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The Working Class
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The Working Class - 7/25 (Daytime)


Since the earliest days of film, movies have portrayed working men and women from all cultures, showing their chores, their challenges, their joy and despair. These are the people who keep a country afloat with their hard and often unsung labor. TCM recognizes the working class with a day of programming that spans various eras of cinematic history and culture, ranging from 1925's Strike, a silent film about factory workers in pre-Revolutionary Russia; to 1970's Wanda, in which an unhappy housewife searches for security in Eastern Pennsylvania's coal country.

Strike (1925) is the first feature-length film by acclaimed Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein. The strike begins when a factory worker hangs himself after being accused of thievery. As the conflict builds, the military is called in to liquidate striking workers. In the most famous sequence Eisenstein--a master of cross-cutting--alternates the violent suppression of the strikers with shots of cattle being slaughtered.

Our Daily Bread (1934) is writer-director King Vidor's sequel to his silent classic The Crowd (1928), with some of the same characters played by different actors. This time the Depression-era couple from the earlier film, now played by Tom Keene and Karen Morley, move to a farm. There they work with a collective facing problems including a severe drought.

Modern Times (1936) is Charlie Chaplin's masterpiece in which his classic "Little Tramp" character struggles with life in the Industrial Age, making chaos of such jobs as assembly-line worker, night watchman and singing waiter. This was Chaplin's final "silent" film, filled with sound effects but avoiding dialogue. Paulette Goddard costars as a pretty orphan on the lam.

Salt of the Earth (1954) was created by American filmmakers Michael Wilson, Herbert J. Biberman and Paul Jarrico, all of whom had been blacklisted due to alleged communist connections. Based on a true incident in New Mexico, the film tells of a long and troubled strike by Mexican-American miners who were demanding decent working conditions. In neo-realist style, many roles were filled by actual miners and their families. The film, one of the first of its era to embrace a feminist viewpoint in social and political matters, was blacklisted for a time because of perceived leftist leanings. It at last found its audience and even developed a cult following.

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960), directed by Karel Reisz and based on a novel by Alan Sillitoe, was part of the "angry young man" movement in British films and plays of the 1960s. Albert Finney enjoyed a breakthrough performance as a young machinist who spends his weekends in hedonistic pursuits, and has an affair with a married woman (Rachel Roberts).

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962) is another British movie based on a story by Sillitoe, this one directed by Tony Richardson and starring Tom Courtenay as a troubled working-class youth who finds physical and emotional release in long-distance running. Michael Redgrave also stars as a reform school head with whom Courtenay's character clashes.

Wanda (1970) is an independent feature written and directed by Barbara Loden, who also stars in the title role as a Pennsylvania woman who goes through a divorce in which she loses her children. Alone and unable to find work, she finds herself involved in brief relationships with three men who treat her badly. The film, described by Loden as partly autobiographical, was not a financial success but gained respect through festivals and other filmmakers who championed it.

by Roger Fristoe

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