Cast & Crew
When his wife Annunziata will not let him into their New York City apartment, Geremio, a second-generation Italian-American builder, breaks down the door. As their children watch, Annunziata angrily tells Geremio to return to his mistress, whereupon Geremio slaps her and rushes in despair to his lover Kathleen's apartment. There, Kathleen tries to comfort him while he thinks back to a time nine years earlier when he thought he knew what he wanted in life: In 1921, while Geremio is working as a bricklayer on a New York skyscraper, Murdin, a fellow worker, slips on some wet cement and nearly knocks Geremio to the floor below, but Geremio is saved by his friend Luigi, an older immigrant from Abruzzi. Frightened by the incident, Murdin quits, and Geremio and Luigi realize that should they die on the job, they would have no one to weep for them. Luigi shows Geremio a photograph of Philomena, a woman he loved in Abruzzi, and Geremio is taken with the face of Philomena's oldest sister, Annunziata. At Gennaro's tavern, Geremio dances with his girl friend, Kathleen, and shocks her when he proposes marriage. After Kathleen refuses to marry him unless he finds a "respectable" job, an insulted Geremio proudly declares his intention to remain in construction and tells Luigi that he wants to marry Annunziata. Some time later, as they wait for Annunziata's ship to dock, Geremio reveals to Luigi that after she had written to him, stating that he must own a home before she would marry him, he lied about being a homeowner. Luigi advises Geremio not to tell Annunziata the truth and adds that he will somehow obtain a house for them. At the wedding ceremony, Geremio, with Luigi's assistance, makes a deal with Jaroslav, a Slavic immigrant, to buy a house in Brooklyn for $1,000 by putting $25 down and moving in after he pays $750. Geremio rents the house for a three-day honeymoon, letting Annunziata think that it belongs to them. Once inside, Annunziata cries with joy, then gives "salt to the devil" by sprinkling salt in the corners to protect against evil. Annunziata and Geremio enjoy three days of bliss, but the honeymoon ends abruptly when Jaroslav arrives and Annunziata learns the truth about the house. Back in the city, at Geremio's noisy tenement, Annunziata makes her new husband promise that he will never lie to her again. The newlyweds then make plans to scrimp and save so that they can have the house in fifty-five weeks. At a new worksite, Murdin, now a foreman, offers a $100 bonus to the man who lays the most bricks and does the best work. Geremio wins the bonus and celebrates with his workmates at Gennaro's, where Kathleen confides to him that she is lonely. Geremio returns home drunk and he and Annunziata argue because of their frustration at how long it is taking to pay for the house. Annunziata soon gives birth to a son, named Paul, and by 1928, the family includes two more sons and a daughter. When they are within a few weeks of having saved enough to move into the home, the stock market crashes and there is less work for Geremio. Jaroslav advises the couple that he must sell the house because he is desperate for money. Annunziata, extremely upset, gives him $100 of the last $125 that she and Geremio have, and Jaroslav agrees not to sell, no matter what. When Murdin asks Geremio to be the foreman on a new project on which he has bid, Geremio turns down the job out of safety concerns. Geremio eventually accepts the position, but when he shows the plans to his fellow workers, one of them notices that the demolition involved may be dangerous. The men hesitate at first to join up until Luigi declares that he trusts Geremio. As construction progresses, Geremio urges the men to work faster and harder. One day, after ordering the resting Luigi to go back to work or be replaced, Luigi is severely injured in an accident. Annunziata tries to comfort the guilt-ridden Geremio, but he treats her coldly and goes to the tavern, where his co-workers are hostile toward him. He then visits Kathleen, who consoles him, and they begin an affair. Later, Geremio, forgetting that the day is his birthday, tells Annunziata that he has to stay late again for another union meeting, but she urges him to come home for dinner. Geremio returns home late and drunkenly breaks down the door, slaps an angry, fed-up Annunziata and then heads for Kathleen's apartment. Having gone over the past nine years, Geremio tries to figure out why he is so unhappy. Kathleen criticizes Geremio's outlook on life, noting that in his world everything is either good or bad, while, for her, the world is divided into the strong and the weak. When Kathleen encourages Geremio to leave his family and go away with her, Geremio finally realizes that he desires more than the ostensible freedom that Kathleen offers. Geremio then returns home, where he falls to his knees in front of Annunziata and declares that they must never grow apart again. Back at the worksite on Good Friday, Geremio tells the men that, as it is the custom to wash one's soul clean on that day, he must confess that he has wronged them. Although one of the workers calls him the worst foreman he has ever had, they all forgive him. Geremio tells the men to work at their own pace and promises to do all he can to ensure their safety. They shore up the building with beams, and as the cement is being poured, Geremio insists on more shoring. Before this can be accomplished, however, a wall collapses, then a floor, and Geremio is knocked into a hole, which begins to fill up with cement. As he is being buried alive by the cement, Geremio hears voices from his past and dies after asking Annunziata to forgive him. Later, Annunziata is questioned by a governmental committee that will decide how much money she is to be paid as compensation for Geremio's death. When a priest tells her that the amount will be determined by how much Geremio would have earned during the rest of his life, Annunziata points out that they cannot place a value on his love and dreams. The committee decides to give her $1,000 in addition to monthly payments for the children, prompting Annunziata to declare that Geremio has at last bought them a house.
Ina De La Haye
N. A. Bronsten
Pietro Di Donato
Rod E. Geiger
C. Pennington Richards
The working title of the film, Christ in Concrete, was the title on the print viewed, although the title card appears to have been added subsequent to the film's initial release. The film opened in New York in December 1949 under its British title Give Us This Day, but by the time it played Los Angeles in June 1950, it had been retitled Salt to the Devil. The opening credits on the print viewed read, "A Geiger-Bronsten Production of Edward Dmytryk's Christ in Concrete." The novel was expanded from a short story, also entitled "Christ in Concrete," which was originally published in Esquire in March 1937.
A Hollywood Reporter news item of May 16, 1946 noted that American producer Rod E. Geiger had purchased the film rights to Pietro Di Donato's novel and planned to make the film with director Roberto Rossellini. A October 1, 1947 Film Daily news item reported that Geiger had signed Luise Rainer for the role of "Annunziata." On February 12, 1948, Daily Variety reported that Geiger would start production on Give Us This Day at the Motion Picture Center Studios on 10 Mar, with a cast headed by Rainer, Sam Wanamaker, Albert Dekker, Karen Morley and J. Edward Bromberg. However, Geiger eventually made the film in Britain in 1949 with Wanamaker, director Edward Dmytryk and writer Ben Barzman, all of whom had been blacklisted as a result of the House Committee on Un-American Activities hearings. Although the film received excellent reviews in Europe and in New York, as Dmytryk states in his book A Memoir of the Hollywood Ten, the then powerful American Legion picketed the U.S. screenings, causing the film to receive few bookings.