Gideon’s Trumpet

Docudrama | English | 104 minutes

Clarence “Earl” Gideon, an indigent worker in Panama City, Florida, was accused of breaking into the Bay Harbor Pool Room, stealing cash from the juke box and wine from the bar. At the trial, before Judge Robert McCrary, Gideon requested a court-appointed lawyer as he could not afford to hire one. Judge McCrary denied the request stating that Florida only provided lawyers for capital crimes. With the testimony of one questionable witness, Gideon was found guilty and sentenced to five years in the Florida State Prison in Raiford. Convinced  he was railroaded, Gideon began to devour  law books in the prison library. Gideon was certain that by denying him a lawyer at the trial he was denied  a basic Constitutional right. In his hand-written scrawl,   Gideon petitioned the Florida Supreme Court. The petition was denied. Gideon next appealed to the United States Supreme Court which agreed to hear the case. The Supreme Court, headed by Chief Justice Earl Warren, assigned Abe Fortas, a partner in the law firm, Arnold, Fortas & Porter, to represent Gideon. Arguing for the indigent Gideon, Fortas cited  that when prominent lawyer Clarence Darrow was accused of jury tampering, the first thing Darrow did was secure an attorney to represent him. Fortas won; the vote was unanimous. At Gideon’s second trial, now represented by an experienced lawyer, the verdict was “Not Guilty!”     
Henry Fonda (Clarence Earl Gideon) / José Ferrer (Abe Fortas) / John Houseman (Chief Justice Earl Warren) / Richard McKenzie (Judge Robert McCrary)
Why Stream This Film?

 After several years, the hand-written petition by  indigent prisoner, Earl Gideon, claiming he was denied a Constitutional right at his trial, came before the United States Supreme Court. Abe Fortas, a prominent lawyer and future Supreme Court Justice argued for Gideon and won.  Justice William O. Douglas praised Fortas as giving “probably the best  arguments in his 36 years on the court.” 

  • Primetime Emmy Awards: Nominated, Outstanding Drama; Outstanding Actor (Henry Fonda); Outstanding Writer (David W. Rintels) 

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Unlike docudramas that present a simplistic view of their subjects, GIDEON’S TRUMPET does not falsely make its protagonist into a likable hero. It is among Henry Fonda’s best late-career performances.
Richard Gilliam

The law and its intricacies are not the most promising subjects for compelling drama. But journalist Anthony Lewis demonstrated that complex arguments and legal briefs could indeed be absorbing in his 1964 book GIDEON’S TRUMPET. An adaptation by David W. Rintels of that book makes the same point with remarkable success.
John J. O'Connor

The New York Times

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