Friday, 12 February 2016

Heavens Fall (3 Stars)

"Guilty or not guilty, let's get rid of them niggers".

As I've frequently mentioned in this blog, my favourite actress is Leelee Sobieski. She has talent that far surpasses any other Hollywood actresses alive today, but she's hampered by her appearance. She's too tall and not as petite as the typical Hollywood starlet. Unfortunately, she seems to be taking a break from acting to concentrate on her family. I hope she will return to making films when her children are older. For now, I've decided to watch all her films again, even the ones that I've judged badly in the past. Rather than watch them all in order -- I own 27 of her films on DVD -- I've just added them to my pile of films to re-watch, a pile which now contains 90 films. I seem to be adding films to the pile faster than I'm watching them.

I only gave "Heavens Fall" two stars when I first reviewed it. That was back in September 2010, the month I started my blog. I've rated it slightly higher this time. My problem with the film is that it's a courtroom drama, and courtrooms are very dull places. It's more difficult to make a film interesting if it's set in a courtroom than any other place on Earth. This film only partially succeeds.

"Heavens Fall" is the true story of the first appeal in the Scottsboro Boys case, one of the most famous legal battles in America in the 20th Century. On March 25th, 1931 nine young black men were accused of raping two white women on a train in Scottsboro, Alabama. All nine were found guilty and sentenced to death. There were widespread reports that the trial wasn't fair, so the American Communist Party took up their cause and asked a New York lawyer to defend them in their appeal. Even though the lawyer, Samuel Leibowitz, wasn't a Communist himself, the retrial was treated as a Communist conspiracy in the South.

One of the biggest problems for the case was that black men weren't allowed to serve on juries. Samuel Leibowitz attempted unsuccessfully to get black men on the jury for the appeal. He was told that negroes aren't suitable for jury service because most of them are uneducated, and those who are educated have bad characters.

During the appeal Leibowitz exposed the one woman, Victoria Price (played by Leelee Sobieski) as an absolute liar, even in things unrelated to the case. She wasn't even able to tell the truth about her age. The other woman, Ruby Bates, retracted her testimony from the first trial, and said that neither she nor Victoria had been raped. Ruby said that she had lied in court because Victoria told her to. Nevertheless, the jury decided unanimously that the nine men were guilty. After the verdict was read the judge took the unprecedented step of refusing to accept the jury's verdict. He declared a mistrial and said there would be a new trial.

On the one hand I admire Judge Horton for acting according to his conscience. It was obvious to him that the all-white jury had ignored the evidence and found the men guilty because of their skin colour. On the other hand, aren't judges bound to accept the decision of the jury by law, whatever their personal opinions? This had repercussions for him. He was never allowed to preside over any court case again.

There were several appeals and re-trials over the next 20 years. None of the men were executed, but only one of them was pardoned after serving 40 years in prison.The other eight died in prison.

This is the 19th film starring Leelee Sobieski, made in 2006. It isn't her best role. She plays a heartless, almost inhuman person. I'm sure this is an accurate portrayal of the real Victoria Price, but she's a very unpleasant person.

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