Norma Rae

1979, Movie, PG, 110 mins


Sally Field won her first Oscar for her performance in the title role, a complex portrayal of an working-class southern woman who matures into a complete person when she is faced with labor woes and must grow up or fall by the wayside. Field is one of many overworked and underpaid workers at a cotton mill where management doesn't seem to realize that the days of slavery are over. Her father, Hingle, dies for lack of proper medical attention, while her mother, Baxley, is rapidly going deaf from the incessant din of the factory's equipment. The place is functioning without a union, and when New York labor organizer Leibman arrives to establish one, the workers fear for their jobs. When Field and Leibman first meet, his aggressive personality irritates her, while her lack of ambition does the same to him; but as the film progresses, so does their mutual respect. A divorced woman with two children (one of whom is illegitimate), Field marries Bridges, who becomes jealous of her relationship with Leibman once she decides to to join the union organizer in his efforts to unite the workers. Field begins undermining management from within and eventually manages to rally the workers into a strike. Production at the mill ceases, and management must capitulate in order to keep production rolling.

The simple story is enlivened by an intelligent, compassionate screenplay, whose sole deficiency is that it makes no attempt to represent the management point of view. Field's performance is flawless. Audiences thronged to see NORMA RAE, which made more money than just about any other union movie with the possible exception of ON THE WATERFRONT. (NORMA RAE grossed well over $10 million on initial release.) The film's technical excellence is at least partly due to director Ritt's using the same crew he used on many of his films about the south; Alonzo, Levin, and Herndon have a history of working well with each other and with Ritt. leave a comment

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