THE GARMENT JUNGLE, an okay crime-in-clothing programmer from 1957, has sweat shop owner Lee J. Cobb so determined to keep his workers from unionizing that he allows hood Richard Boone (as ‘Artie Ravidge’) to use murderous thugs to intimidate employees and organizers. This includes sending one unlucky complainer on a one-way elevator ride, brakeless. Cobb’s son Kerwin Matthews sides with the union.
On The Waterfront-lite, written by Harry Kleiner, mostly directed by Robert Aldrich, but with 90% of the shoot done he was replaced (after feuding over content with Cobb and studio head Harry Cohn) by Vincent Sherman, who reshot some scenes and was given sole credit by an irate Cohn.
Cobb doesn’t yell quite as much as usual, Matthews is earnest (good voice, inexpressive face), Boone calmly pragmatic. Intense newcomer Robert Loggia plays the chief union rep who earns rough dues from Boone goons Adam Williams and Wesley Addy. The most effective performance comes from lovely, ill-fated Gia Scala as Loggia’s wife: earthy, sexy and real. Included is movie a scene where she matter-of-fact breastfeeds her baby (behind a divider in a café), which had to have been a first in an American movie. Decades before any other film or TV show touched this elemental human act, it’s amazing this little movie (a) put it there in the first place and (b) was never acknowledged for doing so.
Violence figures (beatings, knifing, acid hurling), there’s a pretty good score from Leith Stevens, and any movie that embraces unions (too few) is of note. Weakest element is in having Cobb—who isn’t evil, just stubborn and prideful—be so blind as to how Boone operates.
“Stay out of it, or its your baby’s legs next!”
Ranked 121st in ’57, taking in $1,900,000. Also in the cast: Harold J. Stone (‘ethnic’, as usual), Valerie French, Joseph Wiseman (overacting, as usual), Willis Bouchey, Joanna Barnes (debut), Betsy Jones-Moreland, Laurie Mitchell, Sid Melton, Celia Lovsky, Robert Ellenstein (watch that elevator!) and Jud Taylor (the third Yank POW in The Great Escape).