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86 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Henry Fonda stars in a Hallmark Hall of Fame classic seen on CBS

In one of the finest and final performances of his distinguished career, Henry Fonda portrays Clarence Gideon, the destitute prisoner whose handwritten plea for justice changed the course of American legal history. Based on the book by Pulitzer Prize-winning author and journalist Anthony Lewis, Gideon’s Trumpet tells the remarkable human story behind the landmark "right to counsel" Supreme Court case.

Nominated for three Emmys® and winner of the prestigious Peabody Award, this powerful Hallmark Hall of Fame drama also features Oscar®- and Tony®-winner José Ferrer (Cyrano de Bergerac, The Caine Mutiny) as Abe Fortas, Oscar®-winner John Houseman (The Paper Chase, Rollerball) as Chief Justice Earl Warren, and Fay Wray (King Kong) in her final screen performance.

"Ranks with the best films of the early 1980s" -- All Movie Guide.

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES INCLUDE insert with production notes by Anthony Lewis and cast filmographies.

Anyone who's ever been arrested--or maybe just watched a cop show--knows that the right to representation by counsel is guaranteed by the Constitution, codified in the Miranda warning. But it wasn't until the early 1960s, when the events chronicled in Gideon's Trumpet unfolded, that this fundamental prerogative became law. As portrayed by Henry Fonda in this Emmy-nominated 1980 TV movie, Clarence Earl Gideon was neither a hero nor a crusader out to re-write history. He was in fact, a criminal recidivist, a poor drifter with four broken marriages and multiple prison terms in his past. Busted for breaking and entering and petty larceny in Panama City, Florida in 1961, Gideon proclaimed his innocence; but when his demand for a lawyer was rejected at trial (only defendants in capital cases were given court-appointed attorneys in Florida), he was forced to defend himself, resulting in a conviction and a five-year jail sentence. What followed was a matter of luck as well as persistence, as his appeal became one of the few that the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear. Chief Justice Earl Warren (John Houseman, who also executive-produced) assigned Abe Fortas (Jose Ferrer), himself a future Supreme Court justice, to handle the case, and Fortas' skillful work led to the overturning of Betts v. Brady, a 1942 decision in which the high court had ruled that even indigent defendants weren't entitled to counsel when prosecuted by a state; Gideon's second trial (his claim that double jeopardy applied was rejected), this time with proper representation, is depicted in the final sequences of the film. As befitting the decidedly un-glamorous details of the story, Fonda, who was 75 at the time (the real Gideon was 51) and nearing the end of his storied career, delivers a laconic, low-key performance, effectively depicting a crusty, world-weary, but dignified man who got a raw deal, saw a flaw in the legal system, and fought to correct it. The film, too, is remarkably matter-of-fact: no melodrama, no music to manipulate the viewer's emotions at key moments, just a top-notch cast and a straightforward depiction of the case as described in Anthony Lewis' book of the same name. --Sam Graham

Special Features

  • Insert with production notes by Anthony Lewis
  • Cast filmographies

Product Details

  • Actors: Henry Fonda, José Ferrer, John Houseman, Fay Wray, Sam Jaffe
  • Directors: Robert L. Collins
  • Writers: David W. Rintels, Anthony Lewis
  • Producers: John Houseman, David W. Rintels, Robert H. Justman
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Color, Full Screen, NTSC
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo)
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Acorn Media
  • DVD Release Date: August 28, 2007
  • Run Time: 104 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (86 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #64,946 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "GIDEON'S TRUMPET" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

51 of 52 people found the following review helpful By Lawyeraau HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 23, 2001
Format: VHS Tape
This is a movie made great by Henry Fonda's compelling portrayal of an unlikely folk hero,Clarence Earl Gideon, who was the catalyst for one of the most significant changes in our legal system. The seminal case of Gideon v. Wainright ultimately saw the United States Supreme Court establish that anyone who is charged with a crime is entitled to legal representation by an attorney.
Clarence Earl Gideon was no angel. He was a four time loser, who had been arrested for the burglary of a pool room. He did, however, maintain that he was innocent in this instance and demanded a trial, as he had no intention of pleading guilty for a crime that he did not commit. When Gideon, a semi illiterate, poorly educated man, requested an attorney to represent him at the trial, his request was denied, the presiding judge being of the mind that Gideon was able to represent himself. Gideon did not have a clue and, consequently, was convicted and sentenced to a five year prison term.
Gideon wrote an appeal to the United States Supreme Court, which granted his appeal, and its justices set a new precedent with their ruling. His case was remanded to the Florida state court for a retrial. He was appointed an attorney, tried and, ultimately, acquitted of all charges, deservedly so, based upon the evidentiary weakness of the case against him. Justice delayed, however, is, as always, justice denied, as Gideon ended up serving two years in prison for a crime that he did not commit, before he was finally freed.
This is a terrific film with wonderful performances by the entire cast. Henry Fonda is superlative as the stalwart Gideon, whose innate sense of fair play and faith in the United States Constitution helped shape the legal system that we know today. This is a film well worth watching.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By GRAHAM TOMLINSON on September 6, 1999
Format: VHS Tape
Henry Fonda at seventy four, but he glues together what you may not guess is a T.V. movie with the acting skills of a consumate professional. He plays an ageing semi-literate who just happens to be in the wrong place when a shop break-in and robbery occurs. The actual culprit names Fonda, who with a track record of petty crime is found guilty himself. He had fallen to the mercy of a ruling, made twenty years earlier, that those accused of "non serious" crime did not require the representation of a lawyer, and he was ofcourse in no financial position to hire one. Based on a true story, it tells, in a slow-paced but nonetheless fascinating fashion, how Clarence Earl Gideon(Fonda) studies the law books in his prison library over a two year period , culminating in a letter of appeal to the High Court being taken on by a high-profile lawyer (Jose Ferrer in a strong performance) who succeeds in overturning this ruling, and subsequently in a re-trial Gideon is found innocent. Henry Fonda is quiet, reserved, and as amazingly natural and superb as ever. Its also nice to see Fay Wray in a small role as his landlady. A wonderful production!
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 13, 1999
Format: VHS Tape
The movie, "Gideon's Trumpet" was incredible. It copied the court case Gideon vs Wainright almost word for word. The actors did a wonderful job of protraying the characters and as a whole the movie was quite educational. This movie proved that education can get a person anywhere they want to go. Clarence Earl Gideon was charged for a crime that he did not commit, and he is then sentenced to jail. While on trial, Gideon asked to be represented but the state of Florida denied him of that right. During his time in jail, Gideon researched his case in the jail's library and sent a letter to the supreme court asking for help. The Supreme Court replied and decided to take onthe case. The court ruled in Gideon's favor. The movie proved that an ordinary man such as Clarence Earl Gideon could get help from the Supreme Court. He was by no means extremely intelligent, instead he was just an average man. Gideon made it possible for average people to be noticed and have rights.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Earl A. Myers, Jr. on April 22, 2009
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
I've seen most of Henry Fonda's films and this ranks among his very best. He has captured the flawed character of Clarence Earl Gideon like no other actor.This seemingly inconsequential individual who changed the course of American jurisprudence through his appeal to the US Supreme Court for legal representation is portrayed by Fonda so convincingly and so assuredly that Fonda and Gideon become indivisible.

One is equally astonished that the High Court gave such consideration to a relatively minor infraction of the law, and in doing so, gave everyone like the obscure,impoverished Gideon the right to council regardless of their station in life.

As has been stated elsewhere, this film is both an entertaining and informative experience. It is a must see for law students and laymen alike.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By J. Ellis on October 9, 2008
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
I've been teaching Political Science classes at various schools in the South for 24 years and I always try to show this film during my section on civil liberties. In a little over 90 minutes students learn how the right to a lawyer in all cases was established, how important this right is, and they are entertained at the same time. Wonderful acting from Fonda, Houseman, and Fay Wray also appeal to film buffs. I'm glad to be able to get it on DVD as my VHS copies are starting to show their age.
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Topic From this Discussion
Bad cases make bad law
The decision in Gideon v. Wainwright was at its root about insuring that all citizens could avail themselves of the protections granted by the Sixth amendment to the US Constitution. The Sixth Amendment and the other elements of the Bill of Rights were all part of the US constitution by 1891, a... Read More
Sep 17, 2007 by Never the Twain |  See all 2 posts
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