All Day has outdone itself with this release, an almost totally unknown film of excellent quality and considerable significance. The 1949 Christ in Concrete was hounded from American screens after one or two bookings. Its director, writer, and several cast members had filmed it in England after being driven from Hollywood by the blacklists. This absorbing emotional experience is a socially-conscious scream by artists not yet ready to surrender. The disc cover calls it a 'supressed master work', which for once is no exaggeration.
Director Edward Dmytryk eventually recanted and named names, thus reclaiming a Hollywood career for himself, while earning the scorn of those he betrayed. The result was that Christ in Concrete was never re-discovered. Except for two brief weeks in a tiny New York theater in 1949, and one museum showing in 1975, it has never been shown in America - no 16mm prints, no television showings, zilch. I doubt there are many who have heard of the picture. As English censors would not allow a title to go out with the word Christ in the title, it was changed to Give Us This Day at the last minute; All Day has stuck with the original title of the source book, a classic of 'proletarian fiction' that is thought to have been a core inspiration for the Italian neo-realism movement.
Beautifully cast, acted and directed from a sensitive and literate script, the picture plays like a classic. Unlike some other rediscovered oddities that could well have stayed hidden under the rug, this one's a keeper. All Day's excellent presentation is technically polished and ready to recommend to all.
Italian-American laborer Geremio (Sam Wanamaker) works as a bricklayer on dangerous construction jobs, with his friends Luigi (Charles Goldner), Julio (Bonar Colleano), Giovanni (William Sylvester) and DeLucey (George Pastell "Nino Pastellides"). When his best girl Kathleen (Kathleen Ryan) refuses to marry him because he has no ambition beyond his work, Geremio asks Luigi to send to Italy for the young Annuziata (Lea Padovani) to be his bride. Annunziata's one condition before coming is that Geremio must have a house of his own, but Geremio can't wait and lies to her in a letter. Their meeting and wedding is a joyous success. She forgives him and they start to save for a house from his meagre salary while living in a tenement and raising children; but economic events cripple their plans, and worse, tempt him to betray his fellow workers.
This is a superior movie and a moving, strongly felt drama that needs a major rediscovery. It's an unsentimental tale of very sentimental people with a vibrant feeling for the struggle to subsist in a harsh world. Based on a classic 'proletarian' novel, it stays refreshingly free of nostalgic reveries and fatuous homilies about the virtues of hard labor. Geremio's community of bricklayers hangs together beautifully when pulling for the common good, and fails miserably when the depression pits them against one another. Geremio is no Communist, but he is part of a guild of workers who fully understand what exploitation is - in this case, shaving profit corners by forcing unsafe conditions on laborers.
Christ in Concrete is a religious allegory - the artwork on the cover of the book is a crown of thorns around a pick and shovel. Direct Christ parallels usually fall flat on their faces, but this one is handled beautifully. There's a visual reference to the Pietá, and a strange moment of self-mutilation that is clearly meant to represent a stigmata. Hero Geremio calls out in agony for help and forgiveness, conveying the idea that Christ's experience is in all of us.
In the blacklist-crazed late 40s, a film didn't have to spout anti-capitalist slogans to be refused exhibition. Movies that concerned themselves with working realities always walked on thin ice. When old James Cagney movies examined poverty, they treated it in Horatio Alger terms - slums were a great place to learn character and were happy breeding grounds for priests and violin soloists. Movies implying that basic social change might be needed, just didn't get made. Over at MGM, labor concerns were often portrayed as Red agitation - see Riff-Raff, where we're invited to cheer as thug Spencer Tracy roughs up a labor organizer. Christ in Concrete was met by protests and pickets (according to the liner notes) when weakling distributor Eagle-Lion tried to book it in the states. I wouldn't be surprised if the majors didn't tag the film as Commie Propaganda as soon as it was offered to them for release. The show doesn't narrow its viewpoint to the approved movie fantasy of happy American living.
Labeling individual movies as 'pinko' was a quiet game played in top studio offices, and then screamed out in newspaper 'editorials'. Nobody actually studied films to see what was subversive -individual artists were blacklisted by hearsay, innuendo and malicious rumors. It was decades before film scholars examined the films made by blacklisted leftists. When one scratches a Dalton Trumbo or an Abraham Polonsky film, one doesn't find Communist propaganda, but Humanist and Internationalist themes. Although some of its bricklayers wear curious, unidentified badges, Christ in Concrete never mentions unions. It's more concerned with human basics, and even with its allegorical edge, is more honest and direct about the struggle of those on the bottom of the American Dream than anything I've seen. It's the picture Barton Fink, if he had talent, would have given his left arm to write. 3
Christ in Concrete is almost shockingly well-made. When one thinks of socially-committed films by blacklisted talent, well-intentioned but comparatively amateurish efforts like Abner Biberman's Salt of the Earth come to mind. For production and aesthetics, Christ in Concrete can stand alongside any of its contemporaries. The production is technically very sophisticated.
Except for some snappy behind-the-titles back plates, Christ in Concrete was filmed entirely at Denham studios in England. For a moderately budgeted film, it's a remarkable job of recreation - tenement streets, construction sites and family saloons of the twenties all look more authentic than they do in Hollywood pictures. Cameraman C.M. Pennington-Richards stages an opening scene 40 stories up in a building under construction, using rear-projected plates of New York, and somehow makes the lighting look like bright daylight instead of a studio interior. At night, the movie resembles a classic film noir, with ominous animated clouds moving behind sinister buildings. By day, it's an Italian neo-realist film (but with a sturdier tripod). 2
The performances are sensational. Lead Sam Wanamaker (The Criminal, Superman IV) is compelling as the life-loving bricklayer who desperately wants a wife. Even when given slightly expressionist actions to perform, he comes through. Lea Padovani is the soul of the film - the two of them easily give the best performances of 1949. Italian actress Padovani helps center the film on the Italian immigrant experience. They almost sent her back when they discovered she couldn't speak English, but she learned her part phonetically and kept the role. Kathleen Ryan plays the other woman faultlessly, adding a third classic noir performance to her work in Carol Reed's Odd Man Out and Cy Endfield's Try and Get Me!. 1
The supporting cast includes a number of great English talents, a couple of whom even slipped by the IMDB. 'Bill Sylvester' is William Sylvester, the actor known for his calm performance in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Here he's lively and convincing as an Italian worker. And 'Nino Pastellides' is really George Pastell, the all-purpose middle-Easterner instantly recognizable from the later Hammer films The Mummy and The Stranglers of Bombay, and the Bond film From Russia With Love. Bonar Colleano is familiar as 'the American' in many English films, especially as a flyer in A Matter of Life and Death. Charles Goldner is a chameleon who steals as many scenes in this picture as he did in the Alec Guinness comedy, The Captain's Paradise.
Only the child actor portraying the bricklayer's eldest son betrays an English accent. Sidney James (Trapeze, Quatermass 2, the Carry On Movies) sounds like a Yank, instead of his usual Cockney. Scandinavian Karel Stepanek (Sink the Bismarck! does an excellent job as the owner of the house our hero tries to buy.
Director Edward Dmytryk made impressive films before the blacklist, like Crossfire and Murder My Sweet, and mostly CinemaScope junk afterwards. Potential classic Raintree County was ruined by blah camera direction and The Young Lions just looks cheap. Here, working in a foreign country before his sellout to the HUAC, he easily does his best work, both with the actors and with the camera. Angles and compositions are inspired and unforced, and the construction montages are amazing.
In 1939, novelist Pietro di Donato wrote an incendiary novel called Christ in Concrete, a bestseller and Book of the Month selection about Italian-American immigrants working the construction trade in New York at the onset of the Great Depression. This work of hard-edged social criticism, filled with closely observed naturalist detail and gifted poetry, was turned into an extraordinary motion picture in 1949 by blacklisted filmmaker Edward Dmytryk. Part neorealist, part melodrama, part film noir, and it won top awards at festivals across Europe but was all but banned in the United States. Also known as “Give Us This Day” and “Salt To the Devil,” Christ in Concrete was suppressed, lost, and almost forgotten, but it remained Dmytryk’s personal favourite and became a holy grail to dedicated film fans.
For the oft-heavy-handed Edward Dmytryk this must be considered his greatest film. It is the closest representation of Italian neo-realism that I can think outside of that country's cinema. It is also perfect Film Noir.
This is the story of a simple yet hard-working bricklayer (played memorably by Sam Wanamaker) who wants only the best for his new family. He is enticed into a managerial position, essentially for the money, but has to accept unsafe working conditions for the men under him. Unable to emotionally bear the responsibility when one of his 'former' friends is injured, he drifts further into a self-imposed exile and succumbs to the charms of an old girlfriend. The naturalistic performances heighten the empathetic impact of the all the characters especially the leading role. Truly a classic of Film Noir, caught up for years in the political purgatory of cinema copyright. Folks this film is a bona-fide masterpiece. 5 stars out of 5.
PLEASE NOTE THIS MOVIE HAS 2 AUDIO TRACKS NORMAL ENGLISH AND THE 2ND COMMENTARY IN ENGLISH ON THE MOVIE!!!!!