April 10, 1984

'Killing Floor': Not pretty, but powerful labor drama
By Marilyn Preston

"THE KILLING FLOOR" is part of our nation's history--a fascinating and bloody episode in the history of the U.S. labor movement--but it reaches us Tuesday as drama, a powerful, personal drama about a brave man named Frank Custer (Damien Leake) who left a poor sharecropper's life in the rural South to come to Chicago and make a new life for himself and his family. The year was 1917, the war was on, and blacks were making big money (21 cents) an hour) working in the stockyards.

"If it weren't for the war," Custer tells us at the start of this impressive two hours on "American Playhouse" at 9 p.m. on WTTW-Ch. 11, "I never would have left the South for the promised Land."

He has to leave his family behind at first (Custer's wife Mattie, is played by Alfre Woodard, who was nominated for an Oscar this year for her work in "Cross Creek"), but he takes his pal Thomas (Ernest Rayford), and the two of them find work in the slaughterhouses right away. "I need one for the killing floor," the foreman says, shouting and pointing at Frank. "You boy!" And Frank tells us: "That was the sweetest 'you' I ever heard in my life." read more>>
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