The American Experience: Season 17, Episode 11

Guerrilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst (30 May 2005)

TV Episode  -   -  Documentary | History
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Ratings: 7.3/10 from 406 users   Metascore: 75/100
Reviews: 8 user | 21 critic | 20 from

A documentary on the curious American domestic terrorist group, infamous for the 1974 kidnapping of Patty Hearst.


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Title: Guerrilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst (30 May 2005)

Guerrilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst (30 May 2005) on IMDb 7.3/10

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Episode credited cast:
Michael Bortin ...
Timothy Findley ...
Dan Grove ...
Ludlow Kramer ...
John Lester ...
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Marcus Foster ...
Himself (archive footage)
Catherine Hearst ...
Herself (archive footage)
Herself (archive footage)
Randolph Hearst ...
Himself (archive footage)
Richard Neill ...
Himself (archive footage)
Howard Shack ...
Evelle Younger ...
Himself (archive footage)


In 1974, a teenage newspaper heiress and Berkeley undergrad was kidnapped at gunpoint from her apartment, setting off one of the most bizarre episodes in recent history. The kidnappers, completely off the map before Patty Hearst disappeared into the San Francisco night, were a small band of young, ferociously militant political radicals, dedicated to the rights of prisoners and the working class. They called themselves the Symbionese Liberation Army. Over the course of about three years they robbed banks, senselessly killed two innocent people, instigated a firefight after attempting to shoplift a pair of socks, and, most famously, converted their hostage and victim. They also achieved an undeniably visionary manipulation of the media, inciting perhaps the first modern media frenzy. Presenting resonating questions about the role of the media in America--mouthpiece? Messenger? Truth seeker? --The ethical dilemmas posed by new technologies, and the proximity of madness to political ... Written by Sujit R. Varma

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Release Date:

30 May 2005 (USA)  »

Box Office

Opening Weekend:

$22,444 (USA) (26 November 2004)


$101,439 (USA) (11 February 2005)

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Fascinating Insight
24 July 2004 | by (Melbourne, Australia) – See all my reviews

I guess enough time has passed that the strange and fascinating case of Patricia Hearst can be looked at from a safe distance; although the recent post 9/11 interest in terrorism puts the Symbionese Liberation Army and their actions into a whole different context.

This documentary mixes news footage, photographs, tapes recordings and interviews with figures associated with the SLA and the kidnapping of Patty Hearst - yet it has to be said that most of these are marginal figures. Given that most SLA members are now dead, this is unavoidable. The real coup would have been scoring interviews with surviving members Bill and Emily Harris or Hearst herself - although her lack of participation is quite understandable given that her version of the case is already well documented.

The film comes ready-made with the gripping narrative of a thriller - and proves the cliché correct that truth is much stranger than fiction. It must have been quite an odd case to watch unravel in the media and could only have happened in the 70's. I can't quite see Paris Hilton robbing banks for the poor, somehow....

The only criticism I would have with the documentary is that plays on the ambiguity of Hearst - the good girl/bad girl, did she or didn't she mythology while conveniently neglecting facts that may have painted her is a more sympathetic light. It's one thing to play tapes of her calling her parents 'pigs' but quite another to fail to mention that all of her communique's were written for her, that she was kept blindfolded for over a month and expected to have sex with SLA members (all within her closet that she was rarely allowed out of). When arrested her IQ had dropped to a near comatose level, she was seriously malnourished and had ceased menstruating. Hardly a cutting revolutionary figure.

Altogether, it is a gripping and often darkly funny insight into one of the strangest cases in pop culture as well as the annuls of crime. It is thorough and impeccably researched. Highly recommended.

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