The Garment Jungle
Rated: Not Rated
Length: 88 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Languages: English, French
Subtitles: English, French
Sony is rolling out a new series of DVD releases of films from the fifties, sixties and seventies called “Martini Movies.” While the first five titles in the series are new to DVD, and welcome ones at that, it is difficult to discern any obvious similarities among them. The five films are Affair in Trinidad, $(Dollars), The Anderson Tapes, The New Centurions, and the film which is the subject of this review, The Garment Jungle. Two of the films were directed by Vincent Sherman, but beyond that they have very little in common.
The Garment Jungle is a gritty but not entirely satisfying film noir set in New York City’s garment district during the fifties. In those days almost all clothing sold in the United States was also manufactured in this country, and by the mid-fifties the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union was busy organizing the sweatshop workers who labored all day over sewing machines. One of the leading manufacturers of dresses, Roxton Fashions, has been fighting off attempts to unionize its workers. One of Roxton’s owners, Fred Kenner (Robert Ellenstein), wants to give up the fight, but his partner, Walter Mitchell (Lee J. Cobb), vows that he will never allow the union into the business.
Kenner is killed when the building’s freight elevator plunges down the elevator shaft. Tulio Renata (Robert Loggia), the union organizer who is trying to get Roxton Fashions to accept the ILGWU, believes that Kenner has been murdered. Mitchell has been paying a thug named Artie Ravidge (Richard Boone) “protection” money to keep Roxton Fashions union-free. Mitchell turns a blind eye to the methods Ravidge uses, but Renata knows that Ravidge will stop at nothing.
In the meantime, Mitchell’s son Alan (Kerwin Mathews) has returned home from Europe, where he has been for the past three years. Alan has decided that he wants to join his father’s business, but he has not anticipated finding his father at war with a labor union. He also is surprised to find that his father has taken up with a younger woman, Lee Hackett (Valerie French), who is a buyer for department stores. Alan decides that he needs to get to the bottom of the labor dispute. He meets with Renata and Renata’s wife, Theresa (Gia Scala). Theresa desperately wants Renata to give up his union organizing because she fears for his life. Alan begins to believe that Renata’s claims may be true, and perhaps his father’s partner really was murdered.
The Garment Jungle has some historical significance because it was one of the first Hollywood films to portray labor unions in a favorable light. The employees at Roxton Fashions clearly are overworked and underpaid, and they receive no benefits. This gives Roxton a competitive edge over other dress manufacturers who have higher overhead. But, as Mitchell makes clear, his anti-union sentiments are more about control than money. He fears that if he gives in to the union he will begin to lose control of his company, and that he will not abide.
The film had a somewhat troubled production. The original director was Robert Aldrich, but he was replaced by Vincent Sherman a few weeks before the filming was completed. Aldrich claimed that he never saw the finished product, so it is unclear how much of what we see was made by Aldrich and what parts were directed by Sherman. My guess is that the rougher scenes were the work of Aldrich. The weakest part of the film is the conclusion, which seems rushed and contrived. Overall, however, The Garment Jungle is fast-paced and exciting. Richard Boone is thoroughly ominous in his last feature film performance before achieving stardom as Paladin in the television series “Have Gun – Will Travel” (discerning viewers will note that Ravidge has Paladin's moustache). Kerwin Mathews does not have a strong screen presence, but Loggia and Scala are excellent as the tempestuous married couple and Lee J. Cobb is very good as the stubborn but conflicted business owner. The film’s exteriors were shot on location in New York City, and New Yorkers should have fun checking out the scenes shot on W. 34th Street and in Harlem. A funeral scene takes place at the Manhattan Center, which is still in operation near Madison Square Garden and Penn Station.
The Garment Jungle is recognized by “Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style” as an authentic and significant part of the film noir canon. Anyone who enjoys the genre will want to watch this.
I was not prepared for how well this transfer looks. The black & white image is crisp and spotless. An appropriate level of film grain has been retained to give it a pleasing, film-like appearance. The anamorphic 1.85:1 image appears to accurately framed, although I do not have any other prints to compare it with. Contrasts are excellent, black levels are solid, and shadow detail is very good. Visually, I could not find a single thing to complain about.
If the other films in the “Martini Movies” series look this good, Sony will make a lot of viewers very happy indeed.
The mono soundtrack is of course limited in dynamic range, but the audio is in fine shape. The dialogue is always intelligible and the sound is free of noise and distortion. The film likely sounds as good, if not better, than when it first opened in movie theaters more than fifty years ago.
The only real supplement is the film’s original trailer, which looks just as good as the feature. Two short featurettes, called “How To Play the Leading Man” and “How To Hold Your Liquor,” are essentially just promos for the other films in the series.
The Garment Jungle comes in a standard keep case. The cover art is bit lame. Sony should have used the art from the original film poster, which is considerably more provocative. Perhaps the people at Sony believe that it is too provocative? You can see the original poster here and judge for yourself:
Photos from The Garment Jungle
The Final Analysis
The Garment Jungle is a welcome addition to DVD, and Sony is to be commended for doing a beautiful job with it. If, like me, you collect film noir, you will definitely want to add this one to your collection.
Equipment used for this review:
Toshiba HD-XA2 DVD player
Sharp LC-42D62U LCD display
Yamaha HTR-5890 THX Surround Receiver
BIC Acoustech speakers
Interconnects: Monster Cable
Release Date: September 23, 2008