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DVD Review: Gideon’s Trumpet

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The case of Clarence Gideon is one of the most compelling and interesting stories you’ll ever hear. His historic court petitions left a tremendous impact on the legal system, one that survives today. Gideon fought for his right to legal counsel, provided by the state, which in turn led to reform in the courts. His well-known story is now taught in law schools, was the subject of both a novel and movie, and has touched many people.

Acorn Media has released the Hallmark Hall Of Fame classic, Gideon’s Trumpet. The movie stars Henry Fonda in one of his last performances and as such is one for your DVD collection. Gideon’s Trumpet was the winner of the Peabody Award and was nominated for multiple Emmy awards. The movie is based on the Anthony Lewis novel of the same name, with the story of Clarence Gideon and his history-changing plea for justice.

The legal drama unfolds with Gideon petitioning for adequate legal counsel and fighting to change laws that held him prisoner. The movie made history in several areas, as it was one of the first dramas filmed exclusively for television. While this concept is old news to us today, there was a time when Saturday Night Movie on television was new territory. It’s no wonder the directors felt the need to cast Hollywood heavyweight names like Fonda, John Houseman, and José Ferrer. The film also features Hollywood screen legend Fay Wray in her last screen performance, giving you another reason to add it to your film collection.

The subject matter and tone of the movie also make it stand out as a trail blazer. Gideon’s case would later become a pivotal moment, setting precedent on right to counsel and representation and redefining the Sixth Amendment that we still live by today. This movie is perfect for both film fans and law students.

The only negative thing I have to say about this film is that it moves too slow. Maybe this is art imitating life, as the justice system moves just as slow in real time. The production was probably looked at as top notch when it was originally shot. Looking back at it years later, the tempo of the movie seems to move at a snail’s pace, with very little music accompanying the scenes and long legal dialogs. While the story is groundbreaking, it’s easy to take for granted the basic rights of representation that we now have.

Gideon’s Trumpet
is well worth the time spent and should be seen, as Fonda hands in a great performance! He plays the role of the quiet Gideon dead on, humbly fighting for his basic rights while waiting for the court's favor in jail. Gideon is the little guy, fighting the giant court system. His mission ends with his and many more prisoners being released from jail and changes in the law. Gideon's Trumpet is a great story, told by one of the great actors of our time.

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