Today’s national holiday, officially established in 1894, celebrates personal labor and honest effort as key embodiments of the American character, and movies have always explored hard work and individual exceptionalism in myriad genres, all reflected in the superb craft exhibited by the before- and behind-the-camera talents generating compelling stories which Twilight Time hi-def Blu-rays deliver. If one were to program a Labor Day movie marathon across a number of occupations and professional callings, here are some situations and themes to consider.
For those drawn to the intrigues of office life among striving staffers populating New York conglomerate skyscrapers, consider the melodramatic publishing-industry machinations of The Best of Everything (1959), the wacky widget-manufacturing shenanigans of the merry musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1967) or the comedic feminist commentary of the marvelous career-vs.-parenthood fable Baby Boom (1987).
If the hardscrabble struggles of heartland farmers or frontier ranchers struggling to ward off the encroaching threats posed by extortionist bankers or big-money interests exert an emotional pull, one might find writer/director Robert Benton’s semi-autobiographical Texas-set Places in the Heart (1984) or director Alan J. Pakula’s reflective Western Comes a Horseman (1978) particularly meaningful.
The exploits of brave and selfless U.S. military forces stationed in hostile territories, following problematic orders to achieve shaky military objectives, come under close and exciting examination in the 19th-century Western cavalry yarn The Glory Guys (1965) and the World War II battle epic The Bridge at Remagen (1969).
Law enforcers who daily take to metropolitan streets to curtail petty and major criminals using methods both valorous and dirty are detailed in gripping fashion – and with electrifying vehicular chase scenes – in the Joseph L. Wambaugh LAPD chronicle The New Centurions (1972) and the Big Apple caper The Seven-Ups (1973). The police work of gradually building cases, interviewing victims and witnesses, sifting through evidence and tracking down suspects is also methodically and compellingly portrayed in two 1968 thrillers, The Detective and The Boston Strangler.
Principled patience and rigorous persistence are exemplified by beloved stories involving animal conservation – as in the Africa-lensed adaptation of Joy Adamson’s beloved lioness rehabilitation tale Born Free (1966) – and religious missionaries – per the spiritually resonant screen translation of A.J. Cronin’s The Keys of the Kingdom (1944).
What’s not laborious at all is the enjoyment of a fabulously cast, well-executed movie in which obstacles to completing a good job are satisfactorily overcome. Happy Labor Day.