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Christ In Concrete (DVD)


Christ In Concrete (DVD)

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One of the notorious Hollywood Ten—a group found in contempt of Congress for refusing to divulge its political affiliation—director Edward Dmytryk became persona non grata when he succumbed to intense pressure from the House Un-American Activities Committee and salvaged his career by ratting out his colleagues. Before he named names, Dmytryk and a pair of fellow blacklisted artists, screenwriter Ben Barzman and actor Sam Wanamaker, journeyed to England to adapt Pietro Di Donato's Christ In Concrete, a major proletarian novel about immigrant bricklayers during the Great Depression. Suppressed in the U.S., where it has gone virtually unseen in 50 years, the film looks today like an astonishing statement of purpose, capped by Dmytryk and company's defiant refusal to work under pseudonyms. But as David Kalat, the head of All Day Entertainment (which bears the appropriate motto, "Movies that fell through the cracks!"), explains in the liner notes, the film's reputation died with Dmytryk's, because the political right viewed him as a radical while the left sullied him as a turncoat. Politics, not aesthetics, are the primary reason Christ In Concrete (a.k.a. Give Us This Day) hasn't been allowed to take its rightful place next to the 1953 blacklist classic Salt Of The Earth, which was financed by a mineworkers' union and produced over constant FBI harassment. For obvious reasons, Dmytryk can't claim the same impeccable working-class credentials, but his lost masterpiece deserves to be rediscovered, even if his legacy continues to suffer in an ideological no-man's land. Known primarily as a contract director of stylish crime pictures such as Murder, My Sweet and Crossfire, Dmytryk employs the chiaroscuro lighting effects of film noir to give Di Donato's simple, hard-hitting melodrama an almost operatic intensity. Wanamaker plays a humble Brooklyn bricklayer who longs for the comforts of a wife and family, but doesn't have the means to afford a good life, no matter how many hours he labors under dangerous conditions. Desperate for marriage, he beckons fellow Italian Lea Padovani to come to America and be his bride, all under the false pretense that he'll provide them with their own home, which is her sole condition for making the trip. After the lie is revealed, the couple moves into a tenement building with a new determination to save the $500 for a down payment, but the birth of three children and the crippling impact of the Depression eats into their savings. When a low-bid contract job comes along, Wanamaker agrees to become foreman on the site, but the drastic safety cutbacks put his life and the lives of his trusting coworkers at risk for their precious dollars. Though Christ In Concrete runs through a checklist of Communist ideas about capitalist exploitation and the virtues of camaraderie and teamwork, it's grounded in more practical realities, exploding the myth that an honest, hard-working man has a shot at the American dream. As the title suggests, the film goes too far in turning Wanamaker into a full-blown Christ figure, rather than merely a flawed Everyman. (When he shows up for work in a rickety building on Good Friday with a puncture wound in his hand, he's only asking for trouble.) But Dmytryk frames his plight with such forceful logic and panache that his story becomes the story of all the immigrants who literally built the country, making it the logical double-bill to fellow stool pigeon Elia Kazan's personal epic America, America. Kalat's passion for this wounded classic is reflected in the generous supplements, toplined by an informative commentary track where he chats with Di Donato's son Richard, Barzman's widow Norma (who also wrote The Red And The Blacklist), and Italian-American studies professor Fred Gardaphe. On any number of levels (historical, critical, artistic), their excitement over the film's rediscovery is infectious and entirely justifiable.