The story of Clarence Earl Gideon and his fight for the right to have publicly funded legal counsel for the needy.



(book), (teleplay)

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Nominated for 3 Primetime Emmys. See more awards »
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Cast overview, first billed only:
Clarence Earl Gideon
Chief Justice / Offscreen Narrator
Edna Curtis
1st Supreme Court Justice
Sixth Supreme Court Justice
5th Supreme Court Justice
Fred Turner
Richard McKenzie ...
Judge Robert McCrary
Dolph Sweet ...
2nd Supreme Court Justice
Abe Krash
Les Lannom ...
Bobby Earle


True story of Clarence Gideon's fight to be appointed counsel at the expense of the state. This landmark case led to the Supreme Court's decision which extended this right to all criminal defendants. Written by Steve Walker <>

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Release Date:

30 April 1980 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Hallmark Hall of Fame: Gideon's Trumpet (#29.3)  »

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


Fay Wray's final screen appearance. See more »


In the first trial, when the bailiff is swearing in Lester Wade, he instructs him to "raise your right hand" [the audio of this is clipped]. However, Lester actually places his right hand on the bible and raises his left hand. On all other occasions in the movie, witnesses actually raise their right hands (and put their left hands on the bible) when being sworn in. See more »


Abe Fortas: [discussing a person's right to have an adequate defense during a trial] What I'd like to say to the Court is: "Let's not talk; let's go down there and watch one of these fellows try to defend themselves".
See more »


Edited into Hallmark Hall of Fame (1951) See more »

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User Reviews

Perfect Fare for Social Studies Classes
24 March 2016 | by (Fly-Over Country) – See all my reviews

It's the power of Henry Fonda's performance that turns Gideon's Trumpet, the true story of how the right to counsel for all criminal suspects was guaranteed by the United States Supreme Court, into something a bit more than a cheapjack made-for-TV movie.

Fonda has enough sense to make Clarence Gideon something less than a hero. Gideon is an intelligent ne'er-do-well, and the viewer grows to dislike him despite his importance in our judicial history. We want him to win, but we certainly don't want him in our house.

I don't know if columnist Anthony Lewis' book of the same name has Gideon as, well, as ucky as in the movie, but Fonda, toward the end of his life, seemed unhappy and defeated, and it made his portrayal of Clarence Earl Gideon totally acceptable and believable.

The rest of Gideon's Trumpet is ordinary for TV, thrown-together and dumbed-down. John Houseman's misplaced weight behind the production--and his awful miscasting of himself as Earl Warren-- leave the movie feeling washed out and ready for a high school civics class.

Except for Fonda, and Mel Ferrer's portrayal as Abe Fortas, we never really buy into the movie. Like the justices themselves, we are nothing much more than intellectual observers.

A shame.

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