Losing the Granite State Shoe Company was hard enough. The last thing Eaton Falls needs is to see another factory shut down. If Doubleday Plastics can’t come up with a way to cut costs, though, that’s exactly what’s going to happen in Robert Siodmak’s The Whistle at Eaton Falls.
One option would be to invest in new machines, but half of the molding department would still be fired as a result. To union president Brad Adams (Lloyd Bridges), that’s no solution, but when he gets a chance to become president of the company, it falls on him to come up with a better gameplan.
There are definitely moments when The Whistle at Eaton Falls becomes overly earnest (with the always excellent Bridges as the film’s “Honest Abe”). Before realizing what the new machines will mean for his coworkers, Brad is excited when he’s sees a diorama of what the factory floor will look like. But after learning the truth, he picks up a handful of plastic people and holds them up in acknowledgement of the folks who will lose their jobs. It’s a truth that needs to be addressed, yet somehow the visual makes it an eyeroll moment instead of a powerful statement.
Carleton Carpenter’s character also sticks out like a sore thumb. As much as he’s always a welcome screen presence, this isn’t really the kind of movie that requires song breaks or a romantic subplot for a character whose importance is only made apparent because why else would he be getting so much screentime? He has to be part of the solution, yet it didn’t have to be so obvious.
The Whistle at Eaton Falls isn’t an obvious film, though, when it comes to what the outcome of Brad’s efforts will be and that’s where it feels really realistic. It’s also a movie that is just as relevant today, with its portrayal of relations between the union and management and the ripple effect a factory closure can have on a small town. Even when Brad lands on an idea that might work and put a stop to the layoffs, there’s no calling it a day. The situation is just as precarious and stays that way for the entire movie.
It’s why Brad’s wife, Ruth (Diana Douglas), is such an interesting — if minor — character. Brad’s position couldn’t be less enviable, yet to Ruth it’s a promotion, and while it’s one thing for the factory workers to have their doubts about Brad, her inability to recognize what he’s up against is surprising
Flicker Alley’s Blu-ray comes with a few bonus features, including an excerpt of an essay by writer Richard Koszarski and a commentary by film historian Alan K. Rode which lays out a timeline for the genesis of this film, starting with producer Louis de Rochemont. De Rochemont developed his semi-documentary style while working under Darryl F. Zanuck at Twentieth Century Fox, and before that was known for producing the newsreel series, The March of Time.
The Whistle at Eaton Falls is available on Blu-ray now from Flicker Alley.