Sally Field is unforgettable as Norma Rae, the Southern millworker who revolutionizes a small town and discovers a power in herself she never had. Under the guidance of a New York unionizer (Ron Leibman) and with increasing courage and determination, Norma Rae organizes her fellow factory workers to fight for better conditions and wages. Based on a true story, Norma Rae is the mesmerizing tale of a modern day heroine. Beau Bridges co-stars.
Best known as the film that won Sally Field her first Academy Award, 'Norma Rae' finally arrives on Blu-ray in this '35th Anniversary' edition, that doesn't provide a whole lot for fans of the movie, other than the title itself. Still, considering older films are all too often forgotten completely on the HD format, it's nice that Fox took the time to upgrade it to high-def.
The movie is based on the real-life story of Crystal Lee Sutton, who helped start a union for workers at a textile mill she worked at in North Carolina in the 1970s. For whatever reason, Sutton did not want her name or many of the specifics of her story to be used in the movie, so 'Norma Rae' changes the name of the main character and creates a fictional textile company, although the North Carolina setting remains (the movie was actually shot in Alabama). However, a few events in the film really happened with Sutton, including the famous moment when Norma Rae holds up the 'Union' sign to her fellow co-workers.
On paper, the movie doesn't sound like it would have much going for it (and, indeed, a number of lead actresses turned down the role), as the story basically involves a young single mother fighting to get workers to vote for a union at the plant where she works, due to poor working conditions and uncaring management. Really though, that's only about half of the tale here, as Norma's personal life is just as interesting as her working one. She still lives at home with her parents (her father is played by Pat Hingle in one of the actor's more memorable roles), is the unwed mother of two young children (both of them to two different fathers), and has a reputation in the town for being…oh, what's the 1970's word for this? Ahem, 'easy'. In a movie released today, no one would blink an eye at such a lead character in a movie, but in 1979 it was rather risky (especially for a studio looking to make a profit) to have the hero of your movie have so many personal faults.
It's kind of remarkable that Fox agreed to Sally Field at all (legend is that Director Martin Ritt refused to shoot the movie without her in the lead). At the time, she was a young actress known primarily for the following: playing Gidget and both dating and starring in mindless comedies with Burt Reynolds. She's quite good in the movie, and although one can argue it's not quite an Oscar-worthy performance (at least given what we've seen Ms. Field do in movies since then and the other performances that were nominated that year), it's not hard to understand why the Academy decided to reward what was certainly a huge breakout role in her career.
However, the performance that impressed me the most in 'Norma Rae' wasn't Field's, but instead actor Ron Leibman, who is simply fantastic playing union organizer Reuben Warshowsky, who comes to North Carolina as a representative of the national textile union and hopes to form one at the plant. He befriends Norma Rae and the two develop a close relationship, but one that never crosses the line into a romantic affair (although it's obvious to the viewer and perhaps the characters as well that they're perfect for each other). Many of you know Leibman as a great character actor, while the rest of you are scratching your heads asking 'Who?' Well, modern audiences may know him best for playing Rachel Green's father on the TV series Friends. Oh, that guy! Yep, and he's great here.
While 'Norma Rae' is a movie that's very much a reflection of how many workers in big factories were treated during its time period, it should still manage to hit a chord with modern-day audiences, given the current economic slide/recovery and the fact that many (most?) still see big corporations as greedy and insensitive to their workers. While unions aren't thought of as highly as they used to be (for numerous reasons), 'Norma Rae' shows how important they proved to be for many who were trying to lift themselves out of poverty and provide a decent living for their families.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Norma Rae' arrives on Blu-ray in an eco-friendly keepcase, housing the dual-layer 50 GB disc, with no inserts. There are no front-loaded trailers on the Blu-ray, whose menu consists of a still of Sally Field's character holding up the 'Union' sign (as she is on the box cover), with menu selections running along the bottom of the screen. The song 'It Goes Like It Goes' plays over the main menu.
'Norma Rae's transfer to Blu-ray is sort of a mixed bag. While the picture looks better than it has before (with most instances of dirt, debris, and other defects removed from the print), it also suffers from a few issues. Black levels here aren't the strongest, with noticeable crush in darker scenes. While details are pretty decent for a movie from the late 1970s, skin tones and the overall color of the movie lean on the warm side, giving an almost (but not quite) over-saturated look to the film.
Grain is pretty evident and heavy throughout the movie, and I thought I detected some video noise creeping into various scenes as well, although it's possible that was just the way those particular scenes were handling the grain digitally. The good news is that the image isn't overly scrubbed with DNR, and doesn't suffer any noticeable compression issues. I've reviewed a number of Fox transfers of older films recently, and I would put the transfer of 'Norma Rae' somewhere in the middle. It's not as bad as The Verdict, but not as good as other titles like Brubaker.
'Norma Rae' features an English DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 track that does a pretty good job of recreating the original theatrical sound of the film. There are no issues with popping or hissing here, and the spoken word is nice and crisp, and doesn't suffer from 'muddiness'. The track also does a nice job of reproducing the loudest of the textile factory floor, again without any noticeable defects in the audio.
In addition to the English lossless mono track, DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 tracks are also provided in Spanish, French, and Italian. Subtitles are available in English SDH, Spanish, French, Dutch, and Italian.
Given America's recent and current economic woes, now seems to be the perfect time for a new release of 'Norma Rae', as the issues of this movie may resonate well with audiences of today. While this Fox release doesn't provide a whole lot in terms of extras (and none of them new), the quality of the movie itself (along with a decent, if not outstanding, transfer) land this title firmly in 'Recommended' territory.