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Winterset (1936)

Approved | | Crime, Drama, Romance | 3 December 1936 (USA)
Immigrant radical Bartolomeo Romagna is falsely condemned and executed for a payroll robbery. Years later, his son Mio sets out to find the truth of the crime and to bring to account the ... See full summary »



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Nominated for 2 Oscars. Another 2 wins & 2 nominations. See more awards »


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Cast overview, first billed only:
Bartolomio Romagna
Maurice Moscovitch ...
Garth Esdras
Policeman in the Square
Alec Craig ...
Myron McCormick ...
Maria Romagna


Immigrant radical Bartolomeo Romagna is falsely condemned and executed for a payroll robbery. Years later, his son Mio sets out to find the truth of the crime and to bring to account the gangster Trock Estrella. Written by Jim Beaver <jumblejim@prodigy.net>

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Crime | Drama | Romance


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Release Date:

3 December 1936 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Abismos Humanos  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(RCA Victor System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?


Burgess Meredith, in his film debut, recreates the role he played in the original Broadway production. See more »


Version of Winterset (1945) See more »


Written by Ernesto Lecuona
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User Reviews

The Best of Maxwell Anderson
3 November 2005 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

I like this film. It is an interesting retelling of a point of view regarding one of America's most controversial trials - the 1921 - 1927 legal ordeal of Nicolo Sacco and Bartholomeo Vanzetti for the murder of two men in a payroll robbery in Massachusetts. Both were Italian anarchist immigrants in the U.S. Both were convicted by juries which were local Yankee in make-up, not having any non-Yankees on them. Certainly no Italian Americans. The judge, Webster Thayer, was an openly bigoted man. But thousands of people around the country and the world attacked the verdict, and demanded a retrial. Among those who attacked the trial was George Bernard Shaw, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Sinclair Lewis, Fiorello La Guardia, and (in a move that opened his later great judicial career) Felix Frankfurter. After going through appeals, and the revelations of a fellow prisoner that the payroll robbery was committed by a local criminal gang, the matter was left to a small commission headed by President Lowell of Harvard College. It turned out to be a whitewash. In the end, the two men were electrocuted. Thayer's and Lowell's reputations never recovered from this.

Scholars on the case are still divided on the guilt or innocence of the two defendants - some have suggested they were both railroaded, or that Sacco was more likely to be guilty, but Vanzetti was probably innocent. Today, nearly eighty years after their deaths they still remain a flash point regarding American bigotry. In 1977, on the 50th Anniversary of their deaths, Governor Michael Dukakis formally pardoned both men.

Maxwell Anderson wrote about the subject twice: the play WINTERSET and the play HIGH TOR. Anderson's reputation as a dramatist has been inflated over the years by critics like Brooks Atkinson. He could occasionally write a well done play, but he was not on the level of his contemporary Eugene O'Neill. O'Neill's tragedies (especially his final ones) was based on personal demons from his family and his life. O'Neill was also willing to experiment on stage with masks (THE GREAT GOD BROWN) or with internal counter-dialogs (STRANGE INTERLUDE) or even with trilogies based on Greek originals (MOURNING BECOMES ELECTRA). Anderson only experimented one way - he tried blank verse plays (ELIZABETH THE QUEEN, MARY OF Scotland), and did not do it too well. But here he obviously was passionately determined to defend the memory of the two Italian - American anarchists. His plot is based on developing the thread of the confession (mentioned above) that the murders were planned by a local criminal gang. The gang's leader is Eduardo Cianelli, a brutal criminal who framed the two men by stealing their car as the getaway car.

But the strength of the confession is furthered by claiming the judge was bribed (Thayer was biased but not bribed). Edward Ellis (best recalled as the missing inventor in THE THIN MAN) is the corrupt jurist, who is now a wandering derelict. Vanzetti's famous final letter from the death cell (an elegant final comment that is the basis of contention between Henry Fonda and Eugene Palette in THE MALE ANIMAL) is the basis for the elegant denunciation of the judge in the court by John Carridine (note that his character's first name is also Bartholomeo). Ironically, today, it is believed that elegant final message of Vanzetti may have been written in part by a reporter who supported the defendants.

The son and daughter of the dead men (Burgess Meredith and Margo) are seeking to prove their innocence. But they run against the determination of Cianelli, and his goons. The film is fascinating enough, and concludes satisfactorily (much more than the actual case did). The plot's conclusion also leads to a more prosaic point - if you plan to use a signal to destroy someone, don't forget that signal and use it yourself. See the film to understand that last point.

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