Thursday, September 29, 2011

Dressed to Kill - 1946

“Dressed to Kill” (1946) is the final “Sherlock Holmes” film starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, capping a series of 14 movies. That’s enough reason watch, but you may find watching difficult as copies of this public domain movie are not in great condition.

I’ll not go too deep into the plot as anything is likely to be a spoiler in a mystery. The story unfolds, however, in a nice way that lets us see the clues at the same time Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson do. In a lot of mysteries, movies as well as books, there are facts not revealed to us until the end, but the deduction has a real-time feel here. We know as much as they do. Mr. Rathbone is the cerebral and unemotional Mr. Holmes, and Mr. Bruce is the jovial Dr. Watson, who chronicles Sherlock’s exploits in the Strand.

A prison inmate makes plain wooden music boxes, and they are sold at auction to collectors and toy store owners. We eventually discover that the music boxes contain clues to hidden plates that were used in a forgery scheme. His gang on the outside are retrieving the music boxes to get the clues, to get the plates.

Though the series was fun, I was never quite reconciled to placing Sherlock outside his Victorian era. The only time we see his deerstalker hat in this movie is a brief glimpse in the background, resting on a wig stand. It looks a little sad.

Dr. Watson, again, provides the comic relief, particularly when comforting a little girl they’ve rescued. He is left to babysit and tries to amuse her by making duck sounds. This distresses her more.

His old school chum “Stinky”, played by Edmund Breon, drops by. He happens to be a music box collector and so finds himself tangled in the mystery. Dr. Watson may have the friend with the funny name, but Stinky is Public School and patrician all the same, despite his goofiness.

Sherlock, on the other hand, has friends in lower society, such as the busker in the pub for street singers who helps him trace a tune from a music box as a clue. He’s a scruffy-looking fellow, but all business and with far more dignity than the clownish Stinky.

The title of the movie, which doesn’t sound like a Sherlock Holmes story at all (unless somebody was murdered during Fashion Week in NYC), comes from the villain’s wearing disguises to commit crimes.

Patricia Morison plays a music box buyer who visits their bachelor pad, and becomes a problem, as women will be, particularly with bachelors.

Mary Gordon is back as Mrs. Hudson, their housekeeper at 221B Baker Street.

The plot moves briskly along, and at one point Basil Rathbone must work his way out of a “certain death” trap like Houdini. This scene is actually the most chilling in the movie; not for his struggle to escape, but because the bad guys who tie him up leave him in a room with a canister of poison gas. He is told, “The Germans used it with gratifying results in removing their undesirables.”

This was early 1946, when the horrors of the Nazi regime were still raw and still being uncovered. A startling and somewhat sickening line.

For a generation, and generations afterward, Basil Rathbone WAS Sherlock Holmes. For a look at the man who held the title before him, visit my New England Travels blog for Tuesday’s post on William Gillette, who played Sherlock on stage in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He coined many of the attributes we think of when we think of Sherlock Holmes, and built an extraordinary castle on the Connecticut River.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Any Number Can Play - 1949

"Any Number Can Play" (1949) is a spot-the-character-actor festival.  Shown recently on TCM, I came in late, after the opening credits, and knowing nothing about the film, I had a ball picking out character actors I knew or thought I knew.

The leads, to be sure, are enough of a draw.  Clark Gable is a the owner of a gambling house, who spends too much time at work, and whose attacks of angina point to stress and serious heart trouble if he doesn't take it easy. 

Alexis Smith is his wife, who has grown lonelier through the years in his absence, and especially now that her son is almost grown.   Darryl Hickman plays their boy, who is angry at his father for being absent, being the town notorious clip joint owner, and for wanting him to fight other kids when he has no desire to punch anybody. 

There seems to be a lot of emphasis on Gable's disappointment in his son's lack of a brawling gene (there is a toy model of two boxers in a ring on Gable's desk), and his resentment at being resented.

There's not a lot of action; it's a quiet movie, an interesting study of a man not only feeling his age but feeling his mortality, along with a lot of brief side glimpses at the desperation of addicted gamblers and the nature of life as being one big gamble.

This is our post-War Gable, older and looking it, but still with that incredible magnetism.  When he walks through the crowded gambling salon, he's the only person you watch.

Unfortunately Alexis Smith doesn't get to stretch her acting muscles much in this film, except for one very lovely scene.  Gable rumages among the junk in the cellar of their mansion looking for a set of old fishing flies for a long-postponed vacation his doctor says he should take or else.  Alexis leads him off to a side room in the cellar she has fixed up for herself.  She calls it a memory room.

It is a small hideway, a looking almost like a camping cottage.  There are a few pieces of mismatched old furnature, a phonograph, a baby's wooden highchair, and an old double bed that had been theirs in the small apartment they had when they were first married.  All the items are from the early years of their marriage, including the box of fishing flies Gable wants.

He is astonished, and she explains in a low, almost whispered voice that she misses the days when they were together more, when he was just starting out in business, and when they shared all their thoughts and experiences.  Her pain and her disapointment, and her frustration at having to be the linchpin between her estranged husband and son, are mitigated only by her great love for this man.  He flops on the lumpy mattress and she joins him, still whispering between kisses, a very touching seduction scene (We can only suppose she's keeping one foot on the floor).   She is more impressive in this scene than Gable, whose normal tone of speaking voice seems almost a shout compared to her softer tones, and he looks uncomfortable.  He's the rogue of younger days, chasing women in between wisecracks, and does not seem to like being seduced.

However his later scene with Mary Astor, as an old flame who still pines for him, is more profound and shows Gable as lonely as his wife.  One interesting thing about this movie is that, despite Gable's obvious magnestim before the camera, he must also have slipped the cameraman a buck or two because in several scenes he is shown facing the camera and we see only the back of the person talking to him.  This happens most glaringly with Mary Astor, who plays much of their one scene together with her back to us.  Mary Astor, of all people.

Knowing nothing about this film, and missing the opening credits, Mary Astor pulling on the arm of a slot machine was only one happy surprise.  The rest of the movie  became an Easter egg hunt for familiar faces.

Frank Morgan has a great role as an aggressive gambler, a rival and enemy to Gable, who intends to clean him out.  Morgan is a far cry from his normal jovial roles.  He's menacing, snide, sarcastic, but ultimately respecting Gable for playing the game of life as hard as he does.  Mr. Morgan died only two months after "Any Number Can Play" was released.

Leon Ames is the doctor who tells Gable to cut out bad habits (including work) or he's a goner.  Lewis Stone plays the town drunk, who borrows money from Gable, and loses everything at poker.  If you had no idea Judge Hardy could act, have a look at this movie.

Wendell Corey plays Gable's no-account brother-in-law (married to sis Audrey Totter, who doesn't get much to do expect drink and look bitter).  Mr. Corey is a smarmy weakling, who works at Gable's gambling house and is skimming money for himself.  He's gotten in trouble with a couple of hoods.  William Conrad is one of them.  ("Hey!  William Conrad!" she shouts to the TV like a happy idiot.)

Marjorie Rambeau is the town rich lady with an earthy love of gambling.   Edgar Buchanan is one of the patrons, but I don't think he had any lines.  We just see him looking tense at the poker table from time to time.  ("Hey!  It's Edgar Buchanan!")

Caleb Peterson is the simple-minded bar guy, who we sense is another one of Gable's charity cases.  We caught a brief glimpse of Mr. Peterson as the African-American veteran who helped move the heavy plane engine at  the beginning of "The Best Years of Our Lives."

That's William Edmunds as the men's room attendant - remember Mr. Martini from "It's a Wonderful Life"?

That photo in Gable's office of his son as a little boy  -that's not a young Darryl Hickman.  That's a young Scotty Becket.  You recognize him right off, and it threw me.  I spent the rest of the movie wondering when Scotty Becket would show up

Barbara Billingsly is supposed to be a gambler, too, but I didn't see her anywhere.  Instead, I saw a couple people who weren't there.  I thought I recognized one fellow as Leon Belasco, and another as Regis Toomey, at least from profile - but IMDb doesn't list them in the credits. 

I got so hung up on hunting for character actors at that point, I was starting to see things.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Five Things You Like about Classic Films

JT Lynch photo

Back in the early days of this blog, we put our heads together and came up with lists of things about old movies we liked (and I can’t link to the post offhand because I can’t find it just now) -- that had nothing to do with great actors, directors, or quality of writing. Just the superficial stuff. Since it’s been a while, and since we have so many new readers, I’d like to play the game again. Give me five random examples of what you like about things you see in classic films. I’ll start. It’s my blog.

(Trumpet fanfare) --


1. Flipping calendar pages to mark the passage of time.

2. “Swell.”

3. “Darling.”

4. Candlestick telephones.

5. Wisecracking chorus girls.

Now you go.

Monday, September 19, 2011

An Ache in Every Stake - 1941

“An Ache in Every Stake” (1941) presents The Three Stooges as icemen, who struggle to carry a block of ice up a long outdoor set of concrete stairs before it melts. Such are the simple plots that make The Three Stooges shorts easy enough to entertain children, which is why most children love the Stooges and then grow out of it when they realize they’re not supposed to like something this dumb.

This post is my entry for the Guilty Pleasures Blogathon sponsored by the Classic Movie Blog Association. Have a look here for a list of other blogs participating in this fun event.

However, I wouldn’t say that watching “An Ache in Every Stake”, directed by Del Lord, is really a “guilty” pleasure, as I guess I’m blissfully untroubled by too many of those. With a Stooge-like simplicity, I grew up with the idea that if I liked something, it was automatically “cool”. This covers a pretty large range.

I like the Stooges. These shorts are decried as being violent, which of course they are. But Moe, Curly, and Larry (and other stand-in Stooges off the bench) were never mean, devious, or sinister. They were just stupid. They reacted quickly, like children, to frustration, slapping each other or grabbing each other’s heads with ice tongs in an effort to encourage the offending party to cooperate.

It was always about cooperation. The boys were a team, and their mission here as icemen is to deliver that block of ice to a housekeeper, played by Blanche Payson, so high above them she needs a megaphone to shout her order.

They like their jobs. In any Three Stooges short, you’ll see them working at a variety of jobs, mostly unskilled labor. Films today don’t often show characters who like their jobs, especially “working stiff” type jobs. The Stooges bear none of the, for today, typical resentment and anger, or malice at their jobs. Perhaps because in the Depression they are glad to have any job; perhaps they are just too stupid to know they will never get rich driving an ice wagon.

Perhaps, like me, they are blissfully unaware that driving an ice wagon is not something so great.

But I think it’s their innate childlike pleasure when they accomplish a task that makes them happy people, if not terribly successful.

Not that they accomplish too many tasks well, but one must admire their perseverance.

Their most endearing quality is their willingness to help others, seen in “An Ache in Every Stake” when they suddenly put aside their icemen jobs to prepare a birthday dinner for the master of the house because the tempermental chef, played by Gino Corrado, has quit. Right after the food fight.

The man of the house is played by Vernon Dent, on whom they have already accidently smashed two birthday cakes he was trying to bring home to the party. (Toward the end of the film, they will explode another cake, filled with natural gas, in his face. They are nothing if not consistent.)

His wife, played by Bess Flowers, is distraught about her servant trouble, wanting the party to go well. The Stooges, ever chivalrous where a lady is concerned, don chefs’ outfits and start to cook the dinner and bake the cake. That none of them has experience in this field, has never attended a culinary institute, has never even watched an afternoon of cooking shows on PBS, is irrelevant. The boys must help somehow.

When Curly reads directions he is to separate two eggs, he of course, takes two eggs and places them apart from each other. Something I inevitably call to mind when separating egg whites from the yolks, chuckling with idiotic pleasure.

Bess Flowers, incidentally, has the distinction of being in about a zillion movies as an extra, usually with no lines. Some of the films we’ve already discussed on this blog in which she’s had roles include “Rear Window”, “Dial M for Murder”, “Executive Suite”, “Calamity Jane”, “Here Comes the Groom”, and “Double Indemnity.” In “Cry Wolf”, she’s the woman in the painting on the wall.

So, if the respected Queen of the Extras does not discriminate between A-list films and The Three Stooges, who are we to knock them?

Such is my appreciation for The Stooges and “An Ache in Every Stake” in particular, that I visited the site of those famous steps a few years ago. They are a public walkway (like a vertical alley) connecting a road at the bottom of the hill and a road at the top. It is a residential neighborhood, and as you can see by these photos, much more built up and overgrown than when the Stooges were here, failing to deliver a single block of ice.  They tried to carry a large ice box up the steps instead.  That didn't work out too well, either.  But, as always, high marks for trying.

(JT Lynch photo)

These steps are not marked with a sign noting them as a location shot for the Stooges, as the more famous “Music Box Steps” are that were featured in the Laurel and Hardy film. (Which I discussed in this previous post.) You can find the Stooge steps in the Silver Lake area of Los Angeles between 2257 and 2258 Fair Oak View Terrace in a cul-de-sac. Have a look here at this website for more photos and an areal view of this location.

The blogger as tourist. (JT Lynch photo)

Speaking of film locations of Hollywood movies, have a look here at Dear Old Hollywood, which is a fun blog that tracks down the real-life spots in our favorite films.

The boys "toboggan" down past the landing where I stood in the above photo.

You can watch "An Ache in Every Stake" here on YouTube.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Guilty Pleasures Movie Blogathon

This is to remind our readers of the Guilty Pleasures Blogathon sponsored by the Classic Movie Blog Association coming up next week.   My entry, which will be posted Monday, is "An Ache in Every Stake" (1941), a Three Stooges short.

Have a look here for a schedule of the other blogs participating in this event.  I'm looking forward to reading about a lot of guilty pleasures.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Town Hall Theater - Woodstock, Vermont

This is the historic Town Hall Theater on the town common in Woodstock, Vermont.  First-run movies, state of the art screen and sound equipment.  An unlikely venue in a small town?  Maybe, but why build a cineplex when you've got a perfectly good Historic Town Hall?  That also serves for live performances. 

And the maple syrup popcorn is probably not coming to a theater near you.  You have to come here.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Toast of New York - 1937

The Toast of New York (1937) turns character actor Edward Arnold into a romantic lead. This alone makes this uneven movie a delight.

Based on the true life and financial skullduggery of 19th century entrepreneur James Fisk, Jr., Edward Arnold plays Fisk the Robber Baron with the aplomb of a swashbuckler. In tow are Cary Grant and Jack Oakie as his junior partners. They follow his lead from scheme to scheme like courtiers to a king.

Both, interestingly, play their roles in a subdued, understated manner. To some extent, their parts as written are subordinate to Edward Arnold’s bombastic Jim Fisk, but one expects more broad playing from Oakie in his stooge-like character. He is unusually restrained.

Cary Grant even more so. He is deferential to Mr. Arnold in business matters, and carefully avoids confrontation in a personal matter -- Mr. Arnold’s new friend, lovely Frances Farmer. She is the showgirl, Josie Mansfield (who, incidentally had died only a few years before this movie was made), who Mr. Arnold takes on as his protégé, and probably, love interest. Their romantic involvement, with barely a suggestion of intimacy, is really left for us to assume. It’s not just the Production Code that prevents the movie from being more explicit about their relationship. Jim Fisk is so in love with money there’s little room for anything else in his life (though in real life he found time for both).

Josie Mansfield thinks so, too, but is so grateful to Mr. Arnold for the jewelry and the publicity for her career, that she takes great pains to ignore her attraction for Mr. Grant. Cary Grant, meanwhile, brushes her off with coldness bordering on anger, but it is just to mask his own attraction for her. He does not want to hurt his boss by running off with his boss’s showgirl.

Donald Meek has a great role as Jim Fisk’s fellow Robber Baron, Daniel Drew, the scripture-quoting cheapskate who wants to snatch the Erie Railroad from Cornelius Vanderbilt so bad he can taste it, and so enters into a partnership with the devil, Jim Fisk. Mr. Meek and Mr. Arnold are a study in contrasting temperaments (one reticent and cautious, one bold and risk-taking), physical types (one small and weak-appearing, and one large, appearing bolder still in uniforms the like of which might be worn by a vain dictator), and voices (the wizened whine of Meek, and the booming, barrel-chested baritone of Arnold). They are a little like the Laurel and Hardy of Wall Street.

Billy Gilbert has a minor role, too, as a frustrated photographer.

The movie begins at the outbreak of the Civil War, as Messrs. Arnold, Grant, and Oakie are playing a peddlar’s con game in the south. They are “outed” as Yankees, and make a mad dash for the Mason-Dixon line -- just over that bridge -- to escape certain death by vigilantes and the townspeople they cheated. Then Arnold decides smuggling cotton to the north, defying the Union blockade, would be a better racket. It is one of many speculative ventures that lead the trio from ruin to wealth, to ruin, to wealth.

The climatic scenes of the movie are the most dramatic, and involve Jim Fisk’s attempt to corner the gold market, sending Wall Street into a tizzy. His rivals are frantic on the floor, while Edward Arnold sneers over the merciless ticker tape. The price of gold rises and rises, and Wall Street shudders, storming over to Mr. Arnold’s place to kill the gold-eating monster. They don’t have to bother; President Grant (not seen in the movie) releases gold reserves and saves the day. (He should see the price of gold today.)

The montage of piling coins and falling stocks, with a ticker tape run wild are images not unfamiliar to the generation that watched this movie in theaters. It had been only some eight years since the Crash of ’29 brought their worlds down upon them, so what we might view as a quaint and possibly over-dramatic representation of the financial panic of 1869 was to them a personal reminder of human frailty and financial Armageddon.

But this is perhaps nothing in comparison to the mind blowing image of Edward Arnold as a romantic rival to Cary Grant. It’s Mr. Arnold’s movie, right down to the melodramatic ending, and one can’t help feeling glad he’s got the spotlight.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Middle of the Night - 1959

Middle of the Night (1959) begins with a camera shot out the back of a moving truck in New York City traffic. It is early morning. The soft strains of a single oboe lend a contemplative touch. We float through the traffic and the pedestrians (actual New Yorkers going to work and unaware they are being filmed from the back of a truck). We head into the Garment District, and we see workers pushing rolling racks of clothing on the street. Here is where Fredric March spends his days and a good many of his nights as a clothing manufacturer.

We celebrate Labor Day today with a look at this terrific film about a middle-aged widower, a self-made man and workaholic, who begins a romantic relationship with his 24-year-old receptionist, played by Kim Novak. Their performances are powerful, and the script by Paddy Chayefsky adapted from his Broadway play, is the kind of introspective, sensitive, and adult (in the real meaning) story we rarely see anymore. There are no “Storyline for Dummies” cliché images; we are meant to take our time, and expend a little effort, to understand.

Directed by Delbert Mann, the film, being film, takes us places that the stage play can’t - outside in the wintry streets, allowing us to examine the cold stone exteriors of the claustrophobic interiors were we spend so much time.

What interests me most about the writer’s and director’s treatment of this story is how much importance they place on the workplace. We know that Fredric March is a well-off factory owner, but are not asked to accept this on faith with a shot of him at a desk mumbling into a Dictaphone. He is a hands-on manufacturer and his work is his life. He is sort of the opposite of the smarmy corporate shark he played here in Executive Suite, which we examined Labor Day last year. Fredric March is riveting, commanding every scene.

The scenes showing the love story between Kim Novak and March, and the emotional confrontations with their families, are always interspersed with scenes of the workplace. Unlike like many films showing career people in turmoil, here it is the job that represents the sane, safe place, and the home life is the source of tension and chaos.

When we arrive at the factory, it is as if we are taken out of the back of the truck by the delivery driver, and brought up to the dark, narrow hall where Kim Novak types and shuffles manifests and bills of lading behind her receptionist’s window. The delivery guy leers at her, and she is flustered, wants to get rid of him quick. She is distraught and in the throes of some emotional crisis.

Just beyond the office is the factory floor, where men are cutting out clothing patterns on long tables, and Fredric March takes a moment to have a coffee in a paper cup with some of his salesmen, who tell tales of the road. They are all middle aged men, feeling the angst of knowing their own mortality, and morbidly gossip about whom among their peers is sick and who is dead.

His business partner brags of his romantic conquests of younger women. Played by Albert Dekker, he has a pivotal role through the film as the example of a man not going gently into that good night, but making a fool of himself among his colleagues. Towards the end of the movie, we see how really unhappy he is, and how a desperate action of his makes March take some decisive action of his own.

Dekker playfully leers at Kim Novak, and she is unnerved, ready to fall apart.

Mr. March leaves work early to go home and change for a meeting with the union that evening, the drudge and curse of management. He lives with his older unmarried sister, who manages their apartment and tries to manage him. He has a grown son and daughter, and a grandchild. When his daughter tells him he should start to see other women, he tells her that he had been seeing a woman who was a buyer for Saks Fifth Avenue -- it’s all about work in this movie -- but she declined his marriage proposal. He has not seen her in a couple months.

When March is heading out the door to his union meeting, he stops, in his hat and coat, to try one more phone call to this woman. Though we hear only his side of the conversation, we watch him become deflated as she brushes him off, and tells him she has married someone else. As pitiful as the scene is, Mr. March is not the kind of man to ask for pity. He is gracious and gentlemanly on the phone, though his voice shakes and his lips tremble.

It is an interesting sketch of a man who, as we are gradually told through the film, came to this country as a child, had no formal education, and though he lived through some hard and miserable times on the street, worked diligently to establish his own business and thrived. Not only did he work hard, but he learned -- from others, from the people around him whether they were his workers or others, perhaps bankers and business associates, and teachers from the design school he attended -- people who were his superiors in education and society -- how to speak and how to behave like the man he wanted to become. We sense that though he came from the streets, by the time he worked his way up to his own factory floor, he left streets outside.

Before he can attend his meeting, he has to stop by Kim Novak’s apartment to pick up some work she had brought home. He is cordial and businesslike with her, but suddenly struck with sympathy for her when he sees she is struggling with some unspoken overwhelming burden. Though he may occasionally bark at his employees, he is an old-style paternalistic master, who takes responsibility for his own. Through the course of the evening, he gets her to talk, and he listens patiently, to her unhappy marriage that ended in divorce, to her unhappy childhood with a father who abandoned them and a mother who ignored her.

Cut to later in the evening when she is telling a funny story about her teenage years, and we see he is laughing and enjoying her company. He breaks up the evening only long enough to make a quick call to the union meeting and tells them affably, with only mock gruffness, “All right, tell them we’ll make it six cents a seam.” He used to belong to a union himself. He knows that workers have value, not just because of what they can do for him, but because they are human beings and so is he.

And those of us who had been union factory workers or children of union factory workers know that each sick day, health benefit, or few cents an hour raise came not through the corporation’s benevolence, but by fighting tooth and nail for it.

In one scene, March is urged by his salesmen to take on a big new client and dump the little ones. He refuses, because they have been faithful customers, these smaller stores who buy his merchandize. He treats his customers with fairness and respect, because they have been with him through thick and thin, and he knows the bigger conglomerates will not extend him the same courtesy. “We don’t chisel our customers for anybody!”

Mr. March finds himself smitten with Miss Novak, astonished that it should be so, but with honesty and frankness, has already diagnosed himself as going through a midlife crisis. Because of his unflinching analysis about himself, he is able to apply the same direct focus on her problems. She feels confidence in him, and he helps her to untangle her emotional pain.

We see a shot of him later on in the movie pinning a cloth pattern on a dressmaker’s dummy, smoothing the fabric over the shoulders with a capable, almost loving touch. We sense his knowledge of human beings developed through years of making clothing for them, as if in creating this shell for the outside of the people, he has gained knowledge of what’s going on inside them.

Their relationship is tenuous, frightening for both of them. They pull away, and get back together with frustrating repetition. We are reminded by them, and by their unsympathetic families how impossible or inappropriate a romance between a 56-year-old man and a 24-year-old woman is supposed to be. We are shown no fairy tales of love conquers all or automatic happy endings, but we see the struggle of loving and being loved.

We see other married couples in the film who are more suitable for each other, yet are more unhappy. Martin Balsam plays Fredric March’s son-in-law, one of a few actors who also appeared in the original stage version. (Edward G. Robinson played March’s role on stage, with Gena Rowlands in the Kim Novak role.) Balsam has some great scenes as one of the Bright Young Men of the late corporate 1950s whose wife shows, at times, cruel disregard for his feelings until he finally blows up at her.

I love these films of the late 1950s and early 1960s when we get to see the greats of Hollywood’s Golden Age matched up with the rising young TV-trained stars. We saw some of this before here in The Dark at the Top of the Stairs (1960) -- another Delbert Mann-directed movie.

In some scenes, Mr. March tentatively talks about his youth, which is tied inextricably like everything else in his life, to his business. It is as if he tries to explain himself to her, for the sake of transparency let her see the goods before she buys. During one such scene, they are in the work room late at night alone, he in his shirt sleeves finishing up an order, tracing markers for a pattern.

He talks about being a kid of 14 when he started work. “I joined the union, they made me a goon…you don’t know what went on here 30, 40 years ago. Bosses hired gangsters, we hired gangsters. People were murdered right in the streets here.”

But though she listens, those other moments she explores his craggy face with her young hands are what seem to tell her more about him, and it is exquisitely touching how hungrily she seeks to know him by touching his face, on which his age is plastered more plainly than anything else about him. His birth certificate or his resume of past experience could not tell her more than the lined and sagging skin on his cheek.

More juxtaposition of home with work. After a scene where Novak comes to March’s apartment to meet his family, where all are well-behaved but on tenterhooks, we cut to a more relaxed and happy scene in the workroom where the office girls and the salesmen from the road, and cutters in the shop gather for a farewell party for Miss Novak. She is leaving her job to marry Mr. March (which though common back in the day, it was also common for married women in mom-and-pop establishments to continue working. March’s factory seems less corporate than it does mom-and-pop. You’d think that both would prefer to continue to spend their days together as well as their nights.) The workers celebrate with cold cuts from the deli and champagne in paper cups. It is her first party, and she is delighted at the attention.

Then cut to another nasty confrontation from her family, who bring her down quickly, especially her best friend, a very bitter Lee Grant, who tells her that life is just “pay the rent, and go to sleep.”

Novak defends her relationship with Mr. March, “I don’t have to beg him for kindness; he gives it with both hands.”

We know what they want and they know what they want, the question is, are labor and management able to get together? And would world end if they did?

As long as we’re talking about juxtaposition here, a good film to watch with this movie is the HBO documentary Schmatta: Rags to Riches to Rags (2009).

This is a fantastic documentary illustrating the history of the garment industry in New York City, with lots of archival footage from the early 1900s right up through the 1990s. Immigrants, mom and pop to big corporations -- the nuts and bolts of the garment industry and how its story works as a microcosm for what has gone wrong with the American economy -- namely the deregulation that allowed jobs to be sent overseas, the weakening of unions, and the new corporate mentality of focusing on the stockholder instead of the product as Wall Street takes over the operation.

What do they know about making clothes? This is what one laid-off garment worker in the film wants to know. Maybe nothing, but they do know that slave labor, including that of children, in overseas sweatshops makes for a sweet profit.

There are many interviews with garment industry workers from all levels, from sewing to the designers. One recalls her immigrant mother quitting her sewing job one day -- I believe this was in the early 1960s. The woman, herself a laid off garment industry worker today, recounts with disbelief that her mother simply walked into another factory and got a new job that same afternoon. There was a sea of jobs in what had been the largest single employer in New York City. And over 90 percent of those jobs union.

Archival footage showing us fashion through the decades. We see the guys hauling rolling racks of clothes along Seventh Avenue, and the enormous work rooms full of sewing machines, the designers who in the 1970s and 1980s became rock star famous, the bridal shops, the sportswear and separates, the ranchero scarves, and the glitz of the sequined 1980s. It’s a fascinating ride through fashion and culture, and money, and politics.

A stunning montage shows that in 1965 about 95 percent of the clothes bought and worn in America were made in America.

In 1975, that dropped to 80 percent.

In 1985 - 70 percent.

In 1995 - 50 percent.

And in 2009, the year this television documentary was made -- only 5 percent of the clothing sold and worn in the USA was made here.

That’s a lot to think about, and I leave you to think about it. Happy Labor Day.

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