The Andersonville Trial

I found it rather painful to do my work.  I was tired all day.  I watched “The Andersonville Trial,” one of those courtroom dramas of the early 1970s.  The director was George C. Scott, and William Shatner was the prosecutor, Norton Parker Chipman.  Richard Basehart was the defendant, Henry Wirz, Jack Cassidy was the lawyer, Otis Baker, and Buddy Ebsen was a witness, Dr. John Bates.  A young Martin Sheen was in the courtroom, too, as Captain Williams.  One of the characters was Lew Wallace, who would go on to write the novel “Ben-Hur.”  It was originally shown on PBS on May 17, 1970, and it was a television adaptation of a Broadway play by Saul Levitt that became a hit in 1959.  I thought that William Shatner gave one of his best performances outside of Star Trek and Twilight Zone episodes.  The courtroom is a good setting for him and his speeches.  Andersonville was a Civil War prison where thousands of Union soldiers died because of the terrible conditions.  It is all described in detail, and it is horrible to imagine it.  We don’t even need to see it.  Depending on whether you saw this play in 1959 or 1970, you might think about Nuremberg or Vietnam.  What I never liked about the law in the courtroom is that it goes so far away from reasoning.  This play turns the trial into an ethical question of whether to simply follow orders or try to save some lives.  The Wirz in real life would have been very foolish to take the stand.  There were a few flaws in the delivery of some of the dialogue, but the actors were good.  Perhaps Richard Basehart overdid it a bit at the end, but Jack Cassidy was very strong.  He and Shatner would later become Columbo villains.  There were also Star Trek connections in the cast.  Wirz knows that he is losing the battle, although Baker fights on until a crucial point.  There are shades of “Breaker Morant” in this story.  I would say that the movie holds up very well after 46 years.  Saul Levitt was born in 1911, and he died in 1977.  Some of the people who died on November 30 include Oscar Wilde (1900), Ernst Lubitsch (1947), Zeppo Marx (1979), Tiny Tim (1996), and Evel Knievel (2007).  Today is a birthday for Ben Stiller (51), Bo Jackson (54), Billy Idol (61), and Mandy Patinkin (64).

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