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H [Category A]

Hang 'Em High
House of Sand and Fog
The Hurricane

Hang 'Em High (1968)

I have not seen this movie, but it's supposedly a strong Clint Eastwood Western. Directed by Ted Post, the Internet Movie Database says the plot outline concerns an innocent man who barely survives a lynching who returns as a lawman determined to bring the vigilantes to justice.

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House of Sand and Fog (2003)

Directed by Vadim Perelman, who also wrote the screenplay, based on the novel by Andre Dubus III, this film is a beautifully filmed, powerful tragedy that I've never had the courage to see. A woman (Jennifer Connelly) is wrongly evicted from her home, due to an error by the county. The house is then lawfully purchased at auction by an Iranian immigrant, magnificently played by Ben Kingsley. The issues of ownership, the emotional symbol of the home to both "owners," and the terrible toll of the property dispute will be familiar to those involved in inheritance conflicts, real estate fights, or, for that matter, Jacob and Esau in the Bible. The original home owner consults a female attorney for legal assistance, who is a tough, unsympathetic advocate who's seen it all and does what little she can.

There are discussions, on the Internet Movie Database and elsewhere, as to whether the law in the story is plausible. As the law is so central to the plot, you'd hope they'd have researched this a bit, but you never know. I remember hearing that the story was inspired by a small newspaper article about the matter that caught the eye of author Andre Dubus III, who was teaching a creative writing course. He asked his students to write about an actual incident from the newspaper - but when no student picked up on this particular item, he wrote it himself. His novel became a best-seller. So there is at least a grain of truth to the story, and director Vadim Perelman reportedly does a stellar job at being faithful to the novel.

But be forewarned if you see this movie with a lawyer, or seek to use it in a classroom discussion about the emotional issues underlying any property dispute: the entire plot of this movie may rest on a misunderstanding of what happens when the county seizes a house to satisfy a tax lien. The relevant law is reportedly not even discussed by an attorney in the film, but let's not let cries of "malpractice!" get in the way of appreciating a strong movie.

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The Hurricane (1999)

This movie has gotten lost in the midst of "History vs. Hollywood" and debates about the need for a Hollywood movie to have heroes and villains, rather than presenting a flawed defendant, who had a criminal history, and his two complicated murder trials, which this movie compresses into one. Since many Americans are familiar with the boxer's story, the makers of this film could not get away with the sleight-of-hand ("based on a true story") that other films do.

The sad thing is, if this film had dealt honestly with the facts, it could have been a good movie. Director Norman Jewison has made three films dealing with racial issues: In the Heat of the Night, A Soldier's Story, and The Hurricane. The last, the only one that purports to be non-fiction, is based on boxer's Rubin Carter's 1974 autobiography, The Sixteenth Round. Carter was convicted of murder and spent almost 20 years in jail before winning a new trial and an acquittal. According to the film, he was arrested by a racist cop, convicted by an all-white jury, and freed by dedicated Canadian activists. (Jewison, whose others works I admire, is Canadian). The truth is that the cop was a good officer, but the system in which he worked was indeed pervasively racist --- there were a lot of corrupt or indifferent prosecutors and judges involved. There were also two blacks on the so-called "all white" jury, and - this really ticks me off - it was Carter's defense attorneys who got him acquitted, as was their job, not the well-intentioned Canadian activists.

Many people provide support to those in prison --- why slight those who really did the investigating in this case? Many defendants, like Carter, have a criminal history (he'd previously served four years in prison for violent acts before the murder conviction), but the film presents him as a saint. It's important to acknowledge that a lot of people from tough backgrounds like Carter's will come with "bad facts" --- a braver movie would show that. That's what makes his ultimate acquittal more meaningful. And the stereotypes of cops grow tiring --- most police officers are not like Inspector Javert of Les Miserables, though that character makes for a good story.

Many of the factual discrepancies between the historical record and the film are detailed online at: http://graphicwitness.com/carter/moviepoints.html.

As Jack Newfield wrote on Dec. 19, 1999 in the New York Post: "I knew Rubin Carter, attended his fights, covered his retrial, and I didn't see much reality on the screen."

There is another, accurate movie waiting to be made about John Artis, a young man who had never been in trouble with the law, who served 15 years in jail as a result of the events for which Carter was arrested. Artis refused all offers to testify against Carter, despite relentless pressure from police and prosecutors.

Carter called him "my hero" in the movie, but no one would have any idea why from this film.

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