Set in late 19th century Italy, “The Organizer”(1963) is a somewhat humorous, sometimes ironic movie about a serious topic. Imagine going to work at 6 AM and not being able to leave until 14 hours of work have been put in. This is the situation of a group of workers in a Turin cloth factory. They work hard, and then they get tired—accidents inevitably follow, but with very little sympathy from the factory owners. The workers select a group of leaders who consider striking, but they might need some help. Suddenly, sneaking off a train one night, the “professor” (played by the great Marcello Mastroianni) appears. He’s a mysterious figure, but is willing to help.
With a good mix of tragedy and comedy, the movie explores and dramatizes the struggle to organize—but unlike some films made on this topic, it doesn’t demonize some and canonize others. The owners, for instance, don’t come off as monsters, and certainly the workers, including the professor, are not always heroic in the choices they make. The whole society, it seems, is bumbling and working its way through this struggle. Hence the ending is not what you might expect—but remember to keep an historical perspective on it, and to note that this is a European film that takes a slightly different tack than many American movies might with the same material.
Finally—and this seems to be a common factor in many Italian movies of the last 50 years—it’s great fun to watch so many people on the screen. The sense of a crowd, of people banding together (and disbanding) permeates the screen, which means that it’s taking full advantage of the medium itself—even if it isn’t the latest digital effects. (Not rated; adult material but nothing explicit. This movie is black and white with English subtitles.)