Reel Releases: Movies remind that things could always be worse

For the first time since Reagan began wrapping up his run, I’m without a job – another victim of our rather lackluster economy. It is, as I have always suspected, a bummer.


But I’m trying to remain philosophical about things, between polishing up a résumé and trying to guess who is going to take the Showcase Showdown, I’ve been taking lessons and finding some perspective in classic cinema.

While it’s true that I’m considering parading along Broad Street with a ‘This Pen for Hire’ sandwich board, these movies are great reminders that things can always be worse.


THE LAST LAUGH (1924): An early examination of the complicated relationship some people have with their career, this film focuses on an aging doorman at a luxury hotel who is demoted to washroom attendant. So much of his identity has been tied up in his job that he steals the doorman’s uniform and begins wearing it home as both a literal and symbolic disguise.


THE GRAPES OF WRATH (1940): The power of this film is in both the subject matter – Dust Bowl farmers running toward the false promises of a California paradise – and the way it is handled. Instead of addressing the epic sweep of the thousands of families affected by the Great Depression, this film focuses on just one. And in telling their story, the story of every American searching for security and dignity unfolds.


BICYCLE THIEVES (1948): An out-of-work father in post-war Italy lands a job pasting up handbills, only to have his bicycle stolen on the first day. The simple act of trying to locate his most precious resource reflects not only a very particular time and place, but also the more universal questions of a father’s sense of duty and desperation.


THE GODFATHER PART II (1974): Little Vito, fresh from Sicily, gets a job at a grocery store. That’s good. A local crime boss wants his nephew to have the job. That’s bad. But it inspires Vito. It inspires him to become a crime boss as well. Where would American crime cinema be if Vito had been allowed to keep stacking beans?


TOOTSIE (1982): There’s nobody quite as acutely anxious during periods of unemployment as a working actor. There’s not a lot that hasn’t been done for a part. Just ask Dustin Hoffman. This incredible farce stars Hoffman as an actor who dresses in drag in order to land a role on a popular daytime soap. Keeping up appearance, however, becomes difficult when his creation becomes a star.



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