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Media Analysis: Gideon’s Trumpet Essay (Movie Review)

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Updated: May 15th, 2022

It is relatively easy to find the supporters of claiming the rights of those who have been somehow suppressed; e.g., feminists and the members of the LGBT community seem to have gained much more proponents over the past few decades (Ward, 2008). However, when it comes to providing their share of inalienable rights to the people who have crossed the line between the socially acceptable and the illegal, the situation seems rather ambiguous. On the one hand, criminals must be punished and treated accordingly; on the other hand, they are human beings as well, and, therefore, their rights have to be complied with; and having a personal attorney is one of those rights. In his famous movie, Gideon’s Trumpet, Robert E. Collins offers an insightful perspective on the issue.

Split in five parts, the documentary narrates about the crime that Gideon Trumpet, as known as Clarance Earl Gideon, committed (which, in fact, was breaking into a pool room to make a petty theft, i.e., steal some cigarettes and alcoholic beverages, as the existing evidence shows (Walsh, 2011, 14)), the arrest of the accused, the following trial procedure and the jury passing the verdict. As it has been mentioned above, the purpose of the movie was to show that even a criminal has the right to have someone to represent him in the courtroom.

To start with, it is worth admitting that the movie knows what it wants to say. It is clear from the very beginning that there is a solid idea behind the entire film, and that the audience going to be passionate about it because the authors of the story were. There are many elements that work to the advantage of the key idea mentioned above, and the characters are its strongest aspect. For example, the movie starts with the leading character, Gideon Trumpet, breaking the fourth wall to address the audience directly (Houseman, 1980, 0:39). Though the given technique might seem dated, it works well in the setting of a documentary. The portrayal of the cool-blooded and extremely hostile, prim and proper prosecutor, Abe Fortras, played by Jose Ferrer, also helps the audience immerse into the atmosphere of the absence of justice in the court. With John Houseman playing less stiff and more emphatic Earl Warren, the good-cop-bad-cop setting becomes complete, thus, adding to the impression that Gideon Trumpet is left completely on his own and with very little chance to prove his point ().

Speaking of the movie’s weakest points, one might consider the plot. The choice of the crime was the jump-the-shark moment of the entire movie. It was clear that the director decided to play safe and take a petty crime as an example so that the audience could make a connection to the criminal. However, this is the point at which the movie betrays its own ideas. The purpose of the movie was to show that anyone – literally anyone – has the right to have an attorney, which is why Collins could have much greater risks with the film. Actually, Collins could have taken much greater risks with portraying Gideon, making him look more controversial, and, therefore, the idea that literally everyone has the right to be represented by an attorney in a court would have been conveyed in a much more impressive way.

Hence, when it becomes obvious that Gideon was actually pressured into a theft and that his actions could actually be justified, the message of the movie might be understood in the wrong way. The key idea, which initially was that anyone, even the most hardened criminal had the right to be defended by a professional lawyer, turns into the supposition that likeable people who might or might not have committed the crime that they are accused of should use the assistance of an attorney (Godoy, 2005). However, with this likeable a character and this unjust an accusation, the message could be easily translated into the idea of providing lawyers only for the criminals who seem to have been the victims of a slander or who the audience can relate to. Even the fact that Trumpet actually did commit the crime passes unnoticed, because he is found not guilty in the end. Therefore, it can be assumed that whitewashing the leading character was Collins’ key mistake.

To its credit, though, the movie does a lot in terms of shaping people’s idea on the judicial system. Despite the few flaws that the movie has, one must admit that it does make an impression. Changing people’s perception of civil rights, it states in a very clear way that denying the rights even to a criminal makes the guiding principles of justice that the American jurisdiction is based on invalid (Caplan, 1996). Though the execution of the given idea in the movie might seem sloppy at times, it must be still admitted that Collins’ opinion makes a difference in the battle of wills that the given problem used to be in 80ies, and in this battle, Gideon’s Trumpet tips the scale between victory and defeat.

Reference List

Caplan, L. (1996). Why play-by-play coverage strikes out for lawyers. ABA Journal, 82, 62.

Godoy, A. S. (2005). Converging on the poles: Contemporary punishment and democracy in hemispheric perspective. Law and Social Inquiry, 30(3), 515–548.

Houseman, J. (Executive Producer). (1980). Gideon’s Trumpet. Federal Way, WA: Worldvison.

Walsh, M. (2011). A sour note from Gideon Trumpet. ABA Journal, 97(9), 14–16.

Ward, J. (2008). White normativity: The cultural dimensions of whiteness in a racially diverse LGBT organization. Sociological Perspective, 51(3), 563–586.

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