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On November the 1st, 1963 Robert F. Kennedy said, "If an obscure Florida convict named Clarence Earl Gideon had not sat down in his prison cell to write a letter to the Supreme Court and if the Supreme Court had not taken the trouble to look at the merit in that one crude partition in all the bundles of mail it must receive every day...the vast machinery of American law would have gone on functioning undisturbed. But Gideon did write that letter, the Court did look into his case...and the whole course of American legal history has been changed."
These words were spoken at the end of the movie "Gideon's Trumpet." This is the true story of one poor man's fight for justice. Henry Fonda plays Clarence Gideon, 51 years old and wrongfully arrested for petty theft in 1961, (although a kid miles away from a prom he attended the night before was seen standing in front of the poolroom and asked if he had seen anyone in the poolroom at that time ) breaking and entering a poolroom to which he had the keys to anyway because he worked there, and trying to represent himself in a Florida courthouse because the court would not appoint him a lawyer.
This is not about being not guilty, although I assume Gideon delved into those prison library books because he was found guilty and wasn't, but what was on Gideon's mind was the fact that the court didn't abide by the 14th amendment...that every defendant be entitled by legal representation. He found others in prison who never were represented by a lawyer either. This bothered Gideon so much that he did something about it. He wrote in his own handwriting and with a pencil at that.
With all the reading he did, he gathered information that was very important. With paper and a pencil he sent letter after letter until he was heard. His case was retried as the Chief Justice played by John Houseman agrees to hear his case. Gideon's sharp-witted attorney, Fred Turner, played by Lane Smith (Daily Planet editor) gives a good performance. He even asks for a juror to be replaced. (In fact this is the only time the movie perks up for a bit.) In the movie, Gideon's retrial bothered him. Several scenes I heard him asking why he had to have a trial again.
Fay Wray plays Gideon's landlady, Mrs. Curtis, who from the beginning had been on his side. (Fay played that little woman in King Kong's hand many eons ago.)
Henry Fonda played his role as Gideon, quiet and nonchalant as he was in "On Golden Pond" but unlike Golden Pond, this was a legal story, a true story, a story that changed American Law. Fonda looked like he could have been the real Gideon. He was dressed to look like the blame would be put on him. He looked uneducated. He was so quiet in the movie that I felt sorry for him. The movie was downright boring for the most part. However I was compelled to continue watching it because I had never heard of the story before.
The movie directed by Robert Collins, written and produced by David Rintolli is based on the book by a New York Times writer, Anthony Lewis. The movie is not rated and is 105 minutes long.
Coming down the steps of the court room as a free man after two years in prison, Gideon is asked by a reporter if he felt like he accomplished something. Quite nonchalantly Fonda finishes his unemotional acting by saying Well I did. And he did. And he walks away to his freedom back to the poolroom.
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