Review: Sacco and Vanzetti

The case of Sacco and Vanzetti haunts us to this day when immigrants continue to be scapegoated by our nation’s politicos.

Sacco and Vanzetti
Photo: First Run Features

When Upton Sinclair published Boston in 1928, the idea that Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were innocent of the murders for which they were tried and executed began to gain serious traction. Director Peter Miller gathers interviews from Sacco’s niece and numerous historians like Howard Zinn to examine what remains one of the most depressing chapters in U.S. judicial history, inter-cutting his talking heads with clips from the 1971 film Sacco and Vanzetti (its director, Giuliano Montaldo, is also interviewed here) and 1942’s The Male Animal, in which Henry Fonda stars as an English professor who is accused of communism for wishing to read a letter written by Vanzetti in one of his classrooms. Miller relates the whole sordid saga leading up to Sacco and Vanzetti’s Boston trial, exposing the maliciousness of the prosecution and presiding judge Webster Thayer, who ignored multiple motions that pointed to the innocence of the two men. Sacco and Vanzetti’s convictions had little to do with justice and almost everything to do with racism, as one interviewee attests to when he likens Sacco and Vanzetti’s predicament to a black man being accused of rape in the South. The documentary is a very dry accumulation of information, and some of the biographical filler borders on the embarrassing (the less said about Tony Shalhoub’s unfortunate reading of Sacco’s letters the better), but the case of Sacco and Vanzetti haunts us to this day when immigrants continue to be scapegoated by our nation’s politicos.

Score: 
 Cast: David Kaiser, Studs Terkel, Mary Anne Trasiatti, Howard Zinn, Tony Shalhoub, John Turturro  Director: Peter Miller  Distributor: First Run Features  Running Time: 85 min  Rating: NR  Year: 2006  Buy: Video

Ed Gonzalez

Ed Gonzalez is the co-founder of Slant Magazine. His writing has also appeared in The Village Voice and The Los Angeles Times. He’s a member of the New York Film Critics Circle, the Critics Choice Association, and the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association.

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