Film Review: Working Around The Clock With Sissy Spacek In ‘Raggedy Man’

by Rachel Bellwoar

You can have the perfect job and, if the hours are bad, there’s a good chance that perfect job will make you miserable. As quarantine life has led some people to realize in the last few months, working from home has its drawbacks, one of which is not knowing when to stop working. It’s one thing when you have an office to go to but when your office is your living room there’s technically no end to the hours you can keep.

Raggedy Man’s Nita (Sissy Spacek) never exactly claims to have a passion for switchboard operating, but she might’ve if it weren’t for the fact that she’s always on the clock. Nita and her two sons, Harry (ET’s Henry Thomas) and Henry (Carey Hollis Jr.), live at the telephone company where she works. There aren’t any other employees, so Nita’s life is one, ongoing shift. If she had someone to take her place every once in a while, it wouldn’t be so bad, but Nita can’t leave the house on the chance that someone might call while she’s away (it’s also WWII so many of the calls are emotionally taxing).
It’s a great constraint for a movie because it means director, Jack Fisk, can have those calls come in at inconvenient times, but not so great for a single mom living on her own in a small town where divorce is considered indecent. Nita and Teddy (Eric Roberts) meet when he needs to use her phone one night. A sailor in the Navy, he’s supposed to be on leave with his girlfriend, except she’s marrying someone else. After meeting Nita and her boys, Teddy decides to stick around. From the beginning, Teddy’s days in Gregory are numbered and while Fisk could’ve stretched those four days out, to make the entire movie about their relationship, Nita has to keep living in Gregory when he leaves and so does this movie.

It doesn’t happen often but Spacek shines in the scenes when Nita gets to be alone in the house, singing along to the radio or holding a dress up to the mirror to see how it looks. I also love the bright, red nail polish that she wears and that it’s never chipped, despite how often she uses a typewriter. It’s a small detail but it’s something Nita does for herself – a splurge to make herself feel good.
While celebrated as a production designer, Fisk (who is married to Spacek in real life) deserves more recognition for his directing. William D. Wittliff wrote the screenplay but as film historians, Howard S. Berger and Nathaniel Thompson, talk about in their commentary track. there was a lot of critical reaction to the film switching gears from romance to horror towards the end. If you’re familiar with Fisk’s career and his work with other collaborators like Brian de Palma and David Lynch, though, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. The raggedy man has an otherworldly aura because of the way the film is edited, but otherwise the horror in this movie is born from Nita’s situation. She’s vulnerable, out there on her own with her boys, and a short-lived romance, no matter how congenial, isn’t going to change that long-term. It’s time more movies acknowledged that.
Raggedy Man is available now on Blu-Ray from Kino Lorber.

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