This 1945 black and white classic, set in Victorian Philadelphia, highlights the class struggle in America at the time of the steel strikes, capitalism vs. the unions, as workers seek to establish collective bargaining for fair wages and safe working conditions. Long before the strike begins, the Scott family enjoys a luxurious lifestyle, scions of the Scott Steel Mills. Mary Rafferty comes into the home as a servant, but eldest son, Paul (Gregory Peck), falls in love with the beautiful Irish woman (Greer Garson). Blind to their class differences, Paul pursues Mary. Equally in love, but unsure, Mary crosses the ocean to London, where she works for one of the Scott daughters. Eventually Mary is convinced to return and marry Paul.
Unfortunately, before they can wed, the strike turns violent, the steel mill closed down for lack of settlement. Mary talks Scott Sr. into meeting with the workers, but before an agreement can be made, strikebreakers arrive on the scene and in the ensuing mayhem Mr. Scott and Mary's agitator father (Lionel Barrymore) are killed. Afterwards, Mary refuses to marry Paul, burdened by the curse her father put on the match and their future children.
Time passes and Paul marries his childhood sweetheart and has a son, but the marriage is a bitter failure, Paul's wife a rigid snob with no regard for her husband's love of the mills. Over the years, the widowed Mrs. Scott has secretly visited Mary Rafferty, unwilling to turn away from the woman she has grown to love as one of the family. The mill falls on hard times and after Mrs. Scott's death, her shares of the company are left to Mary. Although the romance is the crux of the film and the lovers do finally reunite, the background of social change in the mills and the attendant brutality of the worker's struggle reveals the deep division of wealth and poverty.
This film is notable in 1945 for addressing social issues, albeit those of the Victorian Age. The message is clear, as played out when the children vote to sell the mill their father founded: return to the earth what it has given so freely. The hubris of the upper class is a given, their easy acceptance of their birthright unchallenged. But Mary infuses a bit of authenticity into a family whose bloodlines have been weakened by privilege. Mary is the voice of the people and it is she who helps them understand their legacy. Her union with the socially conscious Paul Scott would bridge the gap between classes, although the power remains where it always has, with the Scott's. Steel mills are obsolete in today's economy; for that reason alone, the film is a grim reminder of the production of resources on American soil and employment for anyone willing to work. Luan Gaines/2005.