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 »
Throughout the courtroom scene with Ruby Bates, the judge is wearing a long tie, but in the close up when he announces the court will reconvene on Monday, he is wearing a bow tie as he had throughout the earlier part of the trial. See more »
I had the pleasure of seeing the world premiere of Heavens Fall at the Austin's Paramount Theatre as part of the SXSW film festival. It is a powerful film about the great injustices that occurred during the infamous Scottsboro trial of nine black men accused of raping two white women in Alabama in the 1930s.
While this story has been told before in a 1976 NBC TV movie, Judge Horton and the Scottsboro Boys (which I haven't seen and which I suspect would be pretty difficult, if not impossible to find on VHS or DVD today) and more recently in the powerful PBS documentary, Scottsboro: An American Tragedy, it's a story worth telling again for each new generation.
A film like recent Best Picture winner, Crash, reminds us that racism still exists in our society today. A film like Heavens Fall provides historical context and reminds us of the slow progress that has been made since the days of the Jim Crow South. This film reminds me of other recent films that have reminded us of some of the other tragic episodes of past racism such as Mississippi Burning, Amistad, and, particularly, the marvelous film, Rosewood. As with all films of this genre, some events and characters have been fictionalized in an attempt to capture of the spirit of the story rather than all of the detail.
Heavens Fall features first-rate performances by Timothy Hutton as the Jewish New York lawyer who travels to Alabama to defend the 9 black men, David Strathairn as the the trial judge, and Bill Sage as the prosecutor. The movie moves a bit slowly. The lead characters, including the prosecutor, are presented as human beings taking away from the stereotyping of white southerners which is quite easy in this type of film. It's occasionally a little predictable and clichéd - something almost unavoidable with this genre. Ironically, I think that more could have been done to develop the African-American characters. The accused are not really presented in great depth and the one black character, a journalist, seems a bit extraneous to the plot of the story. Still, basically a good job is done in presenting the main characters as human beings struggling for truth and justice as they define it in a highly imperfect world.
At our world premiere screening, the director and many of the actors were present and spoke about the making of the film. Timmothy Hutton was unable to attend, but as the director and other actors were speaking to the audience, Hutton phoned into to the director's cell phone to receive loud cheers from the audience and answer a few questions via cellphone to microphone. The film was clearly a labor of love by the director and actors. I hope that it finds a distributor and is seen widely, because Americans need to see the realities of their history in order to learn from it.
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