The Killing Floor | Chicago Reader

The Killing Floor

118 minutes

Originally broadcast on the PBS series American Playhouse, this creaky 1984 drama follows a young black husband and father from the south (Damien Leake) as he migrates to Chicago during World War I to work at one of the city's south-side slaughterhouses. The relatively handsome wages (21 cents an hour!) enable him to bring his family north eventually, but after the Armistice is signed, he's fired to make room for white workers returning home from France. Written and produced by Elsa Rassbach, the movie is most interesting for its careful notation of how racial mistrust infected the union struggles of the era, though there's a dutiful feel to the whole thing and the budget restraints begin to pinch especially hard when the story arrives at the horrific race rioting that tore the city apart in the summer of 1919. Bill Duke (A Rage in Harlem) directed, and the cast includes such up-and-comers as Alfre Woodard, Dennis Farina, and John Mahoney.

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