Salt of the Earth

Salt of the Earth

Infobox Film
name = Salt of the Earth

caption = Video cover
director = Herbert J. Biberman
producer = Paul Jarrico Sonja Dahl Biberman Adolfo Barela
writer = Michael Wilson Michael Biberman
starring = Rosaura Revueltas Will Geer David Wolfe Mervin Williams David Sarvis Ernesto Velázquez Juan Chacón Henrietta Williams
music = Sol Kaplan
cinematography = Stanley Meredith Leonard Stark
editing = Joan Laird Ed Spiegel
distributor = Independent Productions
released = March 14 1954 (New York City)
runtime = 94 minutes
country = United States
language = EnglishSpanish
budget = $250,000
amg_id = 1:42666
imdb_id = 0047443

"Salt of the Earth" (1954) is an American drama film written by Michael Wilson, directed by Herbert J. Biberman, and produced by Paul Jarrico. All had been blacklisted by the Hollywood establishment due to their involvement in socialist politics. [imdb title| id=0047443|title=Salt of the Earth.]

The movie became a historical phenomenon and has a cult following due to how the United States establishment (politicians, journalists, studio executives, and other trade unions) dealt with the film. "Salt of the Earth" is one of the first pictures to advance the feminist social and political point-of-view.

In 1950–1951, in the fictional village of Zinc Town, New Mexico, the drama tells the story of a long and difficult strike led by Mexican-American and Anglo miners against the Empire Zinc Company. The film shows how the miners (the union men and their wives), the company, and the police, react during the strike. In neorealist style the producers and director used actual miners and their families as actors in the film.


The film opens with a narration from Esperanza Quintero (Rosaura Revueltas). She begins::"How shall I begin my story that has no beginning? My name is Esperanza, Esperanza Quintero. I am a miner's wife. This is our home. The house is not ours. But the flowers... the flowers are ours. This is my village. When I was a child, it was called San Marcos. The Anglos changed the name to Zinc Town. Zinc Town, New Mexico, U.S.A. Our roots go deep in this place, deeper than the pines, deeper than the mine shaft..."

The issues the miners strike for include equity in wages with Anglo workers, and health and safety issues. Ramon Quintero (Juan Chacon) helps organize the strike, but at home he treats his wife as a second class citizen.

His wife, Esperanza Quintero, who is pregnant with their third child, is traditionally passive at first and is reluctant either to take part in the strike or to assert her rights for equality at home.

But she changes her attitude when the men are forced to end their picketing by a Taft-Hartley Act injunction. The women convince the men at the union hall, after a long debate, and proudly take their place in the picket line.


According to Linda Gross the film was called subversive and blacklisted because it was sponsored by the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers and produced by many members of the "blacklist." Prior to making the film the union had been expelled from the CIO in 1950 for their alleged Communist-dominated leadership. [ [ Gross, Linda] , "Los Angeles Times," July 2, 1976.]

The director

In 1947, director Herbert Biberman became one of ten Hollywood writers and directors that was subpoenaed by the U.S. House Committee on Un-American Activities. They were "unfriendly" witnesses and, as such, were cited for contempt of Congress when they refused to answer questions about their Communist Party USA affiliation. Biberman and his fellow "Ten" went to jail over their contempt convictions. Biberman was imprisoned in the Federal Correctional Institution at Texarkana for a period of six months. After his release he directed this film. [ [ The Hollywood Ten] . Library, University of California, Berkeley. Document maintained on server by Gary Handman, Head, Media Resources Center. Last accessed: November 26, 2007.]


The producers used only five cast members who were professional actors. The rest were locals from Grant County, New Mexico, or members of the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers, Local 890 (many of whom were part of an actual strike that inspired the story). Juan Chacón, for example, was a real-life Union Local president. In the film he plays the main protagonist who has trouble dealing with women as equals. [ [ University of Virginia] . "A Nation of Immigrants," October 26, 1995.]

Difficult pre-production

Other participants who made the film and been blacklisted by the Hollywood studios include: Paul Jarrico, Will Geer, Rosaura Revueltas, and Michael Wilson.

The film was denounced by the United States House of Representatives for its supposed Communist sympathies, and the FBI investigated the film's financing. The American Legion called for a nation-wide boycott of the film. Also, film-processing labs were told not to work on "Salt of the Earth" and unionized projectionists were instructed not to show it.

After its opening night in New York City, the film languished for ten years because all but twelve theaters in the country refused to screen it. [ [ Wake, Bob] . "Culture Vulture," book review of James J. Lorence's "The Suppression of Salt of the Earth."]

Lee Hockstader writing for "The Washington Post" wrote: "During the course of production in New Mexico in 1953, the trade press denounced it as a subversive plot, anti-Communist vigilantes fired rifle shots at the set, the film's leading lady [Rosaura Revueltas] was deported to Mexico, and from time to time a small airplane buzzed noisily overhead....The film, edited in secret, was stored for safekeeping in an anonymous wooden shack in Los Angeles." [ [ Hockstader, Lee] . "The Washington Post," "Blacklisted Film Restored and Rehabilitated," March 3, 2003, archived at the Socialist Viewpoint web site.]


Professional actors
* Rosaura Revueltas as Esperanza Quintero
* Will Geer as Sheriff
* David Wolfe as Barton
* Mervin Williams as Hartwell
* David Sarvis as Alexander

Non-professional actors
* Juan Chacón as Ramon Quintero
* Henrietta Williams as Teresa Vidal
* Ernesto Velázquez as Charley Vidal
* Ángela Sánchez as Consuelo Ruiz
* Joe T. Morales as Sal Ruiz
* Clorinda Alderette as Luz Morales
* Charles Coleman as Antonio Morales
* Virginia Jencks as Ruth Barnes
* Clinton Jencks as Frank Barnes
* Víctor Torres as Sebasatian Prieto
* E.A. Rockwell as Vance
* William Rockwell as Kimbrough
* Floyd Bostick as Jenkins
* and other members of Mine-Mill Local 890

Recent history

The story of the film's suppression, as well as the events it depicted, inspired an underground audience of unionists, leftists, feminists, Mexican-Americans, and film historians.

The film found a new life in the 1960s and gradually reached wider audiences through union halls, women's centers, and film schools. The 50th anniversary of the film saw a number of commemorative conferences held across the United States. [ [ Pecinovsky, Tony] , "People's Weekly World Newspaper," May 22, 2003.]

The "Salt of the Earth Labor College" located in Tucson, Arizona is named after the film. The pro-labor institution (not a college, "per se") holds various lectures and forums related to unionism and economic justice. The film is screened on a frequent basis. [ [ Salt of the Earth] Labor College web site.]

Around 1993, Massachusetts Institute of Technology linguistics professor and political commentator Noam Chomsky praised the film because of the way people were portrayed doing the real work of unions. He said, " [T] he real work is being done by people who are not known, that's always been true in every popular movement in history...I don't know how you get that across in a film. Actually, come to think of it, there are some films that have done it. I mean, I don't see a lot of visual stuff, so I'm not the best commentator, but I thought "Salt of the Earth" really did it. It was a long time ago, but at the time I thought that it was one of the really great movies -- and of course it was killed, I think it was almost never shown." [ [ Noam Chomsky] interview with political activists, excerpted from "Understanding Power", The New Press, 2002.]

Critical reception

Due to the nature of the film and McCarthyism being in full force, the Hollywood establishment did not embrace the film. "The Hollywood Reporter" charged at the time that it was made "under direct orders of the Kremlin." [IMDb, ibid.] Its harshest detractor was Pauline Kael, who reviewed the film for "Sight and Sound" in 1954 and labeled it "as clear a piece of Communist propaganda as we have had in many years." ["Culture Vulture," ibid.]

However, "New York Times" film critic, Bosley Crowther was not deterred by the political climate of the time and reviewed the picture favorably, both the screenplay and the direction, writing, "In the light of this agitated history, it is somewhat surprising to find that "Salt of the Earth" is, in substance, simply a strong pro-labor film with a particularly sympathetic interest in the Mexican-Americans with whom it deals...But the real dramatic crux of the picture is the stern and bitter conflict within the membership of the union. It is the issue of whether the women shall have equality of expression and of strike participation with the men. And it is along this line of contention that Michael Wilson's tautly muscled script develops considerable personal drama, raw emotion and power." Crowther ends his review by calling the film "a calculated social document." [ [ Crowther, Bosley] . "The New York Times", film review, "Salt of the Earth" Opens at the Grande -- Filming Marked by Violence," March 15, 1954.]

Moreover, the film found a wide audience in both Western and Eastern Europe in the 1950s. [ [ Waring, Rob] . "Picturing Justice," December 21, 1999.]

The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 100% of critics gave the film a "Fresh" rating, based on 12 reviews. [ [ "Salt of the Earth"] at Rotten Tomatoes. Last accessed: January 21, 2008.]

Other releases

On July 27, 1999, a digitally restored print of the film was released in DVD by Geneon (Pioneer), and packaged with the documentary "The Hollywood Ten," which reported on the ten filmmakers who refused to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), resulting in their being blacklisted.

In 2004, a budget edition DVD was released by Alpha Video.

A laserdisc version has also been released by the Criterion Collection.

Public domain
Because the film's copyright was not renewed in 1982 the film is now in the public domain and can be downloaded to a DVD for free. [ [ Internet Archive] . Download of film possible for free.]


* Karlovy Vary International Film Festival: Best Actress: Rosaura Revueltas; Crystal Globe Award for Best Picture, Herbert J. Biberman, Karlovy Vary (Carlsbad), Czech Republic; 1954.
* Academie du Cinema de Paris: International Grand Prize; 1955. ["People's Weekly World Newspaper," ibid.]

Other distinguishments
* In 1992 the film was selected for preservation by the United States Library of Congress at the National Film Registry because it was deemed "culturally significant."
* The film is preserved by the Museum of Modern Art in New York.


The film has been adapted into a two-act opera named "Esperanza" (Hope). The labor movement in Wisconsin linked forces with University of Wisconsin-Madison opera professor Karlos Moser and commissioned the production of the new musical celebrating labor. The music was written by David Bishop and the libretto by Carlos Morton. The opera premiered in Madison, Wisconsin, on August 25, 2000 to positive reviews. [ [ Wisconsin Labor History Society] web site.]

A drama film, based on the making of the film, was chronicled in "One of the Hollywood Ten" (2000). It was produced and directed by Karl Francis and released in September 29, 2000 in Spain and European countries. It has not been released, neither a limited or wide basis, in the United States. The film has been shown at many film festivals around the world.

ee also

* Labor history
* "The Hollywood Ten" documentary
* Jencks Act
*Jencks v. United States



Additional sources

* "The Suppression of Salt of the Earth. How Hollywood, Big Labor, and Politicians Blacklisted a Movie in Cold War America," by James J. Lorence. University of New Mexico Press: 1999. ISBN 0-8263-2027-9 (cloth), ISBN 0-8263-2028-7 (paper).
* "Salt of the Earth: The Story of a Film," by Herbert J. Biberman. Harbor Electronic Publishing, New York (2nd edition, 2004): 1965. See: [ "Cineaste"] review of book.

External links

* [ "Salt of the Earth"] article and references for research by Michael Selig
* [ "Salt of the Earth"] bibliography of articles and books at UC Berkeley Media Resources
* [ "Salt of the Earth"] informational web site
* [ "Salt of the Earth"] study guide from the The City University of New York
* [ "Salt of the Earth"] bibliographical information
* [ "Salt of the Earth"] for viewing and downloading at [ Internet Archive] as a title in the public domain

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