Synopsis: 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.
Genre: Drama, History
Director(s): John Sayles
Production: Cinecom Pictures
  Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 2 wins & 7 nominations.
Rotten Tomatoes:
135 min


Shootin' coal!

Shootin' coal!

Danny! What in god's name

are you doing?

I got a shot set up back there.

Word come down from Turley.

Tonnage rate?

They brung it down

to 90 cent a ton.


Them dagoes are

holding fast in #3.

He says, "Take it or leave it."

Sephus, what we gonna do?

"Hit were 19 and 20

in the southwest field

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 'em out."

"Them was hand loadin' days, they

paid you by the ton and they didn't

care no more for a man than

they done for a draft mule."

Them was hard people, your

coalminers then.

They wudn't nobody

you wanted to cross."

"So push come to shove and pretty

soon we had us a war down there

in Mingo County,

which in them days

was known as 'bloody Mingo'."

"And that's where it all came

to a head, there on Tug Fork,

in the town of Matewan."

We done it Mama,

we're gonna have the union!

- Just gotta stop for a little repairs.

Sorry for the inconvenience.

- They shifted Italians in, right off the boat,

so they're still bring coal outa there.

I'd sure hate to get

a whiff of that mine.

What the hell we stopping for?

Step down gentleman, this

here'll be your new home.

How come we ain't

getting off in town?

- Just get in line.

I'n gonna kill him!, kill him!

Get on the train! Get on!

C'mon, Bill!

Come on! Come on, Bill!

Gimme your hand, man.

- Git out of here!

When do we get to Matewan?

- You don't want to go there mister,

ain't nothing but crazy people.



Everybody was here,

then they got word

and they gone on

up the line a ways.

Some kind of union bizness.

Yeah, I saw.

- You best steer clear of it.

My name's Bridey Mae Tolliver.

Uh, Joe Kenehan.

Uh, you know

Radnor's Boarding House?

- Big white house.

Right on past the coal dock,

she's a real sourpuss, though...

Elma Radnor.

Thank you.

You gonna be in town long?

It depends.

I'll see you around.

I hope so.

- These picks and shovels

are to be considered a loan

from the Stone Mountain Coal Company.

Their costs will be deducted

from you first month's pay.

Tool-sharpeners provided by the

company's 25 cents a month.

Use of the wash house

is 75 cents a month.

Medical doctor provided by the company

is 2 dollars a month,

special procedures extra.

Your train ride here provided

by the company will be deducted

from your first month's pay.

Your pay will be

issued as company script,

redeemable for all goods and services

at the Stone Mountain

Company Store.

Purchases of any items available

at the Company Store

from outside merchants will

result in firing without pay.

- What's to keep y'all

from jacking up them

prices at your store?


Johnson, they calls me

'Few Clothes'.

Powder, fuses, lamps, head gear

and all appropriate clothing will be

available at the Company Store,

and Stone Mountain will

generously advance you a month's

supply of these items,

payment to be deducted.

I'm going to take you over

to camp now where you'll be livin'.

There's some Italian gentleman

that are very eager to meet you.

Rentals will be

for one room, 250 a month.

Company rule, no more than

two people to one room,

children included.

Electricity, where

that is feasible,

will be 1 dollar a month.

Mrs. Radnor?


My name is Joe Kenehan.

I'm going to be

in town for a bit and

your place here was recommended.

What do you do?

Uh, I guess I'm looking for work.

You with the Company?

The company?

- If you ain't with the Company,

there ain't no work.

Look mister, don't act the lamb with me.

What's your business here?

- Mama!

- Mama, it's Hillard! Them scabs

done it, up the line a mile...

They was all coloured this time,

they bust his nose!

You got any ice?

- Some in the back.

Go fetch me two chunks about this big

and a piece of rag.

You a doctor?

- No, but I seen my share

of broken noses.

Now just put it up in the air, buddy,

just like your watching

the clouds.

We'll get that bleeding stopped.

I ga my liggid...

Say what?

- He said he got his licks in.

Seems to be all the men around here

care about, wives and kids are starving,

so long as they've

got their licks in...

It's just frustration, is all

when you can't take

care of them you care about.

I know, it ain't their fault.

Here you go.

This freezes up all

them little veins inside.

It's just so they close up and they

don't let any more blood out.

You a doctor?


I'm just a guy

looking for a place to stay.

5 dollars a week cash.

That includes dinner and clean sheets.

Hope I'm not making a mistake.

Name is Joe Kenehan.

- Well, mostly I work

for the railroads, laying track.

Kansas, Missouri...

I went out west for a bit

and worked in a lumber camp.

A little of whatever

pays an honest dollar.

I'm a coalminer. At least

until we come out I was.

Had me over in section 3.

I was a trapper boy.

Ain't you a little young?

- I'm almost 15.

There are some in there

younger than me.

Of course with the strike now

I work mostly on

running this place.

I help a little, don't I?

It's gonna be a long one.

That superintendent

at Stone Mountain he said

he'd go broke before he let

one union sumbitch so much as step

into his coalmine.

- Danny...

Sorry, ma'am, but

that's what he said.

Daniel is a preacher.

Rate this script:5.0 / 1 vote

John Sayles

John Thomas Sayles (born September 28, 1950) is an American independent film director, screenwriter, editor, actor and novelist. He has twice been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for Passion Fish (1992) and Lone Star (1996). His film Men with Guns (1997) has been nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film. His directorial debut, Return of the Secaucus 7 (1980), has been added to the National Film Registry. more…

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Submitted on August 05, 2018

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