Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

Good films but not success

Cleveland Press March 20, 1979

Martin Ritt's movies are generally well made, more often than not get critical approval and they I make money. But blockbuster's they are not and

Ritt knows it.

"So I'll never be a zillionaire. Big deal!"

Even in a phone interview you can sense the shrug of his shoulders.

His movies include "Hud," "Sounder," "The Spy Who Came in From the Cold," "The Great White Hope," "Pete 'N' Tillie," "Conrack," "The Molly Maguires," "The Front" and "Casey's Shadow."

The latest for this director is "Norma Rae" which is on local screens.

"But sometimes I want success very badly," he continued. "Maybe this picture will do it."

"The Molly Maguires" starred Sean Connery and Richard Harris and did little business. Ritt considers it one of his best and can't understand why it didn't do better. "Casey's Shadow" starred Walter Matthau, got great reviews and didn't make it, but Ritt claims he knows why.

"That one had a bad ad campaign," he opined. "If I were a young guy starting out in this business I'd buy that film, change the advertising and make a pot of money."

Ritt is not entirely accurate about his movies not making a great deal of money. "Sounder" was both an artistic and a financial success.

"Sure, that one made a bundle but I made it cheaply. No one expected it to make any money, though. That was the first black movie to have a big crossover audience of whites.

"I want to make movies that affect people or make them angry. I'm too old to compromise and I've made enough money that I don't have to.

"The studios are not philanthropic. They let me do what I want so I must be doing something right. The bottom line is that my movies keep making money."

In 1970, Ritt came through Cleveland to promote "The Molly Maguires." Even then he was talking about a project that was close to his heart, a movie about the blacklisting of show business people in the 1950s. Ritt was one of those affected. That movie, "The Front," finally came out in 1976.

"I was lucky on that one. I made a deal with Columbia Pictures. They let me make it if I made one they wanted. I never thought the 'The Front' would get made. Yeah, I was happy with it. It was not a big success but I'm used to that."

"Norma Rae," is about organizing a non-union factory. It's not a 1930s film but a contemporary one. The setting is the south and it's about workers in the textile industry.

"We make a point of noting that it takes place in the summer of 1978. I didn't want to make a depression movie and at one preview that's what a lot of people thought it was."

The star of the film is Sally Field a seemingly unlikely choice for a serious, dramatic film.

"Casting is an educated guess," he explained. "I met her and I looked at some of her other work. I think she projects an indomitable spirit and there's no question in my mind that she's a major actress."

Ritt is a former actor who doesn't long to return to the trade.

"An actor isn't in control and I'm interested only in being able to control what I say.

"In the last analysis you're lucky to be able to put movies on the screen that you believe in. I figure I'm lucky."