A labor union organizer comes to an embattled mining community brutally and violently dominated and harassed by the mining company.




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Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 2 wins & 7 nominations. See more awards »
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Cast overview, first billed only:
Elma Radnor
Danny Radnor
Sephus Purcell
Tom Griggs
C.E. Lively
Hillard Elkins
Nancy Mette ...
Bridey Mae
Jo Henderson ...
Mrs. Elkins
Cabell Testerman
Gary McCleery ...
Maggie Renzi ...


Mingo County, West Virginia, 1920. Coal miners, struggling to form a union, are up against company operators and the gun thugs of the notorious Baldwin-Felts detective agency. Black and Italian miners, brought in by the company to break the strike, are caught between the two forces. UMWA organizer and dual-card Wobbly Joe Kenehan determines to bring the local, Black, and Italian groups together. While Kenehan and his story are fictional, the setting and the dramatic climax are historical; Sid Hatfield, Cabell C. Testerman, C. E. Lively and the Felts brothers were real-life participants, and 'Few Clothes' is based on a character active several years previously. Written by Susan C. Mitchell <susanm@indirect.com>, expanded by Silverwhistle

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


At the coal company they use you until you wear out See more »


Drama | History


PG-13 | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:






Release Date:

30 June 1988 (Australia)  »

Also Known As:

Azok a véres napok  »

Box Office


$4,000,000 (estimated)


$1,680,358 (USA)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


The film cast includes one Oscar winner: Chris Cooper and four Oscar nominees: James Earl Jones, Mary McDonnell, John Sayles and David Strathairn. See more »


The steam locomotive used in "Matewan" was ex-New York, Chicago, and St. Louis Railway ("Nickel Plate Road") #765. It was a modern steam locomotive built in the 1940's and thus would not have existed at the time of the events depicted in "Matewan." See more »


Danny Radnor: [Narrating] It were 19 and 20 in the southwest fields and things was tough. The miners was trying to bring the union to West Virginia and the coal operators and their gun thugs was set on keeping them out.
See more »


Referenced in Clerks (1994) See more »


Soundtrack was available on LP, Columbia, 37.089
Harmonica by John Hammond, Phil Wiggins
Fiddlee by Gerry Milnes, Stuart Schulman
Mandolin by John Curtis, Jim Costa
Guitar by John Curtis, Mason Daring
Dobro by Mason Daring
See more »

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User Reviews

An American Masterpiece
24 June 2002 | by (Montclair, NJ) – See all my reviews

John Sayles is a national treasure! Ferociously independent --most of his films are made with privately organized funds-- and working with what has become a repertory company --most of his actors return to work with him for less than they would get elsewhere-- he has never made an uninteresting film. Even when his films may vary in overall quality, from merely good to great, they are each interesting and arresting.

My mother was an organizer in the southwest coal counties of West Virginia, arriving there in 1926 (having left college), near the end of the coal wars. Her only comment on the film, when I screened it for her before she died in 1988,was that the working conditions and the living conditions of the miners and their families were far worse than depicted in the film. She always spoke at union meetings surrounded by a body guard of 10-20 armed miners. A number of her young colleagues were assassinated (there's no other appropriate word for how they died).

The murder of Sid Hatfield, the town sheriff of Matewan, in the year following the year portrayed in the film, in broad daylight on the McDowell County courthouse steps precipitated the largest insurrection in the U.S. since the Civil War. More than 10,000 armed miners from the six coal counties, descended on the court house looking for the private detectives and law "enforcement" officers who were the assassins. They took over the court house and the town, and threatened open insurrection. Thew film is a great film. Unfortunately, like most of John Sayles's films, it did not play to a large audience.

43 of 45 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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