Picks and Pans Review: Swing Shift
The advance word on this film spelled trouble: The opening kept being delayed and at least two screenwriters (Nancy Dowd and Robert Towne) had their names removed from the credits. Now the film is here, and it's hard to understand the fuss. Director Jonathan (Melvin and Howard) Demme has made a fresh, funny moonbeam of a movie about the women who went to work in defense plants when their men went to war in 1941. The period details are convincing (the entire Byron-Jackson Pump Co. plant was put into full operation) and the stirrings of feminism among the women is unexpectedly moving. Goldie Hawn, rarely as sexy or scintillating, also shows new depths as the wife of Ed (The Right Stuff) Harris. When hubby goes to sea, Hawn takes a job at a Santa Monica plant and finds herself wooed by a 4-F (for a bad heart) worker, extraordinarily well-played by Kurt (Silk-wood) Russell, Goldie's real-life love. They fall in love first, then go to bed. (There's real proof that this, bless it, is a period film.) Hawn's singer-turned-riveter pal, acted with Eve Arden zest and Joan Crawford glamour by Christine Lahti, helps Hawn deceive the neighbors by pretending Russell is her boyfriend. But Lahti is really carrying a torch for gruff dance-hall owner Fred (The Right Stuff) Ward. What could have been a mawkish 1940s-style soap opera becomes something more delicate and deceptively complex, Demme never turns his characters into clichés. There are no bad guys. Harris is touching as the wronged husband. Hawn's loneliness, Russell's frustration and Lahti's bitterness are all presented without a breath of ill will. These are decent people who don't need the cutting edge of one-liners to work their way into the heart of an audience. Swing Shift is American moviemaking at its lyrical, buoyant best. (PG)
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