Part of why we love the TCM Classic Film Festival is discovering movies that we’ve never heard of and feelin the sweet sting when it’s discovered they aren’t on physical media. Such is the case with 1951’s The Whistle at Eaton Falls. This Robert Siodmak-directed feature should be put alongside the works of Frank Capra for its story about the working men of a small town. With its discussions of unions, personal identity, and more, it’s a small gem of a movie with a big heart.
Brad Adams (Lloyd Bridges) is the president of his local workers union in the town of Eaton Falls. Unfortunately, the town’s manufacturing plant is looking to cut costs and Brad is trying to find ways to prevent employees from being laid off. When the head of the plant dies in a car crash, Brad is promoted to run it leaving many to wonder if the labor leader can be what his employees want while still supporting capitalism.
On its surface, The Whistle at Eaton Falls should be boring as can be. A movie about a labor union and the president trying to find a way to not become a corporate fatcat? But what the film really is about is the concept of personal integrity and finding a way to support your employees while still protecting a town. Interestingly, the movie doesn’t necessarily come down as being pro-unions, per se. It says there are a lot of factors involved.
Brad is the idealistic union boss trying to please everyone in a way that isn’t domineering and Lloyd Bridges is perfectly suited to that. He’s jovial and kindhearted but over time starts to slowly break down and become hard. He’s contrasted with the hotheaded Al (Jaws mayor Murray Hamilton), who is willing to go on strike whenever necessary. Both characters have good intentions and are reasonable. Even though you aren’t meant to necessarily like Al, it’s hard not to see how a strike might help.
In this case, once Brad is promoted to running the Eaton Falls plastics company, he starts to understand why costs need to be cut and, ultimately, how the loss of one plant can destroy an entire local economy. Yes, this does feel incredibly dated though it is still seen in cities that thrive on resources like coal. As Brad tries to find some way to get the town back on its feet there are discussions about the fears of automation and the transition away from manual labor.
What truly blew me away about this movie, though, was the transfer. This is an utterly beautiful print that should be on DVD and Blu-ray. I know Flicker Alley presented this so hopefully a physical release isn’t far behind.
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A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.