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Winterset

(1936 b 77')

En: 6 Ed: 6

Based on Maxwell Anderson’s play, a father is unjustly executed for murder. Years later his son seeks the truth to clear his name and falls in love with the sister of the a key witness.

            In a small town near New York in 1920 three men get into a car and drive off. Maria Romagna (Helen Jerome Eddy) sees them and tells her husband Bartolomeo Romagna (John Carradine) that they took their car. One of the men in the car shoots a man, and they steal a bag with the payroll.

            In court Bartolomeo is tried for first-degree murder. His wife testifies that he was with her at the time, but others testify that he owed money and had knowledge of the payroll. Judge Gaunt (Edward Ellis) asks Bartolomeo what he has to say. Bartolomeo says he never stole or killed and that the judge will suffer for the wrong he is doing in putting him to death. The Judge sentences him to be electrocuted. The boy Mio hears this.

            In 1936 at an eastern law school students study the case of Bartolomeo Romagna. They find that there was no direct evidence against him. The professor learns that Garth Esdras was never called to testify. Trock Estrellas (Eduardo Ciannelli) has just been released from prison and reads about the case. He says a doctor told him he has only six months to live. Trock is worried that Garth might talk.

            In a soup line Mio says he learned that the professor found out some things about the case. Garth Esdras (Paul Guilfoyle) plays a violin that needs repair, and his sister Miriamne Esdras (Margo) asks him if it is true that he knows that Bartolomeo was not guilty. Trock and Shadow (Stanley Ridges) walk in without knocking, and Trock orders Miriamne to leave the room. Garth says he is not looking for trouble and will not talk. Trock tells Garth to stay home, and the two men leave. Garth tells Miriamne and their father Esdras (Maurice Moskovitch) that he was in on the robbery and saw Trock kill the payroll carrier. His father cautions him, and Garth says he will keep quiet and live.

            Walking on a bridge, Carr (Myron McCormick) tells Mio that his father was a radical. They see Miriamne, and Mio talks to her. She offers to help him but is shy and leaves. Miriamne sits by a fire, and her father sees that she is waiting for someone. A family dances in the street, and others do so too. Mio arrives and dances with Miriamne, and they learn each other’s first names. A policeman (Willard Robertson) arrives and tells the musician to stop. A radical (Mischa Auer) starts making a speech, and Judge Gaunt tries to persuade the policeman to let them go. They argue, and Mio defends the policeman, who does not take it kindly and makes them break it up. Garth tells his father that it is Judge Gaunt.

            While it is raining, Mio meets Miriamne, who says she will go with him. He tells how he visited his father in prison and says he will not forget. She asks his father’s name, and she knows he is looking for Garth. She says she will not see him again and runs off. She goes home and warns Garth to run away, but he is afraid to go anywhere. Mio looks for the Esdras home. Lost Judge Gaunt asks Esdras where he is. A bum comes in, and Esdras lets him sleep under the pipes. The Judge carries a photo of Bartolomeo, and he tells Garth there is no just end in speaking out. Mio knocks and enters the Esdras home, and he asks Garth to testify and clear his father’s name. He asks Garth what he knows, but Garth says he was not there. Mio tells the Judge that his father was murdered. The Judge says he found no error and says Garth’s statement proves that. Mio says he would like to kill the Judge but will not do so. The Judge leaves, and Garth says Mio can stay there.

            Shadow takes a gun from Trock, and Trock has another man shoot him three times.

            Miriamne talks to Mio, and they kiss. Trock comes in after the Judge and Esdras. Trock makes the bum Oak go out in the rain. Trock asks Mio how long he wants to live. Shadow comes in with a gun and says he will kill Trock, but suddenly he cannot see. Shadow dies, and Mio picks up the gun. He asks Trock why he had Shadow killed. Mio accuses Trock of killing the paymaster, but Trock says Shadow did it. While Mio is talking, Trock grabs the gun. Two policemen come in to take the Judge home. They warn Trock to be good. Mio accuses Trock of murder and tells them to look in the next room. Miriamne says there is no one there, and so Mio admits he was dreaming. The police leave with the Judge. Garth says Shadow is in the river. Trock leaves with Piny (Fernanda Eliscu) and tells him he must shoot to kill. Miriamne is afraid that Mio will be killed and says she loves him. She asks Garth to let him go, and he says he can. Mio tells her that her brother must take his chance, and Mio leaves.

            Miriamne runs after Mio in the rain. Esdras tells Mio to come inside, and he will get the police to protect him. Mio asks her to teach him how to forgive. Esdras comes back wounded and says they would not let him pass. He goes in the house, and Garth comes out and invites Mio into the house. Garth says he is not afraid to die if Trock dies too. Garth goes out, and Pliny shoots him. Mio with Miriamne asks God for a sign. He sees the music wagon and turns the crank. The Policeman hears it and comes to Mio, who asks to be guarded. Mio and Miriamne go with the Policeman. Pliny shoots Trock twice, and he rolls into the river.

            This drama warns against a judicial system that can allow an innocent person to be put to death. Research by students in a law school helps to awaken others to examine the evidence and correct the injustice. More than sixty years later such studies would seriously challenge capital punishment in Illinois and other states.

Copyright © 2012 by Sanderson Beck

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