April 10, 1984

On PBS, a tale of racial struggle
By David Bianculli

Alfre Woodard (a nominee for the best-supporting-actress Oscar for Cross Creek) has little to do as Custer's wife, but in her few scenes does very well. Of the other performers, standouts include Ernest Rayford (as Thomas Joshua, the embittered war veteran) and Mary Alice (as the older woman who encourages Custerís dream to better himself).

Viewers of The Killing Floor should be aware, however, of two things. One is that the film contains brief but grisly scenes of the actual slaughtering process. Such scenes are certainly not gratuitous: By including them, and by filming on location in Chicago's Lincoln Meat plant and at other actual sites, the movie conveys a credibility that would have been unattainable on a Hollywood sound stage. Nevertheless, the scenes are pretty tough to take.

But by the time The Killing Floor is over, Custer has risen to the rank of butcher, joined the local union and become a vocal advocate of workers' rights. His advocacy, at one point, threatens to lead to Custer's last stand: As the drama unfolds, the issue of unionism leads to the Chicago race riots of 1919. read more>>
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