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Successful New York attorney Sam Leibowitz travels to the South in 1933 to defend nine young black men accused of raping two women on an Alabama freight train. In the spring of 1931 nine black hoboes were pulled off an Alabama freight train and arrested for allegedly raping two young white women in a gondola car. Ranging in ages from twelve to twenty years, they were quickly tried and sentenced to the electric chair. News of their convictions spread and the plight of the Scottsboro Boys became a 'cause celebre' that fueled the fire of socialism worldwide, forcing an appeal to the United States Supreme Court and resulting in new trials for all nine defendants. New Yorker Samuel Leibowitz, a savvy and self-assured defense lawyer with an impressive string of courtroom victories, agreed to represent the accused at their retrials in Decatur, Alabama. His journey into the Deep South symbolized the polarity of the times and set in motion a legal battle that ultimately changed the course of ... Written by
During the final part of filming, production was shut down for three or four days because Hurricane Ivan going through Monroeville, Ala., where the film was being shot. The crew helped board up windows at the courthouse where the courtroom scenes were shot and even loaned the police a generator to keep the 911 service running. See more »
The opening sequence, a series of vignettes showing the events which led to the trial, is set on a freight train in 1931. Twice, the modern Diesel-electric locomotive heading the train comes into shot. And, for most of the sequence, the train is stationary. See more »
Movies such as HEAVENS FALL are poignant reminders of the cruel history of this country that still makes us bow our heads in shame. The story by writer/director Terry Green is a sensitive recreation of the re-trial of an African American man (one of nine) condemned to death in Scottsboro, Alabama in 1931 for the supposed gang rape of two white women, a trial with an all-white seated jury who took only 20 minutes to deliberate and convict the young men. It is a study of racism in the South in the 1930s and while the viewer would hope that the ending is triumphant, the story quietly fades with a particle decency represented by a New York trial lawyer and a sympathetic judge who opened the door to the beginnings of seated African American jurists. It is powerful in content: it is magnificent movie making.
Samuel Leibowitz (Timothy Hutton) travels to Alabama form his offices in New York in 1933, to represent the nine condemned men after a Supreme Court ruling opened the door for a retrial. Leibowitz meets the prosecuting attorney Thomas Knight, Jr. (Bill Sage), more devoted to his potential career advancement than to his role as prosecutor, and the judge assigned to the case - James Horton (David Strathairn). Leibowitz interviews the nine condemned men and Haywood Patterson (B.J. Britt) is the first to be re-tried. Careful investigation uncovers the shaky case that convicted the men and Leibowitz, with the aid of the attorneys who pleaded the case before the Supreme Court, attempt to gain a racially mixed jury without success. Sent to cover the trial is a young reporter from Chicago (Anthony Mackie) who witnesses the racial hatred in the South first hand. His presence adds credibility to the proceedings. During the trial Leibowitz calls as witnesses the two women who made the false accusations - Victoria Price (LeeLee Sobieski) and Ruby Bates (Azura Skye) - and despite evidence clearing the nine men the trial ends in defeat. But that is only the beginning of a story that persists to this day. This is a true story about how racial hate tore the South apart in the 1930s, but it is also the story of how a few honest people tried to alter history.
The cast is uniformly excellent, with Strathairn, Hutton, Skye, and Sage giving potent performances. The climate of the times is well captured by the cinematography of Paul Sanchez, the costumes by Lisa Davis, the fine editing by Suzy Elmiger, and the simple but effective musical score by Tony Llorens. This is a film everyone should see, not only because of the need to re-examine this part of our history, but also because it is such a fine example of American cinema. Grady Harp
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