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Take This Job And Shove It
(1981)

Director: Gus Trikonis
Cast:
Robert Hays, Barbara Hershey, David Keith


For the most part, I enjoy being at the place of employment and doing the work that I am assigned. Most of the work I do is pretty easy, whether it's a request from my supervisor, or a request from one of the workers at the buildings I evaluate. But nothing is perfect. I will admit that there are some times that greatly frustrate me and I wish I could do something to the party that has given me a hard time. Sometimes during those aggravating times at work, I remember a scene from an obscure movie I once saw years ago, a movie I might get around to writing a review of one of these days. The movie is the 1974 Stacy Keach starring The Dion Brothers (a.k.a. The Gravy Train.) The scene that I think during those tough times at work is the opening scene of the movie. In that scene, a fellow by the name of Calvin (played by Keach) is at work in a factory, doing strenuous manual labor while his supervisor barks orders. Suddenly, Calvin snaps. He screams out loud, "That's it! I've had it! I QUIT THIS JOB! I am bored, man! BORED! I stay mad half of the time!" Calvin then rips off the apron covering his bare chest, and continues his rant: "Son-of-a-b*tch busy work all the time! Look at this, busy work, busy work! Look at this, nothing but busy work, everywhere you look, it's busy busy busy! Busy work here, busy work there, BUSY BUSY BUSY BUSY BUSY!"  After a short pause, Calvin resumes his rant: "LISTEN! I didn't stick out the last year of high school to do this S**T! This old hound is bound for glory! I've got the makings of a Kirk Douglas, man!" Calvin concludes his thoughts by flexing his muscles and stating, "Lookit! Kirk Douglas! LOOK AT ME - KIRK F**KING DOUGLAS!!!"

Every time that I think of that scene from the movie, it puts a smile on my face for several reasons. It lets me know that I am not the only one in the world who has frustrations with their job. And while I am smart enough to know that in my case it's better to swallow my pride and do what I am asked so I can keep my job in these tough economic times, it's nice at the same time to think of that movie scene so I can imagine doing the same thing as Stacy Keach did. Thinking about it makes me feel better and remove some of the frustration at the time. Anyway, over the years since I first watched that scene from The Dion Brothers, a seed was planted that recently grew to a full plant and gave me some valuable knowledge. That knowledge is that when it comes to the workplace, both in real life and in motion pictures, one can often find good sources of humor. Just think about it for a little bit. One of the most obvious sources of workplace humor is the person who happens to be the boss of the workplace. Whether the boss is a mean S.O.B. or totally inept at his or her job, the boss can tickle your funny bone - at least if he or she is not your boss. Another type of person at work that can deliver laughs is the fellow worker. There are so many different kinds of funny workers, from the goldbrick to the workaholic. At least as long as they are not your coworkers. One other kind of workplace related person that can be funny to an outside observer is the customer. Customers can be really stupid, or really demanding, so seeing people struggle with these trying individuals can really deliver on the hilarity.

So when I come across a movie that is not only comic in nature, but happens to take place in some sort of workplace, my interest goes up. Often the struggles that the people in these movies go through are to me not only funny, but also makes me realize that my job isn't that bad at all in Take This Job And Shove Itcomparison. So you might understand why when I found a copy of Take This Job And Shove It, my interest was perked up. But it wasn't just because of that. It was also because of its star, Robert Hays. After Airplane! made him a hot star overnight, he seemed to be headed for superstar status. But his star power slowly eroded each year after that movie, and eventually he was down to working for Roger Corman in the abysmal cheapie No Dessert Dad, Til You Mow The Lawn. Take This Job... was his first movie after Airplane!, and I wondered if it would give any clues as to why Hays became a has-been. In the movie, Hays plays a fellow named Frank Macklin, who ten years ago left his home town and moved to the big city, slowly working his way up to become a hotshot manager at a major corporation. One day, out of the blue, his bosses at the corporation give him a new assignment, with the promise of a big reward if he succeeds at it. They have bought a struggling brewery in his hometown, and they figure Frank will be the best choice to travel there to reorganize it to becoming profitable, since he knows the town and the people there. Returning to his home town, he finds his former home town associates cold as the beer they brew towards him, but he manages to convince them to work with him to save the brewery from being shut down. As they work towards their goal, Frank starts to build a good relationship with the workers. He also manages to reignite a relationship with a former girlfriend (Hershey, Beaches). Eventually, the brewery becomes profitable - too profitable, since Frank all of a sudden gets word that the corporation plans to sell the money-making brewery to an incompetent millionaire that threatens to run the brewery into the ground.

When I sat down to watch Take This Job And Shove It, knowing beforehand that it was a comedy, I saw the movie going one of two possible directions. The first possible direction was making the movie a real goofball comedy, maybe not as intense as Robert Hays' earlier Airplane!, but all the same hard to take seriously. The other possible direction would be to make it a satiric look at the various topics it brings up, from big business practices to small town life. Funny, yes, but at a more believable level. I'll get to what comic path the movie chooses to follow later, since first I want to discuss the portions of the movie that are more serious in nature. Yes, there are serious moments in the movie - in fact, there are a lot more than you may think for a movie that seems aimed at the redneck crowd. The basic theme for much of the movie's serious moments is desperation. When the reorganization of the brewery promises that jobs will be lost, we see one desperate brewery worker unsuccessfully trying to get a loan at the local bank. Later, brewery worker Ray (Tim Thomerson, The Wrong Guys) keeps his employment but is given a new position at the brewery, something that upsets him because he feels unqualified and uncomfortable by the new demands. Ray's friend Harry (Keith, U-571) shortly afterwards finds that he too is upset about the changes at the brewery, so much so that he takes out his anger on his family. Harry tells his wife that he wants to quit, but he can't since he is unqualified to do anything else. While Frank at first seems to dismiss the concerns of the workers, former friends or not, he eventually finds out for himself (in a scene with surprising power despite its short length) how desperate the workers are when he chews out a worker for not filling out a business form - and quickly finds out to great embarrassment and guilt the reason why.

There are a number of other serious scenes with the theme of desperation to be found in Take This Job And Shove It, enough that the movie at times seems to forget that it's supposed to be a comedy. But I didn't mind that, because the drama is more often than not well executed. I feel I should point out that not all of the drama in the movie has that theme of desperation. For example, there is the relationship Frank reignites with his former small town girlfriend. It's not a perfectly constructed relationship; for one thing, Hershey's character is offscreen several times for a considerable amount of time, enough that the rebuilding relationship seems to jump suddenly from one stage to another at times. Still, the relationship has its charms. Though the two had split up ten years ago for various reasons, when they meet again it's clear that time has eroded the thoughts of any bad times, but not the good times. There is a spark between the two from the start, and you can tell they are two good people deep down that deserve to have happiness with each other. Yes, Frank may be a little arrogant with the people around him as he attempts to turn around the brewery for his superiors, but we also get the opportunity on a regular basis to see another, softer side to him. And Hayes does a pretty good job in his lead role whatever the situation calls for his character to do or say. His best scenes are with Hershey, where he generates that aforementioned good chemistry. In fact, all of the other cast members give a professional effort for their roles. The cast, by the way, also includes notable talent as Martin Mull (Roseanne), Eddie Albert (Green Acres), and Art Carney (The Star Wars Holiday Special). Carney, though giving a professional performance, is saddled with a role that's kind of confusing. His brewery owner character starts off as sympathetic, but loses sympathy enough as the movie progresses that he becomes a bad guy. Then in the climatic scene, the movie suddenly feels like his character has become a good guy again. In the end, I didn't know what to think about this guy, except that it was just as well that his role is a minor one.

While I'm on the subject of not knowing what to think, I have an idea that many readers at this point are kind of confused by the fact that I said earlier that Take This Job And Shove It is a comedy, but that I haven't yet discussed the comic portion of the movie. I'll do that now. First, what comic path did the movie decide to take? Well, as it turned out, for the most part it didn't follow any of my two guesses. Oh, there is some lowbrow loud humor here and there that seems aimed to satisfy the drive-in audience. There are monster trucks, people drenched in mud, a dog that is seen humping someone's leg, and a football game staged in the interior of a saloon, among other events that would appeal to your average redneck. But such things are only a small portion of the humor in the movie. Believe it or not, most of the movie's attempts at humor are very gentle, being both down to earth and believable. While this doesn't lead to a lot of big laughs, the humor is quiet and sweet enough to put a small smile on your face scene after scene. You'll identify with these characters even if you are not a corporate hotshot or a country boy. They may tease each other, but you don't sense any hostility. They may execute some dirty tricks, but it's for a good cause. As a result, the movie has a very good-natured feeling that carries it almost to the end. I say "almost", because the climactic scene eschews a realistic and gentle tone in order to bring in a lot of physical (and loud) slapstick. It's not funny, nor does it seem to fit with the generally sedate tone of what unfolded before that point. In the end, the movie definitely has enough good moments to make it worth a viewing, but more likely than not you'll be puzzled by that climactic sequence. If I were one of the movie's producers and had read the screenplay, I would have told the screenwriters to take that climactic scene and...

(Posted April 25, 2018)

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See also: Beer, Making The Grade, No Dessert Dad, Til You Mow The Lawn

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