Salt Of The Earth - Film (Movie) Plot and Review

USA, 1954

Director: Herbert J. Biberman

Production: Independent Productions Corporation and the International Union of Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers; black and white, 35mm; running time 92 minutes. Released 1954, New York City. Filmed 1953 in the Bayard Region of New Mexico.

Producers: Paul Jarrico with Sonja Dahl Biberman and Adolfo Barela; screenplay: Michael Wilson with Herbert J. Biberman; photography: Leonard Stark and Stanley Meredith, some sources list director of photography as Simon Lazarus; editors: Ed Spiegel and Joan Laird; sound: Dick Staunton and Harry Smith; production design: Sonja Dahl and Adolfo Bardela; music: Sol Kaplan.

Cast: Professional actors—Rosaura Revueltas ( Esperanza Quintero ); Will Geer ( Sheriff ); David Wolfe ( Barton ); Melvin Williams ( Hartwell ); David Sarvis ( Alexander ); non-professional actors—Juan Chacón ( Ramón Quintero ); Henrietta Williams ( Teresa Vidal ); Ernest Velásquez ( Charley Vidal ); Angela Sánchez ( Consuelo Ruíz ); Joe T. Morales ( Sal Ruíz ); Clorinda Alderette ( Luz Morales ); Charles Coleman ( Antonio Morales ); Virginia Jencks ( Ruth Barnes ); Clinton Jencks ( Frank Barnes ); E. A. Rockwell ( Vance ); William Rockwell ( Kimbrough ); Frank Talavera ( Luís Quintero ); Mary Lou Castillo ( Estella Quintero ); Floyd Bostick ( Jenkins ); Victor Torres ( Sebastian Prieto ); E. S. Conerly (Kalinsky ); Elvira Molano ( Mrs. Salazar ); Adolfo Barela and Albert Muñoz ( Miners ); and the men and women of Local 890, International Union of Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers, Bayard, New Mexico.



Wilson, Michael, Salt of the Earth , compiled by Deborah Silverton Rosenfelt, New York, 1978.


Cogley, John, Report on Blacklisting I: Movies , New York, 1956.

Biberman, Herbert, Salt of the Earth: The Story of a Film , Boston, 1965.

Lorence, James J., Suppression of Salt of the Earth: How Hollywood, Big Labor, and Politicians Blacklisted a Movie in Cold War America , Albuquerque, 1999.


"Hollywood Film Writers," in Nation (New York), 15 January 1949.

"Interview with Herbert Biberman," in Jeune Cinéma (Paris), November 1950.

"I.U.M.M.S.W. with Love," in Time (New York), 23 February 1953.

"Silver City Troubles," in Newsweek (New York), 16 March 1953.

Bloom, H., "Vigilantism Plays the Villain, Silver City, N. Mex.," in Nation (New York), 9 May 1953.

Biberman, Herbert, and Paul Jarrico, in Cinéma (Paris), March 1955.

McFadden, Patrick, "Blacklisted," in Take One (Montreal), no. 5, 1967.

"Interview with Herbert Biberman," in Positif (Paris), Summer 1969.

Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), June 1971.

McCormick, R., in Cineaste (New York), no. 4, 1973.

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Fausing, B., in Kosmorama (Copenhagen), Autumn 1975.

Borde, Raymond in Filmihullu (Helsinki), no. 5, 1976.

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Hoen, P. R., in Filmavisa (Oslo), no. 4, 1978.

Haudiquet, P., "Le Sel de la terre Ă  la liste noire," in Image et Son (Paris), June 1978.

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Rosenfelt, D., "Ideology and Structure in Salt of the Earth, " in Jump Cut (Chicago), 30 December 1979.

Peary, Danny, in Cult Movies 2 , New York, 1983.

Miller, Tom, "Class Reunion: Salt of the Earth Revisited," in Cineaste (New York), vol. 13, no. 3, 1984.

Crowdus, Gary, in Cineaste (New York), vol. 15, no. 1, 1986.

Bosshard, A., "Which Side Are You On?" in Illusions (Wellington), no. 8, June 1988.

Jarrico, P., "Letters: Salt of the Earth ," in Cineaste (New York), vol. 17, no. 1, 1989.

Riambau, Esteve, and C. Torreiro, "This Film is Going to Make History: An Interview with Rosaura Revueltas," in Cineaste (New York), vol. 19, no. 2–3, 1992.

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* * *

Salt of the Earth was produced as a self-consciously radical film during one of the most repressive periods in American political history. Started by a number of Hollywood's blacklisted, it soon attained the status of a truly collective film enterprise, employing the talent and experience of many of those involved in the real events the film portrays as well as the original group of ousted Hollywood professionals. Because it was conceived as a politically radical statement on working conditions, union organizing, and relations between the races and sexes, Salt of the Earth faced official and unofficial harassment from political and industrial leaders whose thinking characterized the McCarthy era.

Salt of the Earth began as a film project when blacklisted producer Paul Jarrico and his family visited a miners' strike in Grant County, New Mexico. Previously, a number of blacklisted Hollywood professionals, including some of the recently released Hollywood Ten, had

Salt of the Earth
Salt of the Earth
formed Independent Productions Corporation in 1951 with $10,000 from theater operator Simon Lazarus, and another $25,000 from an array of sympathetic businessmen. The group was unable to decide on a project until Jarrico returned with his suggestion to film a story based on the miners' real experiences in the strike he had just witnessed. Screenwriter Michael Wilson then ventured to Grant County three months prior to the end of the almost one and a half year strike. Wilson made several trips between Los Angeles and Grant County, each time preparing a new script incorporating the input of the miners and their families. In its final form, the film tells a fictionalised story of New Mexico's Union of Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers strike against Empire Zinc, lasting from October 1950 to January 1952. The strike was characterized by an especially tense and violent atmosphere between Anglos and Chicanos. Ultimately, the miners' wives took over the picket line to avoid a court injunction against the all male union workers, an event which profoundly affected the Chicano community's attitudes about women's rights. The emotional tensions generated by the strike—between Chicano and Anglo, and when the women walked the picket line, between husbands and wives—are portrayed in their impact on a fictional married couple, Ramon and Esperanza Quintero.

Collective decision-making distinguished not only the script's preparation but all aspects of the film's production, marking an abrupt change in the hierarchical collaboration that characterized Hollywood filmmaking. Most of the roles were filled by the miners themselves and local Anglos, including the male lead Ramon, played by unionist Juan Chacon. The heroine was originally to be played by Gale Sondergaard, already involved in the project, but was finally cast with Rosaura Revueltas, a highly successful Mexican film star. Her participation in the film led to her deportation from the United States, and ultimately to the end of her film career.

The production and post-production of Salt was hampered by constant harassment from industrial and political leaders. Hiring a union crew proved impossible as Roy Brewer, red-baiter and head of the I.A.T.S.F., refused to allow union personnel to participate. During the film's shooting, the project and all those involved were denounced by union representatives in Hollywood, the trade press, and Congressman Donald Jackson in the House of Representatives, all leading to increasing tension in Grant County which hindered the film's completion.

Post-production was impeded not only by Hollywood union recalcitrance but also by Howard Hughes's attempts to organize an industry-wide boycott of the film by post-production facilities throughout the country. The film's exhibition encountered such strong resistance from I.A.T.S.E. projectionists, who under Brewer's orders refused to project the finished film, that it was and still is seen most widely at union activities and outside the United States.

The film is marred aesthetically by these outside pressures, since the tension and violence that marked the final shooting days and Revueltas's deportation necessitated the inclusion of some poor sound footage and mismatched edits. Nevertheless, even today the film presents in its fictionalized account of the strike a powerful statement on workers' conditions, union organizing, and changing relations between women and men and Chicanos and Anglos.

—Michael Selig

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