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Norma Rae
Sally Field won her first Oscar for Outstanding Lead Actress for her work in an in your face, fact-based drama from 1979 called Norma Rae. which presents a strong leading character trapped in an impossible situation and never letting it get the best of her.

The title character is a single mother at a southern textile mill who is immediately entranced by a union organizer named Reuben (Ron Leibman) who comes to town to get a union going at the mill and faces one obstacle after another in getting a union going at the mill, mostly from management. While trying to help Reuben, Norma Rae also finds herself drawn to a sweet, if slightly dim co-worker named Sonny (Beau Bridges) who she ends up marrying, but Norma Rae's head is more into unionizing than it is her marriage.

Irving Ravetch and Harry Frank Jr's screenplay is actually based on the real life exploits of a woman named Crystal Lee Sutton who worked for JP Stevens and Company and whose complaints about the exhausting work, paltry wages, and minimal benefits eventual got her fired but before she left, she did actually get on top of a table with the union sign, initiating a shut down, a scene which not only is recreated in this movie, but eventually became the movie's movie's most iconic scene. It's easy to see why too, this scene absolutely bristles with tension.

Watching movies like this one and Silkwood have confused me about unionization and its value. They supposedly are there to protect employees and help to make their lives better but it seems like when the people supporting them need them the most, they're never there. Norma Rae's efforts got her fired and arrested and Karen Silkwood's efforts eventually got her killed and I have to admit I was surprised when the big vote for unionization actually went through.

The other thing I did like was the unconventional love triangle presented at the center of it. The relationship that develops between Norma and Reuben is tangible and wrought with sexual tension, but never gets physical. On the other hand, Norma's conventional romance with Sonny isn't really based on a grand passion. One of my favorite scenes in the film is the scene where Sonny and Norma get married...they go to a justice of the peace and the kiss after the vows is just a quick peck...this is Ritt's directorial eye working to maximum effect.

Field did win her first Oscar for the solid performance she gives and proved herself to be an actress of substance, but I'm not sure if she was better than Jane Fonda in The China Syndrome or even Bette Midler in The Rose, but I've definitely seen less deserving Oscar winners. I love that scene where Norma shuts up Sonny by "cooking" and "cleaning" for him. "It Goes Like it Goes", the song sung by Jennifer Warnes over the opening credits, also won an Oscar. Leibman is terrific as Reuben and I'll never understand why this performance never led to a movie career for him. I love the scene when's he's walking through the mill greeting the workers while there to check on the bulletin boards. Bridges gives one of the best performances of his career as Sonny and I also enjoyed Pat Hingle and Barbara Baxley as Norma's parents. This is one is still worth checking out thanks to the acting skills of Sally Field and the directing skills of Martin Ritt.