Saturday, December 11, 2010

Movie Review: The Organizer (1963)

New York Times
Published: May 7, 1964

MAYBE you wouldn't expect a two hour Italian film about a strike in a Turin textile factory at the end of the 19th century to be especially entertaining. But wait until you see "The Organizer" ("I Compagni"), which came to the Coronet yesterday.

Surpassing my expectations, at least, this simple social drama turns out to be engrossingly human, compassionate and humorous. It is an account full of character of a pathetically primitive effort by a group of factory workers to better their lot (which is awful), with the help and encouragement of a vagrant school teacher who seems to have had a little experience with the technique of the strike.

True, a lot of credit for the humor and sincerity must go to Marcello Mastroianni, the remarkably versatile actor who plays the title role with a delightful blend of ardor, ingenuousness and whimsicality. He excels as the shaggy-haired, near-sighted, idealistic intellectual who leads a handful of downtrodden workers (14-hour day, no accident insurance, no vacations and so forth) in a revolt.

But the whole thing is done with such veracity and the other roles are so strongly played — or, at least, so graphically represented—that one feels right in the middle of one of those classic demonstrations in which the labor movement was born.

The film was directed by Mario Monicelli, who also helped write the script. It moves with lively tempo through a succession of simple episodes that expose the exploitation of the workers and their justification for taking matters into their hands. Then it presents in vivid fashion the savage and human incidents of the strike and the leavening influence of the teacher in helping people to help themselves.

That's about all there is to it. Nothing much is revealed, outside of the climate of 19th-century industrialization and the spirit of a lonely, driven man.

But the camera, work is superior. It has that wonderful lean quality, that strong, hard definition in subtly shaded black-and-white that you see in the classic still photographs of Jacob Riis, who did so much to depict the American urban scene at the turn of the century.

The women and girls and little children in their voluminous, shabby dresses and tattered clothes, the men with their flowing mustaches, sad eyes and knobby hands, the dank look of crowded homes and factories — all are in this film.

Good performances are given by several people — too many to try to cite, indeed. But I must mention Gabriella Giorgelli as a sort of small-time Madame Lafarge, Renato Salvatori as a congenital rebel and Annie Girardot as a prostitute with a heart of gold.

There is much about this picture that is mindful of "Gervaise." It has the same feeling for the underprivileged.

Music and subtitles are good.

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