In 1932, the nation was shocked when the 14-month-old son of Charles Lindberg was kidnapped, held for ransom, and murdered. Two years later, Bruno Richard Hauptmann was arrested, convicted, and executed. This film dramatizes the investigation against Hauptmann, the trial, and the execution, painting a picture of a corrupt police force under pressure to finger a killer framing an innocent man by manufacturing evidence, paying-off and blackmailing witnesses, and covering up exculpatory evidence.
There's nothing quite like a rip-roaring miscarriage of justice to get your moral juices gushing. With the dawn of trial-by-television sweeping the airwaves Stateside, not to mention the names "O.J." and "Simpson", the unanimous verdict by Hollywood is that moral juices are proving to be big business. Hence the flood of third-rate American cable films being snapped up by the UK video market for imminent release into our community.
That said, Mark Rydell's beautifully shot film on the infamous 1930s Lindbergh Trial is a prime example of sheer class overcoming cheesy genre tactics. Bruno Hauptmann (Rea) is a German immigrant who stumbles across the ransom money offered by the illustrious Lindbergh family for their kidnapped baby, later found murdered. The press and police put six and six together and soon have Hauptmann in front of 12 angry men, while the baying public yell for his execution.
Smoked like a kipper and sent to death row, his fate lies in the hands of a few good men who know him to be innocent. Of course, the plot sounds like a pitch from The Player, but the screenplay is wonderfully written, forsaking trite legal jargon for insightful character study. The 1930s period detail drips from the screen and Rydell has craftily spliced original footage into the proceedings giving it a disturbing contemporary tone.
Even the cameo list reads like an assembly of America's finest character actors, with J.T. Walsh and Michael Moriarty in prime scene-stealing mode.
The film belongs to Rossellini, who is now as good an actress as her mother ever was, and Rea as the German salesman, who speaks with an accent as realistic as his riveting and heartfelt performance.