Italian filmmaker Mario Monicelli isn't exactly a household name these days, but in the '50s and '60s his films were routinely released here. His 1958 “Big Deal on Madonna Street” was not only an art-house hit; it was also nominated for the Best Foreign Language Oscar (as were three other Monicelli films) and has been remade in the U.S. twice (“Crackers,” “Welcome to Collinwood”).
His 1963 masterpiece “The Organizer” wasn't nominated only because that was the same year as Fellini's “8 1/2,” which, not surprisingly, was the Italian entry. But it did get nominated for Best Original Screenplay. Marcello Mastroianni stars as a polite, shabbily dressed professor (circa 1890), who, on the lam, finds himself in an impoverished one-factory town with abominable working conditions. After an accident maims one of the workers, the professor's presence catalyzes a wave of solidarity and then a strike.
This may be the best film about labor struggles ever made. It's also gorgeously shot. In this current restoration, the black-and-white images feel so authentic that they might as well have been shot at the time of the action. The only extras are a lame trailer and an excellent 10-minute interview with Monicelli, made when he was 91, four years before his death.
"The Organizer" (Criterion Collection, Blu-ray, $29.95; DVD, $19.95)
ANDY KLEIN is the film critic for Marquee. He can also be heard on “FilmWeek” on KPCC-FM (89.3).
Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times