Joe Hill


1h 50m 1971

Brief Synopsis

Thommy Bergren plays the legendary Joe Hill. In the early 1900's he emigrates with his brother to the United States. But after a short time he loses touch with his brother. Joe Gets a few jobs but is stuck over all the injustice and tragedy going on. He Becomes aktiv in the forbidden union IWW, a union for workers without trade. It is forbidden to demonstrate and to speak in public but Joe gets around that by singing his manifests with the salvation army. He manages to get more and more people to get on strike with him but he also makes powerful enemies doing that. Finally he gets connected with a murder and during the trial he fires his laywer and takes upon himself to become the defender.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
Release Date
Oct 1971
Premiere Information
Cannes Film Festival screening: 19 May 1971; London opening: 26 Sep 1971; New York opening: 24 Oct 1971
Production Company
Sagittarius Productions, Inc.
Distribution Company
Paramount Pictures Corp.
Country
Sweden and United States
Location
Columbia, California, United States; New York City, New York, United States; Salt Lake City, Utah, United States; Stockholm,Sweden

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 50m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Eastmancolor)

Synopsis

In 1910, idealistic nineteen-year-old Joseph Hillstrom and his brother Paul move from their native Sweden to New York City. Filled with dreams of American prosperity, the brothers are quickly disillusioned by the difficulties of learning English, living in slums and having to work at filthy, humiliating jobs. Paul leaves New York to look for work out west, while Joe, whose last name has been shortened to Hill, struggles to find his way. He works in bars, sweeping floors and cleaning spittoons, and soon is befriended by a wily street urchin known as "The Fox," who helps him to learn more about the city and its wide variety of citizens. Joe's love of music leads him to the opera house and there he meets Lucia, an Italian immigrant. Together, the pair sits on the fire escape and listens to the operas that they cannot afford to attend. They are discovered one day by a tenor, who kindly allows them to come backstage. Soon, however, Joe discovers that Lucia, whom he loves, has been won over by the tenor, and the opera house's doors are closed to Joe. Wanting to start again, Joe heads west to search for Paul, and during his travels rides the rails with an old hobo called Blackie, who takes a fatherly interest in the youth. As he moves west Joe learns more and more about America, a country roiling with labor turmoil. Joe meets and falls in love with Cathy, a farm girl, and for one year, lives a contented life with her. Eventually, however, Joe fears that he is succumbing to the materialism he despises and begins traveling again, after which he joins the Industrial Workers of the World, a labor union whose members are known as the Wobblies. Joe's ability to compose stirring songs pleases his compatriots, who are striving to bring together unskilled and skilled workers, both immigrant and native-born, into one union that will protect them all. A natural leader, Joe finds that he is good at his new calling, and in Salt Lake City, organizes a miners' strike, bands together restaurant workers and overcomes vigilante violence. As news of Joe's works begins to spread, he again encounters Lucia, who has traveled with the opera troupe to Utah. One night, Joe is shot mysteriously, and although rumors circulate that a woman was involved, Joe refuses to endanger her reputation by explaining his injury. On the same night that Joe was wounded, a grocery store was robbed and two men killed, with the owner's younger son maintaining that one of the two masked assailants was shot during the fracas. After Joe is arrested for the crime and charged with murder, he ignores the advice of friends by refusing to provide an alibi and acting as his own lawyer. It soon becomes clear to many observers that Joe is being framed with flimsy evidence as punishment for his labor agitation. Even a plea from prominent labor reformer Elisabeth Gurley Flynn to Woodrow Wilson fails to help, despite Wilson's inclination to believe Joe, and Joe is sentenced to death. As his legal appeals progress, Joe paints a map of his beloved America on the floor of his cell, composes more songs and continues to maintain his innocence. After his last appeal fails, on 19 November 1915, Joe is brought before a firing squad but refuses to wear a blindfold and himself gives the order to fire. Abiding by his last wishes, his followers have his body cremated and his ashes are scattered throughout the land as his friends remember his last call to them: "Don't mourn! Organize!"

Film Details

MPAA Rating
Release Date
Oct 1971
Premiere Information
Cannes Film Festival screening: 19 May 1971; London opening: 26 Sep 1971; New York opening: 24 Oct 1971
Production Company
Sagittarius Productions, Inc.
Distribution Company
Paramount Pictures Corp.
Country
Sweden and United States
Location
Columbia, California, United States; New York City, New York, United States; Salt Lake City, Utah, United States; Stockholm,Sweden

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 50m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Eastmancolor)

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

The credits listed above were taken from studio publicity, supplemented by other contemporary sources. According to studio publicity and reviews, the film's opening credits contain the following written dedication: "To the girls in the textile mills of Lawrence, Massachusetts, whose banners during the 1912 strike read: 'We want bread and roses too.'" Reviews indicate that some of the songs written by Joe Hill are heard in the film, but their titles have not been determined.
       The film depicts the life of Swedish immigrant Joe Hill (7 October 1879-19 November 1919), born Joel Hägglund and also known as Joseph Hillstrom, who came to the United States in 1902. After joining the Industrial Workers of the World (I.W.W., members of which were commonly known as Wobblies) in 1910, Hill became a successful labor organizer and well-known balladeer whose songs were published in the I.W.W.'s Little Red Songbook. In 1914, Hill was arrested on suspicion of having participated in the murder of a grocery store owner and his son in Salt Lake City, UT. On the basis of circumstantial evidence, and because he had a gunshot wound that he refused to explain, Hill was convicted, although many people at the time believed that he was being framed in order to end his political activities.
       The I.W.W. was formed in 1905, with, as reported by the Los Angeles Times review of Joe Hill, "the aim of making all workers, unskilled as well as skilled, members of one big union." Members of the radical movement included Big Bill Haywood, Mary Harris "Mother" Jones, Helen Keller and Elisabeth Gurley Flynn, a prominent proponent of Women's Suffrage, about whom Hill wrote the popular song "The Rebel Girl." Throughout the 1910s, the group struggled against violent opposition by the U.S. government until it began to lose strength in 1924. Membership continued to decrease until the 1960s, when student groups, Civil Rights proponents and other political activists became interested in the movement, and the I.W.W. has continued into the twenty-first century. Songs have always been an important part of the I.W.W., with such well-known songs as "Hallelujah, I'm a Bum" and "Solidarity Forever" being inspired by the group's activities.
       Studio publicity reported that many of the official records of Hill's trial had vanished or been destroyed, and so director Bo Widerberg was forced to piece together the story from contemporary sources such as newspaper accounts and briefs submitted to the Supreme Court. Hill's life inspired the Alfred Hayes poem "I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night," which was set to music by Earl Robinson in 1936. In 1969, the song was sung by Joan Baez at Woodstock and became a hit.
       According to the New York Times review, Joe Hill, which was a Swedish-U.S. co-production, was shot principally in Sweden, although the majority of the dialogue was in English. The Hollywood Reporter review noted that it was primarily the early sequences between "Joe Hill" and his brother "Paul" that were in Swedish. Hollywood Reporter production charts, news items and Filmfacts specify the shooting locations as Stockholm, Sweden, Salt Lake City, UT, Columbia, CA and New York City. Filmfacts noted that when Los Angeles Times film critic Charles Champlin saw Joe Hill at the Cannes Film Festival, he reported that Widerberg had "halted his location filming" in California because "he ran into union problems." It has not been determined how much filming actually took place in California.
       According to a March 15, 1972 Daily Variety article, playwright Barrie Stavis, who had written a play about Hill, claimed that the film infringed upon the copyright for his play and filed injunctions against Paramount and Sagittarius Productions. The outcome of Stavis' suit has not been determined.
       Joe Hill was the first and only American and English-language film made by Swedish director Bo Widerberg (1930-1997). Swedish actor Thommy Berggren had made a number of films with Widerberg during the 1960s, including the 1967 movie Elvira Madigan, and the Los Angeles Times review of Joe Hill commended the pair's "perfect rapport." Joe Hill, which was submitted as a Swedish entry, tied with the Hungarian drama Szerelem for the Jury Prize at the 1971 Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for the Golden Palm.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1971

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1971