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October 03, 2008

The Garment Jungle

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Vincent Sherman - 1957
Columbia Pictures Region 1 DVD

Completed and signed by Vincent Sherman, The Garment Jungle still is unmistakably Robert Aldrich's film. Photographed, like many of Aldrich's other films, by Joe Biroc, the look of the film literally lightens up during the last third which was primarily filmed by Sherman. Some of the camera angles look as though Biroc shot the remainder of The Garment Jungle as planned by Aldrich, such as an overhead shot which is used in virtually every Aldrich film. There are conflicting reports as to how much of The Garment Jungle is Aldrich and how much is Sherman's work. What seems to be agreed is that Aldrich had conflicts with star Lee J. Cobb and writer-producer Harry Kleiner. Columbia Pictures chief Harry Cohn also was unhappy with the Cohn-type character in Aldrich's The Big Knife. What is ironic is that Aldrich, who was an Assistant Director to Abe Polonsky and Charles Chaplin, was replaced by Sherman, who himself was blacklisted five years previously. And while the background story is highly dramatic, the final film isn't too bad either.

Lee J. Cobb plays the boss of a New York high fashion firm that refuses to unionize. Kerwin Mathews gets to wear long pants as his son who wants to join in the family business. Robert Loggia is the union organizer, while Richard Boone is the "businessman" who keeps Cobb's company non-union for a fee. Gia Scala appears as the young wife of Loggia. There are enough elements in Kleiner's screenplay to indicate that The Garment Jungle fits in thematically with other Aldrich films - the conflicting relationship between father and son, the hope of "the American dream", the independent operator against conformity, bureaucracy and corruption. My guess is that even if Aldrich had completed The Garment Jungle, it would still be regarded as one of his lesser films.

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What may be the best part of The Garment Jungle is the unexpected casting of Aldrich favorite Wesley Addy as an unctuous hit man. Paired with baby-faced Adam Williams, who faintly resembles Ralph Meeker, this may have been a twist on Addy's role in Kiss Me Deadly, on the other side of the law. Addy's understated performance is a marked contrast to the shouting of Cobb and Mathews. Also worth watching are Loggia in his second performance on film, and Joseph Wiseman as a fellow union organizer.

Aldrich probably felt like Cobb's character, being second guessed by several people. One could argue that there are enough similarities between the fashion industry and the film industry. After being fired from The Garment Jungle, Aldrich spent most of the next five years primarily working in European based productions, with uneven results until making Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? starring two actresses famous previously for films directed by, among others, Vincent Sherman. Aldrich was able to conjure one last posthumous dig at Cohn in the Ernest Borgnine's studio chief, in The Legend of Lylah Clare. It should be noted that unlike Cobb who likes to remind everyone within shouting distance that it's his company, Aldrich seemed to know that his own success was possible with the efforts of others. It may have been false humility, yet it seems consistent with his films that he would name his own film production company, Associates & Aldrich.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at October 3, 2008 12:01 AM


I noticed this was playing on TCM awhile ago and it sounded interesting. After reading your review I'm curious about seeing it even more. I really like Aldrich's films but I haven't seen as many as I'd like to. I've had The Big Knife and The Killing of Sister George on my long running "must see" list for years now but I just haven't gotten around to them yet. I finally saw The Legend of Lylah Clare a few months ago and I really enjoyed it.

Posted by: Kimberly at October 6, 2008 08:50 PM