By Admin | February 16, 2007

Filmed in 1978, first released in 1978 and now back in re-release, John Marshall’s “If It Fits” is an interesting curio on old-school politics in a small New England city facing rough economic times. Haverhill, Massachusetts, was the “Queen Slipper City” due to its high number of locally-based shoe manufacturers. But competition from overseas (especially Taiwan) and unimaginative municipal leadership saw the city fall into a serious decline. Indeed, the city leaders’ obsession with shoe manufacturing was so overpowering that they allowed the other major employer in town, the electronics giant Western Electric, to pack up and leave for neighboring North Andover.

“If It Fits” frames this economic crisis around the mayoral election. Incumbent George Kastaros, a self-congratulatory cigar-chomper, speaks endlessly and eloquently of his efforts to rebuild the local economy. Yet Kastaros’ tunnel vision on attracting manufacturing businesses only clearly limits the city’s attempts to entice a wider spectrum of employers.

The mayor’s opponent, fire chief Lewis Burton, is a weak campaigner who delivers his speeches in a timid manner and who never seems entirely at ease with audiences. But the man is hardly a weakling, as his coordination of the fire department’s response to a major blaze shows.

Viewed today, “If It Fits” will raise nostalgic giggles from those who recall the excesses of the 1970s: bad hair, tacky fashions, clunky technology (rotary phones and manual typewriters), and the decided lack of sophistication in political campaigns. But as a cinema verite documentary, it isn’t exactly the most compelling endeavor. Kastaros becomes tiresome very quickly and his shtick is too obvious to those around him. Burton only comes to life when he is caught off-guard suggesting the incumbent is in cahoots with factory owners who heavily insure their properties just before devastating fires “happen” to break out.

There is no updated epilogue to this film, so the fate of Haverhill and its mayor-elect are not immediately known to the viewer. The film has also not been restored or remastered in any way; it retains a grainy, faded 16mm visual style that is as outdated as the mindframe of its central subjects.

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