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, Gideons 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