On one of shifts, one of the men, exhausted and dazed, catches his left arm in a machine. He screams and pleads, but it’s too late. The workers agree: their hours are too long; they feel exploited, like sheep. They plan to strike, but have no idea how to organize such a thing. Enter Professor Sinigaglia (Marcello Mastroianni), hired as the worker’s advisor and who instructs them on what they should demand and how.
Some insist on working. Others decide to set their own schedules. There are suspensions and fines. Unemployed laborers from nearby Saluzzo are brought in by the managers to replace the strikers.
Mario Monicelli’s The Organizer (1963) looks at the process of orchestrating a strike, with triumphs and roadblocks at every turn. There is the feeling that any small victory on either side will not last, and that any obstacle could turn into an advantage.
The Organizer is, at once, humorous and desperate. It shows a very human side to a very strenuous scenario. But, like so many films about unions and/or strikes (think Norma Rae and Strike), The Organizer is always at risk of being preachy. It takes the side of the laborers, naturally, but avoids soapboxing for much of the film. That is, until one of the final scenes, when the workers are ready to reenter the factory and Sinigaglia stands before them to demand they stand their ground. Though Mastroianni is convincing and even overwhelming in the speech, it is a weak moment that brings the film down.
Monicelli and fellow screenwriters Agenore Incrocci and Furio Scarpelli earned an Oscar nomination for their screenplay, but lost to Peter Stone and Frank Tarloff’s Father Goose. It’s a fine script, but the writers can’t avoid showing what is expected in this sort of film, such as dimensionless antagonists and grandiose calls to action. It’s flawed, but still a strong entry in Monicelli’s canon.
Also included with this Criterion Collection Blu-ray is a booklet featuring an essay titled “Description of a Struggle” by film critic J. Hoberman.