Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Corporate malfeasance in the 1920s: Lydia Dean Pilcher/Ginny Mohler's RADIUM GIRLS

Likely to put you in mind of one of 2019's best films, Dark Waters, thanks to its scrupulous detailing of yet another of corporate America's egregious deeds, RADIUM GIRLS -- a narrative movie detailing the knowingly murderous behavior of the United States Radium Corporation toward its own workers, the young women who painted those glow-in-the-dark dials on the wrist watches of the day -- proves yet another worthy addition to the ever-growing list of Capitalism's horrendous crimes against the workers of the world.

As directed by Lydia Dean Pilcher and Ginny Mohler (shown above, left and right respectively), with a screenplay by Ms Mohler and Brittany Shaw, this 2018 movie is only now being released  either theatrically or digitally (for more on this, cut to the final paragraph). The movie is almost impossible not to recommend, thanks to the riveting and infuriating story it tells (and tells generally quite well, even given its too many digressions into documentary footage nostalgia).

The radium girls of the title (shown above in a photo from that time, below in the movie version) were young woman, often only in their teens, hired to work at this factory in Orange, New Jersey, where they were encouraged -- in order to produce more product more quickly -- to moisten their paintbrushes by placing these in their mouth, even as the ownership knew all too well that the girls were poisoning themselves irrevocably.

Much of the movie's strength comes from its astute casting of roles large and small by excellent actors who, if not "unknowns," are still a long way from household names. The only actors TrustMovies was familiar with in this large cast were Veanne Cox (of Henry Fool, and who played a glorious Flora in the off-Broadway revival of Flora, the Red Menace), John Bedford Lloyd and Joe Grifasi.)

Radium Girls is not merely a very progressive movie, it's also quite feminist, given that these women are taken such advantage of mostly by powerful men: When they began to grow ill, they were deliberately lied to about their condition and instead told that they had syphilis! The film's leading roles --  sisters, both of whom work for the radium company where their older sibling worked and subsequently died several years before -- are taken by Joey King (above, second from right, who could hardly look more "period" were she a reincarnated 1920s flapper) and Abby Quinn (below, right), who provides the soul of the film, as the sister who has ingested enough radium to end her life within a year or two.

Generally, the film works well enough, even as it adheres to fairly standard genre practices. The villains are drawn as uncaring and utterly venal, doing whatever it takes to win the day. Only in one unnecessary scene, in which bad-guy underlings in a car try to run our pedestrian heroine off the road, does the film seem unduly "movie-ish." In addition, the would-be love story -- between the younger sister and her American-Communist-party photographer beau -- could use a bit more oomph.

Otherwise, Radium Girls proves a decent enough example of Davida and Goliath/"us vs them" movie-making. Released via Juno Films and running 103 minutes, the film was to open theatrically this Friday, April 3, but what with the Corona-induced nationwide theater closings, who knows? When I can learn more about a possible digital streaming or VOD release, I'll post that info here. Or, you can click here and watch for further updates from the film's web site.

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