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Chance of a Lifetime (1950)


Warning: screenonline full synopses contain 'spoilers' which give away key plot points. Don't read on if you don't want to know the ending!

Dickinson Agricultural Implements, a small-scale factory owned and managed by a descendent of its founder, is developing a revolutionary 'one-way' plough with two shears in scissor formation while attempting to deal with tense industrial relations. Dickinson is perceived as inflexible by his staff, while a small number of employees, chiefly Baxter and Bolger, are openly resentful of management, in particular the works manager Bland. When Dickinson's assistant, Miss Cooper, points out to him that the workers don't feel their input is being appreciated, he installs a suggestion box. However a notice posted by Bland reprimanding habitual latecomers riles its intended targets, and Bolger places a personal attack on Dickinson in the suggestion box.

When Bolger is consequently fired, the workforce downs tools and convenes in the works yard to protest against the management's decision. Addressing the assembled workers, Dickinson explains how difficult it is to run his factory successfully and, half in jest, challenges them to see if they could do better. Urged on by Baxter, the workers decide to accept the challenge, and nominate George Stevens and Ted Morris as their spokesmen. Dickinson is taken aback that his proposal has been adopted, but nonetheless, ignoring Bland's advice, agrees to lease the factory to the workers for £120 a week. He then leaves his factory to its new management: George and Ted in overall control, with Adam Watson as works manager.

The new regime initially succeeds in motivating the workforce to volunteer for weekend tasks and to participate in repairing and decorating the factory. However a serious cashflow problem soon emerges when the steel suppliers change their payment conditions in view of the new management structure and demand cash within seven days of delivery. Refused a loan from the unsympathetic local bank manager, and further rebuffed after a personal appeal to the bank's president in London, George and Ted inform the workers that no loan can be granted without adequate security and that they are submitting the deeds of their houses to help obtain one. This motivates most of the staff to contribute towards the fund, and the bank is forced to grant the loan.

News of the factory's takeover has meanwhile made headlines in the press, attracting the attention of a trade delegation from the country of Xenobia. Much impressed by a demonstration of the newly developed plough, they order 800, at a total cost of £50,000. Adam argues that such a large order necessitates a reorganisation of factory resources and exclusive focus on the new plough, but Ted, in protest against what he sees as an abandonment of the film's commitment to its loyal customers, returns to the shopfloor. The new working methods require a temporary cut in pay, objected to by Baxter and others, although when the Union is summoned, they tell Baxter that to strike would effectively mean striking against himself. In a show of solidarity with George and Adam, the workers toss coins at Baxter to make up for the gap in his pay packet.

Problems with the steel suppliers re-emerge, however, when they hold back delivery of vital stock. Dickinson intervenes personally and, although he is rebuked for setting a dangerous precedent in giving control of his factory to the workers, the suppliers relent and production is resumed. The final straw seems to be reached when it is announced that Xenobia is forced to halt all imports, much to the glee of the bank manager and his cronies. Appalled at this Schadenfreude and determined that the workers' project should succeed, Dickinson returns to the factory to use his expertise and contacts to help sell all of the manufactured ploughs. Having saved the enterprise, Dickinson makes to leave but is invited to form a management board with Adam, an offer he gratefully accepts. George returns to the shopfloor, having tired of his management experience, while the ploughs are shipped out of the factory.