollywood and 1970s television.

Including Dorothy McGuire, who was one of many in that production nominated for an Emmy.

You know how important Dorothy McGuire is around here.

I hope to post review of the DVD on Monday, though circumstances might delay that. For now, have a look at this link on Amazon for a detailed descripton of the item.

To Enter the Contest:

Just leave a comment saying you want the DVD. I’ll pick the winner at random next Thursday, September 30th at noon Eastern Time.

Good luck!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Do You Know This Movie?

A recent request by a reader:

LOOKING FOR THE NAME OF A OLD MOVIE. MOST I CAN REMEMBER A WOMAN WAS PAINTING ON THE BEACH. SHE MET A NAVY OFFICER THEY HAD A FLING. I THINK HE FELL DOWN THE STEPS AND DID NOT SURVIVE. THE INSPECTOR KNEW WHAT HAPPENED BUT DID NOT PURSUE IT. , FINAL SCENE SHE IS DANCING WITH HER HUSBAND AND CRYING BECASUE HER AND THE NAVY MAN DANCED TO THE SAME SONG

Sorry about the capitalization, but apparently our friend likes to shout. Let’s see if we can help him with this question. Anybody have any idea what this movie is?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

More Niagara Falls Movies

In keeping with our review of “Niagara” (1953) on Monday, let’s continue our visit at Niagara Falls with some other old movies.

That magnificent water works we share with our pals up the road in Canada has long been a tourist attraction, and most film depictions of Niagara Falls show characters on vacation, as in “Niagara”, or on honeymoons. By the way, Americans visiting the falls should most definitely go over to experience the view, and hospitality, on the Canadian side. You need your passport these days, but any inconvenience is worth the effort.

Any film about Niagara Falls is likely going to be filmed on location, since it is a bit unwieldy to fake on the back lot or slap in the background with rear screen projection. However, that’s not to say doubles can’t be used with a second unit film crew.

This shot from “Callaway Went Thataway” (1951 - see this previous post), shows Howard Keel and Dorothy McGuire on a cross-country publicity tour. This actor and actress were probably stand-ins.  It could be rear-screen, but in that case I don't think they'd be shooting them from the back.


Harry Houdini, however, had no problem showing up in person, and naturally, performing his own stunts, in “The Man From Beyond” (1922). Mr. Houdini co-wrote the scenario and also produced this silent film, about a man revived from a one-hundred year sleep. Supposedly, the dangerous action you see in this clip below was done without camera tricks.

(Don't forget to scroll to the bottom of the page to pause the music so you can hear the following video clips.)




Here in “The Crowd” (1928 - see this previous post), the honeymooners James Murray and Eleanor Boardman are actually shot at the Falls, climbing a pretty steep hill to the side of it.

Rainbow Bridge is behind them in this view.

Here below is another movie, this time a 43-minute B-movie (sorry about the commercials) made in 1941 by Hal Roach, “Niagara Falls”. A couple of couples endure comic hijinks at the “Falls View Hotel”, a much swankier spot than the efficiency cabins pictured in “Niagara.” It stars Marjorie Woodworth, Tom Brown, Zasu Pitts, and Slim Summerville, who is featured at the beginning and the end as intending to end his life by jumping into the falls in his jammies. We shouldn’t be too worried about him, he hasn’t been successful at any other endeavor in this movie. A minor role of another honeymooner is played by Rand Brooks, who you may remember as Charles Hamilton in “Gone with the Wind” (1939). What two years can do to your career.



Then of course we have popular references to the Falls, most notably in “42nd Street” (1933), where we have the musical skit “Shuffle Off to Buffalo”. As we are told, “To Niagara in a sleeper, there’s no honeymoon that’s cheaper.”
Then there is the ever-popular, “Niagara Falls routine”, better known to some as “Slowly I Turn.” Here are two variations on this old vaudeville bit. First, with The Three Stooges from “Gents Without Cents” (1944).



Next up to bat, we have the Abbott & Costello version from their 1950s TV show:



You may remember Lucille Ball having a crack on this theme, too, in an episode of “I Love Lucy”, though the trigger word here is not “Niagara Falls”, but Martha. Niagara Falls is the blast of seltzer she gets in the pus. You can watch in on YouTube here.

For more on Niagara Falls, have a look at this blog.

THIS JUST IN!!!!!.......
Doaf!  Our roving reporter Moira Finnie (catch her here at Skeins of Thought), just reminded me about "Remember the Night" (1940) with Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck.  Am kicking myself as we speak.  Moria supplies us with these two great shots from the film:



Thanks for the help, Moira.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Niagara - 1953



(Remember to scroll down to the bottom of the page to pause the music first so you hear the video.)

As you can see by the trailer above, “Niagara” (1953) was a showcase built more around Marilyn Monroe than even Niagara Falls, though the Falls gets prominent play in this movie, as so too does Jean Peters. She’s the non-bombshell in this movie as we are repeatedly reminded.

The IMDb website notes a bit of trivia that a scene with Marilyn Monroe walking is the longest walk filmed in movie history at 116 feet of film. Apparently, the camera couldn’t let go of her.

Hollywood either saw her as box office or future box office, because although she had made quite a few movies before this one, “Niagara” was her most important role to date, and after this movie, it was stardom all the way.

There is an offbeat quality to this movie, a certain unevenness, a disarming goofiness that makes it intriguing. An average couple played by Jean Peters and Max Showalter, billed as Casey Adams, take a delayed honeymoon at Niagara Falls. They encounter their complete opposites in another couple played by Joseph Cotten and Marilyn Monroe. Directed by Henry Hathaway, the film almost feels like Alfred Hitchcock material in the way pleasant, even comic, normality is suddenly accosted by the weird and threatening.

The film has the Kodachrome look of old family vacation slides. We get a travelogue of Niagara Falls throughout the course of the movie.

Peters and Showalter have been married a couple of years, and take this trip ostensibly as a honeymoon, but also because he works for the Midwestern branch of Shredded Wheat, which has its corporate office in Buffalo, New York. He won a contest for most imaginative sales campaign, and his prize is to be hosted by a company mucky-muck. When they arrive at their lodgings after a leisurely drive in their convertible (and need no documentation to get over to the Canadian side, nor probably back again), Mr. Showalter exclaims with excitement, “You can see it from here!”

We think he means the Falls, but he means the Shredded Wheat plant. We have in Showalter’s character one of the most delicious cornball yokels in movie history, someone Hitchcock would have probably featured as the guy who is comically oblivious to the murder and gore around him. Mr. Showalter may not be totally oblivious, but his ever-present grin and enthusiasm might be tiring it if weren’t so funny.

His wife, Jean Peters, is the steady, sensible one of the pair. She is more in tune to what is going on around them, and by nature, is more eager to be involved. She turns into Nancy Drew and gets her life threatened before the movie is over.

The tension is provided by Joseph Cotten, a recently released psychiatric patient from a veterans’ hospital (shades of his character from “I’ll Be Seeing You” - 1945 - see this previous post), and his nubile, duplicitous wife, Marilyn Monroe. Miss Monroe, is actually quite good in this movie, despite the caricature the studio is already making of her as a sex object, playing a woman hatching a plot to murder her husband all the while playacting she loves him and is so worried about his mental condition.

But, being Marilyn Monroe with her star on the ascendant, we get a lot of eye candy which has nothing to do with the plot. Shots of her showering, of provocative poses, and costumes, and constant stares by all the males around her.

We start the cheesecake from the very beginning of the film, when Joseph Cotten, after a solitary ramble around the Falls in the early morning while his voiceover tells us how miserable he is, returns to their room to find her nekkid in bed. He calls her name, picking up one of her stockings that she had dropped on the floor, but she pretends to sleep. When he gives up and goes to his own twin bed, we see her contemptuous sneer.

Their digs are a motel of efficiency cabins right by the Falls. Peters and Showalter have booked the same cabin, but Miss Monroe and Mr. Cotten have not vacated yet, and so the new couple agreeably takes another cabin.

It’s a whole world unto itself, this land of efficiency cabins, where the resident owner plods around watering flowers and knowing everything about everybody, where the companionable vacationers dance in the pavilion to swing records on a phonograph and sip from Coke bottles on the steps under the stars. They are in no rush to see and do.

If you don’t count the murder plot, it seems like a very relaxing holiday. These days I think we’re programmed to be constantly on the go, even on vacation.

But, it’s not all ho-hum reading magazines in the rooms that have no cable TV, phones, or Internet service. The travelogue continues as Miss Peters and her goofy husband do all the requisite tourist stuff at Niagara Falls: the Rainbow Bridge, the Maid of the Mist boat ride, the Cave of the Winds. They spend a fair amount of time in raincoats and boots.

On one such excursion, Peters notices faithful worried wife Marilyn Monroe kissing a strange man. This is also a movie of darkened stairwells, trysting places, and secret haunts.

Miss Peters observes, as do we, that there’s something not quite right about that couple in the other cabin. Miss Monroe is not the faithful wife she pretends to be. But what about Mr. Cotten? Is he really a sick man the way his wife contends?

Jean Peters, smart, open-faced and unassumingly friendly gets to decide that for herself. When the cabin neighbors are all dancing under the stars, Monroe comes out to enjoy the music alone, puts on a record she has brought with her, and joins the normal couple on the steps.

In a moment, Cotten barges out of their room and smashes the record in his hands like The Incredible Hulk. We begin to see that the tune has a deeper meaning, and her actions are calculated for effect. She is not embarrassed or worried about her husband; she is pleased that so many people have witnessed his over-the-top behavior.

She is planning for her boyfriend to murder him, and wants to make it look like suicide. It won’t be hard. It apparently doesn’t take much for Mr. Cotten to become unglued.

It is Jean Peters, not his wife, who rushes to his room with a first aid kit and mercurochrome to patch up the cuts on his hand. If you’re going to smash a 78 rpm record, wear gloves.

It is an interesting scene, her caring for him, but even when he turns off the lights so she can better see Niagara Falls lit up at night, there is no intended eroticism. She is businesslike in her kindness, and he is too overwrought over his oversexed wife to contemplate sex or romance with anyone else.

When Peters’ goofy husband enters, he is so comfortable in his marriage and in her that he is not even jealous or suspicious. Maybe he’s too stupid. I can see where an audience might find his obtuse cheerfulness irritating, but I think he’s a hoot.

Cotten smashes the wooden model car he has been making in his room (more fun things to do when there is no cable TV) as he tells his back story about always messing up his life and how his wife is a tramp. He imagines she is unfaithful with every man she meets.

We don’t know that for a fact, but we do know that Miss Monroe is playing him like a violin, and uses his jealousy to lure him into a hidden spot where Boyfriend can knock him off.

Cotten’s paranoia serves him well, because he kills the boyfriend in self defense. He sneaks back to his cabin, knowing his wife thinks him dead, and finding Jean Peters there instead taking a nap. Again, more confidentiality in the half-light, but she screams and he runs away. Later, her tails her (more raincoats and boots) on another walk to the Falls, and he pleads with her to not tell anyone he is alive so that he can leave his wife and just get on with his miserable life by himself.

She’s willing to do this at first, even keeping his secret when the boyfriend’s body is found and the cops get involved. But, then she realizes that he might now be after his wife, who has fainted at identifying the body of her boyfriend in the morgue. This time she isn’t faking; she’s really shocked. Miss Peters, by default, becomes her caretaker.

Miss Peters’ goofy husband finally loses his remarkable serenity and is fed up with her continued involvement with the neighbors.

“We wait three years for a honeymoon and spend it with a couple of spooks!”

Then we get another burst of comedy when Mr. Showalter’s Shreaded Wheat boss welcomes him. Played by the booming barrel of chuckles, Don Wilson, who was the announcer for many years on the Jack Benny radio show, the boss and his wife, played by Lurene Tuttle, escort them on a social whirl of Niagara Falls. More raincoats, more hiking up wet wooden stairways along wet cliffs, and finally, a fishing excursion on the Niagara River that has tragic consequences.

By the way, Don Wilson is not the only connection to Jack Benny we have in this movie, if you think about it. The model car Joseph Cotten builds is a Maxwell. Remember the Maxwell chauffeured by Rochester, and the sputtering sounds made by Mel Blanc?

There’s a lot more danger and intrigue from this point, but if I go on, I’ll ruin it for anybody who hasn’t seen it. Just a couple of items about this movie that are fun to note:

Will Wright, perennial movie night watchman and grumpy crooked suspicious fellow (remember his small but pivotal role in “The Blue Dahlia”? We’ll have to cover that movie one sometime or other.) Here he has a small role as a grumpy boat rental owner.

The Carillon featured in this movie was part of the Rainbow Tower on the Canadian border side, and was completed in 1947. “O, Promise Me” is played on it early in the movie, I suppose to refer to the honeymoon connotations of the Falls, but popular tunes are also heard on it, and in one scene, a secret message is sent to Marilyn Monroe in a song. At the time this movie was made, the Carillon was played manually by a carilloneur. Today, it’s all automated.

Come back Thursday for more fun at Niagara Falls through the perspective of other Hollywood films.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Leavitt Theatre - Ogunquit, Maine


Here is The Leavitt Fine Arts Theatre, a movie house open only in the summertime in Ogunquit, Maine. It looks small, but it seats over 600, and has stood here showing first-run films on Main Street since 1923.

For more on The Leavitt Fine Arts Theatre, have a look at this description and comments on the Cinema Treasures website.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Executive Suite - 1954

We mark Labor Day in the U.S. today with a look at “Executive Suite” (1954). It’s not just a retro look, but an echo from America’s mighty industrial past that drifts with some uncomfortable resonance today.

Robert Wise is the director, and we start from the first moments of the film with bold credits flying toward the audience while an ominous sounding bell tolls…for whom? For everybody, it seems. Maybe even us.

The bell sits in the tower above the executive suite of the title, in a downtown stone monument of a building that serves as the corporate office of a furniture company. We are not yet in the days of suburban industrial parks. We are downtown where the action is.

The action starts right off with the unseen CEO leaving his New York branch building at the end of the workday on a Friday. His perspective is the camera’s perspective. We see who sees him, who makes eye contact and who does not, as he leaves the world over which he is king.

Then he hails a cab out on the sidewalk and crumples to the ground, dying instantly of a heart attack. We see, through the camera and his eyes, the swirling buildings, and the clear sky above

Looking down upon him from an upper floor is our old friend Louis Calhern, (whom we last saw as the rogue here in “The Man With the Cloak”) an executive in the firm, who, sensing an opportunity, sells a chunk of company stock he cannot cover. It doesn’t matter, because he knows that when the news gets out of the Big Boss’s death, the stock will plummet.

Once it does, he can buy it back for next to nothing. In the weeks to come, the stock will rise. He will make a tidy profit.

His cheap sell-out scheme lays out before us the message of the film. We get there, by and by.

It is fun to see Mr. Calhern’s meltdown when the Big Boss, whose wallet was stolen by a passer by when the ambulance arrives, is taken to the city morgue as a John Doe, and wrecks the timing on Calhern’s game.

Such is the behind-the-scenes maneuvering of the board of officers on this company, and there will be much jockeying for position to see who gets voted to be the new Big Boss. It is survival not of the fittest, but of the least principled.

Among the likely candidates is Dean Jagger, one of the old boys who helped build the company, but who is now regarded as too old to take the helm. Likewise Walter Pidgeon, the longtime partner of the Big Boss, who resents not having been named as second in command a long time ago.

Paul Douglas is the hail-fellow-well-met head of sales, who settles deals on the golf course and a bribe of a bottle of scotch. It is the charming façade of a spineless company man. His mistress, and secretary, played by feisty Shelly Winters provides the ego boost he needs, along with other comforts. Until he lets her down, and she shows more pride and mettle than he has.

Fredric March is a standout in this film as the smarmy numbers cruncher, who worms his way into other’s private affairs to get information to use against them. It is a magnificent performance, a virtuoso of snideness, ingratiating artificiality, and backstabbing. We see his grim confidence behind his sneer. We see his resentful insecurity when his wiping his sweaty palms with his handkerchief.

There is William Holden, as the Bright Young Man, who works in product development and represents the idealism that the Big Boss and his partners once had, but have abandoned in the lure of making an even bigger profit.

Holden’s supportive wife is played by June Allyson, who maintains their junior executive suburban home with its Scandinavian design furniture (see this previous post on “Strangers When We Meet” for more examples of that), and raises their all-American boy, played by young Tim Considine.

I wonder if the furniture in his ultra modern house was made by his own company, and if it’s the good stuff or the cheap knock-off stuff, and if he got a discount?

Check out Walter Pidgeon’s home and we get an eyeful of traditional furniture, a nice contrast that tells us a lot about these two men, their perspectives and their eras. Furniture is not just set dressing in this movie. Look at the medieval design of the woodwork in the executive suite. The stained glass windows behind Holden during his big speech make him seem like an evangelist.

Finally, we have Barbara Stanwyck as the heiress whose father founded the company. Until recently it seems, she was also the mistress of the Big Boss. She is depressed and vulnerable in the aftermath of the death of the powerful man who rejected her, selfishly indifferent to what affect his death will have on the company.

Rounding out the cast we have Nina Foch, who as private secretary to the Big Boss, is the major domo of the Executive Suite, making sure meetings run smoothly, privy to all the secrets and keeping her mouth shut.

It’s an engrossing film, character-driven (which we get from the start when each main character is “introduced” to us when Nina Foch knocks on their office doors to remind them of a big meeting. Thus, we see their character names on their doors and identify their faces).

They all have their own agenda. Mr. Holden pouts because his latest product development test got messed up. The Big Boss, who once promised him free reign to improve their furniture, let the ball drop and fell under the spell of business ideology such as Fredric March’s character, Mr. Shaw, where profits are to be doled out to stockholders and not reinvested in the company.

Holden complains, “Improve the profits but never the product. That’s Shaw’s philosophy,” he says of Mr. March. “To him, the whole company’s just a curve on a chart.”

Dean Jagger, a hands-on man like William Holden, who helped start the company, resents Holden’s supposed “golden boy” (so to speak) position with the Big Boss. Mr. Jagger practically invented furniture, he seems to say, “And I didn’t need the boy wonders and the slide rule experts to show me how.” (See this previous post for our discussion on slide rules. My gosh, there’s a link for everything in the post.)

Mr. Jagger is so fed up, he is planning on retiring, and let the company crumble. I love Holden’s admiring smile across the boardroom table when Jagger says he is taking a weekend trip to sail on his boat and eat Maryland crab. It’s a small touch but says volumes about mutual appreciation and comradeship that can exist in companies as well as enmity.

Fredric March tails Paul Douglas to the airport (see this previous post on the Long Beach Airport), to humiliate him by catching him in a tryst with Shelley Winters.

Walter Pidgeon’s wife complains that he has been living in the Big Boss’s shadow, and urges him to make a play for the top job.

A great scene with Mr. Pidgeon, in an attempt to do just this by returning to the office to draft public announcements on the Big Boss’s death and funeral arrangements, discovers the presumptuous Fredric March already there and handling everything himself with a condescending air.

They argue details, but March has clearly assumed control. Walter Pidgeon, ever the gentleman from the old school, is aghast that Mr. March does not intend to close the factory out of respect for the deceased.

Time is money.

Suddenly the plot shifts from what will happen to these board members, to what will happen to the company.

To save it from the nefarious clutches of Fredric March and his ilk, Holden, the reluctant hero, must convince Walter Pidgeon to anoint him heir. Holden must dicker and pontificate in the boardroom in a tense scene to shake them up and win their confidence, rather like a politician. And he must shame Barbara Stanwyck, who holds a controlling vote, into dropping her self pity for two seconds to consider the lives of others and the legacy of this furniture company that bears her family name.

Mr. Holden is worried about the product, and about the workers. When he leaves the plant at the end of the day, after the whistle has blown, an army of laborers files out the gates with him. We see he is a man of the people. He knows many of them by name. Note the American flag in the background, over his head like a halo. This symbol as well as the workers crowding at his elbow already seems to anoint him.

The workers are worried the plant will shut down now that the Big Boss is gone and things are so unsettled. Some complain about the junk furniture they manufacture, a far cry from the good old days when they were proud of their product.

“Why did he allow it?” one disgusted laborer asks Holden, and then the other pivotal question, “Where do we go from here?”

Holden has no answers. But we know where they went. We’ve already arrived.

Have a look at this link to a New York Times story from July about the Harley-Davidson motorcycle manufacturer enjoying soaring profits, more than triple from a year ago. Reaping the profits, specifically, are the shareholders. The workers reap pink slips. Around 1,500 people will be let go by the end of this year. As the article notes, many other manufacturing firms reaping profits this year did so by trimming the fat, which in business terms always seems to mean people, and do not intend to use their profits to rehire anytime soon.

It’s endemic, this cutting the fat. Check out those self-service checkout lines in grocery stores, the ATM in the bank lobby while two tellers work in a bank that has eight empty teller windows, even the new self-service checkout stands in libraries. Cuts down on the need for librarians to check out your books. All for your convenience isn’t it? Yours or theirs?

So much convenience and so few jobs.

“Convenient!” Mr. Pidgeon blasts Mr. March, “That’s always been your attitude…to make everything as convenient as possible for yourself!”

It is interesting, and somewhat astonishing, to note that what we might lament as the failure of industry in this country and corporate greed today had roots as far back as 1954, specifically the notion that the product will become inferior and the jobs will be lost if the only object is profit for the shareholders.

We were enjoying one of the most energetic and profitable business booms of all time in the early 1950s. But here in this film, we see the veneer crack a little. In industry and in the cheap line of furniture this company has been making, shaving off quality to bolster the bottom line.

The climax of the film is a boardroom showdown between factions, intentions, and ideals. Where Nina Foch, by the way, takes notes in shorthand. Is shorthand taught anymore? I suspect it has gone the way of the dial telephone and antimacassars.

William Holden gets thrust to the top of the heap when he decides to take the responsibility to point out how lousy things have been run in the company. He assumes a leadership role by doing this, thereby anointing himself.

While we listen to his words, our minds may wander a little bit from the plot to what is going on in our own lives.

Fredric March spells it out succinctly, “I believe that a company is answerable first and last to its stockholders.”

Mr. Pidgeon protests, “I get it. Manufacturing and selling don’t count anymore.”

Mr. Holden agrees with Pidgeon, “Sometimes you have to use your profits for the good of the company, not paying them all out in dividends to impress the stockholders with your management record.”

Mr. March contends, with a nod to the brooding Miss Stanwyck at his elbow, that the Big Boss ran things that way. Holden comes back with a remark that seems to speak directly to us.

“He was wrong, the way a lot of people are wrong these days, grabbing for the quick and easy, the sure thing. That’s just a lack of faith in the future.”

His soliloquy about let’s run a better company starts to sound like Mickey Rooney exhorting the gang to put on a show, and some of his remarks might sound just as naïve to us. Holden talks about putting out a line of product that “has beauty and function and value.” Yeah, right.

He talks about workers on the line who prefer to take a pay cut to post to other jobs in the company, just to avoid working on the really cheap crap they’ve been making because it damages their pride.

He tells Barbara Stanwyck that they must put out product that she will be proud to bear her family name.

Do we still have that kind of pride? Willing to take a pay cut to avoid demeaning ourselves? As for pride in family names on companies, in a world where most of our big corporations are acronyms or just a meaningless jumble of vowels and consonants arising from many names over the course of many takeovers, do we really know what company we’re dealing with when we buy that item?

Though the movie ends on a hopeful note (except for Fredric March, whose sickened expression after losing the presidency of the company is priceless), we may not be able to help brooding on the old lady laborer, who walks out of the factory with the swarm of other workers after punching out, to ask William Holden about their future. They know the company is in trouble.

“Everything’s going to be all right, isn’t it?” She asks.

“Don’t you worry about it,” he tells her with a comforting smile.

“But you weren’t here in ’33, you don’t know how it was…”

I wonder, do we know now?

William Holden only guessed at catastrophe for the company and the nation in a booming 1954 when the net dividend for the stockholders was starting to become the benchmark for the health of the company, not the quality of its goods or services, not how many people it employed or if those employees were able to earn a sufficient living.

This is what makes this film fascinating. It can speak to us through a span of more than five decades and still be relevant, yet not relevant because of any timeless quality of human behavior…relevant because its subject is so ironically and unexpectedly topical.

Topical despite that they were in a boom, and we are…where we are, where we were headed back then with decades of deregulation in our future, and industrial flight to overseas plants to improve the net dividend for the stockholders.

By the way, happy Labor Day.

Thursday, September 2, 2010