Joe Hill (1971)

GP | 110, 113-115 or 118 mins | Biography | October 1971

Director:

Bo Widerberg

Writer:

Bo Widerberg

Producer:

Bo Widerberg

Cinematographers:

Jörgen Persson, Petter Davidsson

Editor:

Bo Widerberg

Production Designer:

Ulf Axen

Production Company:

Sagittarius Productions, Inc.
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HISTORY

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.'" The film ends with a voice-over of Thommy Berggren as “Joe Hill” reciting his last will and testament.
       The film depicts the life of Swedish immigrant Joe Hill (7 Oct 1879—19 Nov 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.
       As reported by the LAT review of Joe Hill , the I.W.W. was formed in 1905, with “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 who is depicted briefly in the film and about whom Hill wrote the popular song “The Rebel Girl.” Throughout the 1910s, the ... More Less

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.'" The film ends with a voice-over of Thommy Berggren as “Joe Hill” reciting his last will and testament.
       The film depicts the life of Swedish immigrant Joe Hill (7 Oct 1879—19 Nov 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.
       As reported by the LAT review of Joe Hill , the I.W.W. was formed in 1905, with “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 who is depicted briefly in the film and 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 NYT 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. As noted in the HR review, it was primarily the early sequences between “Joe Hill” and his brother “Paul” that were in Swedish. HR 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 LAT 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.
       Although a 1971 copyright statement for Sagittarius Productions, Inc. appears in the opening credits, the film was not registered with the copyright office at the time of its release. According to a 15 Mar 1972 DV 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). Berggren, a Swedish actor, had made a number of films with Widerberg during the 1960s, including the 1967 movie Elvira Madigan (see above), and the LAT 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. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
1 Nov 1971.
---
Daily Variety
9 Apr 1970.
---
Daily Variety
25 May 1971.
---
Daily Variety
15 Mar 1972.
---
Filmfacts
1971
pp. 578-81.
Hollywood Reporter
8 May 1970
p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Jun 1970.
---
Hollywood Reporter
17 Jul 1970
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
8 Feb 1971.
---
Hollywood Reporter
26 Oct 1971.
---
Los Angeles Herald Examiner
5 Nov 1971.
---
Los Angeles Times
4 Nov 1971.
---
New York Times
25 Oct 1971
---
The Times (London)
26 Sep 1971.
---
Variety
26 May 1971
p. 22.
Vogue
1 Jan 1972.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
A Bo Widerberg Film
A Bo Widerberg Film Production
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTOR
PRODUCER
WRITERS
Addl dial
Addl dial
PHOTOGRAPHY
Asst cam
Asst cam
Lighting asst
Lighting asst
ART DIRECTOR
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
COSTUMES
MUSIC
Mus comp and played by
MAKEUP
PRODUCTION MISC
Unit mgr
Historical adv
SOURCES
SONGS
"Joe Hill," music by Earl Robinson, lyrics by Alfred Hayes, sung by Joan Baez.
DETAILS
Release Date:
October 1971
Premiere Information:
Cannes Film Festival screening: 19 May 1971
London opening: 26 September 1971
New York opening: 24 October 1971
Production Date:
12 April--mid July 1970 in Stockholm, Sweden, Salt Lake City, UT, Columbia, CA and New York City
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Eastman Color
Duration(in mins):
110, 113-115 or 118
MPAA Rating:
GP
Countries:
Sweden, United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
23086
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In the early 1900s, 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, by working in bars, sweeping floors and cleaning spittoons. One day Joe is robbed by a wily street urchin known as “The Fox,” who steals to support his elderly mother and sickly brother. The streetwise child eventually befriends Joe and helps him 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 sit on the fire escape and listen 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 him. While stealing, The Fox is mysteriously captured and sent away, and, soon after, his family is evicted. Joe, who can do nothing to help, watches the The Fox's mother, having no place to go, carry her sickly boy and their meager belongings away in a wheelbarrow. Wanting to start again, Joe heads west to search for Paul, arriving first at a foundry in Plainfield, New ... +


In the early 1900s, 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, by working in bars, sweeping floors and cleaning spittoons. One day Joe is robbed by a wily street urchin known as “The Fox,” who steals to support his elderly mother and sickly brother. The streetwise child eventually befriends Joe and helps him 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 sit on the fire escape and listen 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 him. While stealing, The Fox is mysteriously captured and sent away, and, soon after, his family is evicted. Joe, who can do nothing to help, watches the The Fox's mother, having no place to go, carry her sickly boy and their meager belongings away in a wheelbarrow. Wanting to start again, Joe heads west to search for Paul, arriving first at a foundry in Plainfield, New Jersey. An old hobo named Blackie, who is amused by Joe’s suitcase and formal attire, teaches him how to dress and pack in a manner that frees him to ride the rails and live without money. Blackie, who takes a fatherly interest in the youth, travels with him across the country, stealing chickens and eggs to survive. As he moves West, Joe learns more and more about America, a country roiling with labor turmoil. In 1906, in Salinas, California, Joe meets Cathy, a farm girl who is caring for her invalid father. Seeing that Joe is obviously taken with her, Blackie abruptly abandons him without a word. For about a year, Joe lives a contented life with Cathy. However, when he finds himself chasing away a hobo who is trying to steal their eggs, Joe fears that he is succumbing to the materialism he despises and begins traveling again. He joins the Industrial Workers of the World, a labor union whose members are known as the Wobblies. Joe’s ability to compose stirring lyrics to existing popular melodies 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. Besides struggling for better living conditions, his compatriots must also fight for their right of free speech when lawmen influenced by wealthy industrialists arrest them for demonstrating in the street. When Hill and his friends try to protest from their jail cells, they are taken to the woods, ordered to kiss the American flag, then beaten. After that experience, Joe learns to shoot a gun. Wanting to get the word to kitchen workers and unable to advertise on the streets, Joe eats a meal at an expensive restaurant and, unable to pay, proceeds to work off his payment by washing dishes, where he is able to make contact with the employees. 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 rumors circulate that a woman was involved, but Joe refuses to explaining his injury, presumably to protect Lucia's reputation. 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 President 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 handwrites a will, while befriending one of the jailors and maintaining his claim of 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 portions of his ashes are mailed to supporters throughout the world to be scattered, as his friends remember his last call to them: “Don’t mourn! Organize!” +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.