After her husband leaves for Pearl Harbor in World War II, a woman takes a job in an aircraft factory.
Daniel Dean Darst
Richard K Way
Penny Johnson Jerald
David B Carlton
Eddie Bo Smith
James M Anderson
Charles L Campbell
Vaune Kirby Frechette
Greg A Hall
Nicholas Vincent Korda
Samuel L. Mercer
Norman B Schwartz
Joe I Tompkins
R Chris Westlund
Pamela J Wise
Best Supporting Actress
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)
by Margarita Landazuri
The film's scenario, credited to the fictitious "Rob Morton," was originally crafted by Nancy Dowd, and tweaked in succession by Bo Goldman, Rob Nyswaner, and Robert Towne. Hawn is cast as Kay Walsh, a pliant young Santa Monica housewife with little else in her life but tending to her husband Jack (Ed Harris). After the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor, Jack enlists in the Navy, and Kay is soon bored waiting at home for his pay envelope. Inspired by a movie newsreel, she signs up for assembly work at a local aircraft plant, joining a long line of similarly situated servicemen's wives.
In spite of the patronizing attitude of the company's remaining male populace, Kay and her peers pick up the skills necessary to perform. Kay also handles the daunting task of bonding with her brassy co-worker and neighbor Hazel Zanussi (Christine Lahti), a struggling nightclub singer who Jack had always snubbed. Her work ethic and other attributes don't go unnoticed by shift leadman Lucky Lockhart (Kurt Russell), a 4F draft reject who moonlights as a jazz trumpeter. Kay struggles with her fidelity to Jack in the face of Lucky's attentions, and it's a war that she ultimately loses. The war years breeze by, with Hazel pretending to be Lucky's girlfriend for the neighbors' benefit, but the consequences are felt when Jack gets an unannounced leave home.
Dissatisfied with Demme's original edit, producer/star Hawn oversaw the final cut. Depending upon whom you ask, she did so in an effort either to make Kay seem more sympathetic, or to keep Lahti (who got an Oscar® nomination) from walking away with the picture. In the form in which it surfaced for the public, Swing Shift isn't without its virtues. Cinematographer Tak Fujimoto and the production design team gave the enterprise a crisp period look, and the central players, particularly Lahti, offer creditable performances. But even though the film had been reworked, the viewer isn't given a lot of reason to care for the characters. Kay's co-workers, who include a young Holly Hunter, don't become anything more than stock figures. The script tries to establish Kay as the textbook Hawn heroine who gets the audience on her side as she gains empowerment, but the character's betrayal of a husband whose biggest sin against her was paternalism works at cross-purposes.
The reviews and returns from Swing Shift's theatrical run were nothing special, but all involved rebounded well; Hawn and Russell still maintain the housekeeping that started on the set, an eternity by Hollywood's standard. Demme, of course, has gone on to better things, and has put the experience well in the rearview mirror. In the late '80s, a bootleg video of Demme's cut had reportedly been in circulation; now that would have been an extra for DVD release.
Unsurprisingly, insofar as supplemental materials go, the DVD of Swing Shift only offers the theatrical trailer. (If you don't like it, you get the principals in one room for the full-length commentary.) Warners provided a sharp mastering job in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio.
For more information about Swing Shift, visit Warner Video. To order Swing Shift, go to TCM Shopping.
by Jay S. Steinberg
Voted Best Supporting Actress (Lahti) by the 1984 New York Film Critics Circle.
Released in United States Spring April 13, 1984
Released in USA on video.
Robert Towne rewrote the screenplay for additional shooting after Jonathan Demme's version of the film was screened for studio executives.
Released in United States Spring April 13, 1984