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Swing Shift

Swing Shift(1984)

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teaser Swing Shift (1984)

By the time Goldie Hawn starred in 1984's Swing Shift, she had been a major star for more than a decade, rising from television stardom on the comedy show "Laugh-In" in the 1960s to big-screen stardom in the 1970s. But the daffy, ditsy blonde that she often played was just her onscreen persona, and the real Hawn was smart and determined to be involved in shaping the films in which she starred. By 1980, she had enough clout to earn an Executive Producer title for the first time on one of her films, Private Benjamin. Even though she does not have a producer credit on Swing Shift, her production company was involved, and Hawn not only displayed star power on the screen, but reportedly also used her power behind the scenes when she was dissatisfied with director Jonathan Demme's version.

Swing Shift is about women who find friendship and empowerment while working at an aircraft factory during World War II. Hawn plays Kay, who is a homemaker happily married to Jack (Ed Harris). When Jack goes to war, Kay goes to work, meeting a group of women in similar circumstances, and becoming close friends with Hazel (Christine Lahti). Kay also meets Lucky, a musician and foreman at the factory, who pursues her. (Russell and Hawn became romantically involved during the production of Swing Shift, beginning their decades-long partnership.) Among the excellent supporting cast was another future star -- Holly Hunter, in her second feature film role, as one of the tight-knit group of women at the factory.

Demme, who had begun his career with a series of low-budget exploitation movies for producer Roger Corman and had received critical acclaim for 1980's Melvin and Howard, was one of the hottest young directors in Hollywood when he signed to direct Swing Shift. Hawn later said she was initially enthusiastic about working with a "really great young director." But in a 1990 article by Steve Vineberg in Sight and Sound magazine, and in interviews Demme has given over the years, the director claimed that after Hawn and Russell fell in love, Hawn was unhappy that the focus was in the film on the friendship between Kay and Hazel rather than on the romance between Kay and Lucky. Demme has called it the worst experience of his career, and says there was a "tremendous struggle for control with Goldie Hawn and the studio." In spite of Demme's objections, new scenes were written and shot, and the film was re-edited after Demme moved on to other projects. According to Vineberg, there were bootleg VHS copies of Demme's cut of Swing Shift, and he and others who have seen it claim it's far superior to the recut version that was released.

Hawn's version of the story is that she and her producing partner Anthea Sylbert were "just trying to get the movie to work" by recutting it. Sylbert told Vanity Fair that the problem with Demme's version was that he cut away from Hawn "at very crucial moments" in the film, making Hawn look like "this blonde extra." There was also gossip that Lahti was stealing the film, and that Hawn wanted to de-emphasize Lahti's performance. If that's the case, Lahti got the last laugh, garnering great reviews and an Oscar nomination. Lahti herself dismissed those rumors in a People magazine interview at the time: "I don't know about that. But what I do know is, honest to God, [Hawn] was far from being a prima donna or star. She was completely generous."

In spite of the problems, the scenes between Lahti and Hawn, the many excellent supporting performances, and the details of the workplace scenes are among the pleasures of Swing Shift. Music is always a highlight of a Demme film, and the period score is also a highlight. Even if the film's message of women finding friendship and professional gratification at work takes a backseat to their romantic travails, there's a lot to enjoy in Swing Shift. Some critics found the film unfocused, but others had kind words, if not raves. "What's unexpected...and what keeps it from being predictable and makes it special, is that the relationship between Kay and Lucky isn't really at the heart of the movie. That position is reserved for the friendship between Kay and Hazel," wrote the Chicago Sun-Times's Roger Ebert. Like most critics, had high praise for Lahti's performance. Vincent Canby of the New York Times concurred: "Miss Lahti is so good that she turns a secondary role into a major one." Apparently alluding to the rumors of strife during production, Canby's ultimate verdict was tactfully subdued: "Despite what seem to have been certain differences of opinion in the course of the production, Swing Shift' plays very smoothly."

Director: Jonathan Demme
Producer: Jerry Bick
Screenplay: Nancy Dowd (as Rob Morton), Bo Goldman (uncredited), Ron Nyswaner (uncredited), Robert Towne (uncredited)
Cinematography: Tak Fujimoto
Editor: Gib Jaffe, Craig McKay
Costume Design: Joe I. Tompkins
Art Direction: Bo Welch
Music: Patrick Williams
Principal Cast: Goldie Hawn (Kay Walsh), Kurt Russell (Lucky Lockhart), Christine Lahti (Hazel Zanussi), Fred Ward ("Biscuits" Touhy), Ed Harris (Jack Walsh), Sudie Bond (Annie), Holly Hunter (Jeannie), Patty Maloney (Laverne), Lisa Pelikan (Violet), Susan Peretz (Edith), Charles Napier (Moon Wills)
100 minutes

by Margarita Landazuri

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