|In every movie I've ever seen that featured labor unions as a plot element, the unions were almost always portrayed as the bad guys. Unions were corrupt, full of mobsters and not above using strong arm tactics to achieve their goals. In short, the unions were almost always synonymous with organized crime. That is, almost always.|
THE GARMENT JUNGLE (1957), which I watched the other day, is the only movie I've ever seen that reverses this long-held cinematic paradigm. In JUNGLE, organized crime is employed by a dress manufacturing company to keep the union out of its shop. Lee J. Cobb is the owner of the business and he wants no part of the union because allowing his shop to unionize will mean an increase in his operating expenses and cut into his profits. He built this company with his bare hands and he's not about to turn it over to the union. In order to prevent this, he pays mob muscle man Richard (HAVE GUN, WILL TRAVEL) Boone to serve as his enforcer. Boone and his boys (including Wesley (KISS ME DEADLY) Addy), put the screws to anyone who tries to organize a union in the shop.
The leader of the union movement is Robert (T.H.E. CAT) Loggia, a passionate man with a beautiful young wife (Gia Scala) and a new baby. He believes wholeheartedly in the union and he's willing to fight for it, alongside other pro-union workers such as Joseph (DR. NO) Wiseman.
Thrown into the middle of this conflict is Kerwin (7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD) Mathews. He's Cobb's prodigal son, fresh from a stint in Europe and he's returned home to work beside his dad and learn the garment business from the inside out. Trouble is, Mathews is a union sympathizer, which doesn't sit well with dad Cobb. Things to come to a boil and people are killed before everything turns out okay in the end.
THE GARMENT JUNGLE is an interesting minor noir. It's gritty and has several nice New York City location shots. Director Robert Aldrich began shooting the film but eventually left the project. He was replaced by Vincent Sherman, who does a workman like job of orchestrating the action. Everyone in the cast is good (with one exception). You've got to love a movie that has Celia (STAR TREK: AMOK TIME) Lovsky and Sid (GREEN ACRES) Melton in it. Boone is a great bad guy, Loggia is intense, Cobb is stubborn and Scala is very attractive.
The biggest problem with this film is Kerwin Mathews. He was serviceable as Sindbad in a role that didn't require him to bring much depth to the part. But here, he's terrible. Unbelievably wooden and stiffer than one of the many dress dummies used in the film. I'm sure Mathews was cast because he was under contract to Columbia Pictures and they had to put him in something. He's a nice looking guy: tall, broad shoulders, square jaw, dark hair. But boy, is he a bad actor! And his badness stands out like a sore thumb against a cast of uniformly better performers.
Still, THE GARMENT JUNGLE is an interesting little film. It's worth seeing once if only for the novelty of a dress making factory using thugs against the union. Recommended.