(Canada's Sweetheart: The Saga of Hal C. Banks)
Format: 35mm Colour
Runtime: 115 min
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation,
National Film Board of Canada
Directed by one of Canada’s pre-eminent documentarists, Donald Brittain, Canada’s Sweetheart depicts the primitive state of labour-management relations in Canada from the late 1940s to early 1960s. It is an astonishing tale of violence and corruption, about a protagonist few Canadians would recognize by name.
Canada’s Sweetheart recounts the true story of Harold (Hal) Banks, an American thug imported into Canada to crush the Seafarers' International Union. Brittain exposes the real villain as the Canadian government that brought Banks into the picture and proceeded to silently condone his brutality, and then, protected him from prosecution for 25 years.
As the story reveals, in 1949, Hal Banks, a convicted felon and union strongman, quietly entered Canada on the invitation and with the blessings of Canadian businesses and government. His job was to destroy the communist-controlled Seafarer’s Union and replace it with a more compliant chapter of an American-based union. What followed was a reign of terror during which brute force, blacklisting, graft and government collusion became rife. In the process, the careers of 6,000 seamen were shattered.
Canada’s Sweetheart is one of Brittain’s most effective docudramas. He used a compelling mix of dramatization and documentary re-creation, incorporating interviews with survivors, stills and newsreels from the period. He shot in both full colour and black and white, and the effect in some of the more menacing scenes is the feel of a film noir, including the end sequence when Banks exits the country — as surreptitiously as he arrived. Adding to the film’s power is the chilling performance by Maury Chaykin as the ruthless union boss, played with a perfect balance of arrogance and sheer indifference.