Salt of the Earth (1954) Blu-ray Review

Powerful drama remains relevant after 60 years

For 1954, Salt of the Earth is an intensely powerful commentary, supported with racial tensions, woman’s rights, worker’s rights, and union-driven might. Sally Field’s Norma Rae owes much to this once blacklisted feature.

The film’s battle is of equality – Mexican workers of Delaware Zinc are battling the company’s owners whose policies are leading to deaths and lopsided conditions within their mine. Bias is ferocious in its portrayal. White men sit in positions of overbearing authority or suck on cigarettes in their cars. Miners form their picket line, dirty, tired, and fighting for necessities. Hot water is considered a luxury.

… the bonding people do when faced with these circumstances remains inspiring despite a 60 year gap in cinematic context.

While Salt of the Earth is soured by stubborn, botched performances, the power of the images is enough to alleviate the stilted line delivery. Frenzied editing as picket lines are breached by police without cause, women striking back; the bonding people do when faced with these circumstances remains inspiring despite a 60 year gap in cinematic context. It’s obvious why – political spectrums remain enamored with debates over income gaps. Workers who demand fair treatment and livable wages are labeled lazy, even greedy. Salt of the Earth remains a viable anthem for their cause. Although regulations have lessened racist impact, Salt of the Earth dares to remove feminine inequality too.

Led by Spanish actress Rosaura Revueltas as Esperanza – her lone American role – miner’s wives take a lead. They gain voting rights in Union meetings and carry picket signs. Salt of the Earth distills their action into a sitcom-like role reversal, a touch of brevity as men (barely) handle daily chores. Then the women fight, rocking police cars and maintaining a picket line even as tear gas is dropped into their ranks. How ahead of its time this film was.

Esperanza frequently speaks narrated exposition, filling in story gaps as needed between bouts of domestic battles. Her husband is against the women being part of the process, a sexist stance which the film readily attacks. Salt of the Earth becomes Esperanza’s story, a representation of all women as she slowly becomes vocally involved. It’s more than a strike and livelihoods – it’s against broad social conceptions and repression, hyper progressive in this stance and fiercely authentic at showing the divide.

Despite lopsided screen time for its generic “big money” villains, empathy is carried into the brutal, cold narrative in full. Brief scenes of parents scraping food onto their kid’s plates; images of desperate workers leaving the small town for other opportunities; a remarkable instance of a mother wishing her unborn child not to be born because of the conditions. The seemingly implausible, unreasonable demands placed upon the miners is haunting. Their fight is then exhilarating.

Movie ★★★★☆ 

Staying by him @ 13:38

Film Detective takes the public domain regular and puts it on a BD-R. Results are passable, considering. It’s a messy presentation. The print used is scratchy, worn, and in spots, crumbling. Missing/skipping frames are noted too. Considering the conditions the film was shot under – footage was developed in secret – a fine condition print would be unlikely.

Gray scale is faded. At times, images are blown out. Contrast during the scene where the strike originates is heavy on whites, bleaching faces and losing what little fidelity is offered. Instances of actual black levels come and go, sometimes within the same shot. Salt of the Earth appears put together from varying elements.

Resolution is a gift. It’s impressive any remains at all. Grain has an unnatural softness and images are dull. No processing appears to have been applied though. Encoding is considerate. Compared to the pitiful nature of many public domain prints, Salt of the Earth does have a handful of notable qualities. Some close-ups are clear. Long establishing shots are managed well.

Despite damage, fading elements, and the rights status, Salt of the Earth is better than anticipated. The film still deserves a clean treatment. If this must be Salt of the Earth’s Blu-ray resting place, at least the video is presentable.

Video ★★☆☆☆ 

Audio fares worse. Accents can be thick. An insurmountable level of scratching and popping from age only makes them harder to understand. The battle is constant. At 20-minutes, the audio track bottoms out. Overall volume is decreased and the strained higher-end disappears.

Dialog is frequently mushy, drowned in a haze of long since worn out mono. Musical work by Sol Kaplan loses its oomph.

DTS-HD is fine, but adds nothing. The drops outs and jumps inherent to the track will not be saved by modern codecs.

Audio ★☆☆☆☆ 

A trailer serves as the only bonus.

Extras ★☆☆☆☆ 

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

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Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.