Monday, May 11, 2009

Latino Images in Film ~ The Garment Jungle (1957)

The Garment Jungle (1957) is an industry-specific film noir focuses on the shady dealings in NYC's garment business circa mid-1950s. Walter Mitchell (Lee J. Cobb) of Roxton Fashions has a major dispute with his business partner over the formation of a union to protect the company's workers, many of whom are Latinos. Shortly thereafter the business partner dies in a freak elevator "accident". Mitchell has been paying gangsters to help protect his business from the union but is too busy to realize that they have killed his partner and best friend. Mitchell's son Alan (Kerwin Matthews) becomes part of his father's business right at the moment when the tension between the union and the workers, the executives and the thugs is about to get out of control. Alan meets worker Tulio, a frustrated union leader desperate for change even if it means neglecting his wife Theresa (Gia Scala) and child. When Tulio is killed by the gangsters, Alan is determined to make his deluded father see what's really going on and to cut the company's ties with the gangsters for good.

The screenplay was inspired by an expose written by Lester Velie and published in the July 1955 issue of Readers Digest called "Gangsters in the Dress Business". The Hispanic workers at the garment factory and represented in the film are overworked, underpaid and fed up with it. When they try to fight back, they are oppressed with extreme violence. In real life, a union worker was killed by gangsters and the footage of the funeral is used in the film. The exploitation of Hispanic workers is still an ongoing problem today so this film could definitely open up the opportunity to have some round table discussions.

This is a film in which the execution is poor yet the cultural concept is interesting enough it makes it worth viewing. The acting is so-so and the story is weighed down by poorly written dialogue and weak romantic sub-plots. I was a bit disturbed by the widow Theresa being passed off to a new man before the first husband was even dead. It's not something that happens in the story per-say but as the audience member you know that it's coming. I also found the inclusion of racism a little forced. It's as though someone said "hey we need some derrogatory terms thrown at these Latino characters, let's say ''spic bum' a few times, that should do it!" Otherwise, culturally this film is representative of a volatile time in American history and serves well as a vehicle of looking at the present through the past.

Level of Brown Face: 1 out of 5 shades. Italian is Hispanic enough in this film...

TCM Latino Images in Film Line-Up for Tuesday May 12th

Tortilla Flat (1942)
... And Now Miguel (1943)
The Milagro Beanfield War (1988)
Salt of the Earth (1954)
The Garment Jungle (1957)

4 comments:

  1. Really, it is a shame that the concept of The Garment Jungle wasn't handled by better hands. It was certainly pertinent to the times and, in fact, it is still pertinent today. If it had starred A-class actors, been directed by an A-class director, and written by an A-class writer, it could have really been a possible classic

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  2. fun blog!

    Todd
    http://toddgourley.blogspot.com/

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  3. This is one for which I've programmed the DVD recorder. Never miss a chance to catch a Lee J. Cobb film.

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  4. Muy interesante! Realmente tiene que ver más cine latino. No sé ninguna de estas películas que usted está escribiendo sobre.

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