Title: Sacco and Vanzetti
Release Date: April 6, 2006
Director: Peter Miller
Production Company: Willow Pond Films
This documentary tells this history of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, a pair of Italian immigrants active in the anarchist movement who were convicted and executed for murder in Massachusetts in the 1920s. The movie is Ken Burns style with lots archival photographs and film and modern day experts talking about the case, including Mary Anne Trasciatti, Howard Zinn, Studs Terkel, Nunzio Pernicone, Arlo Guthrie, and David Kaiser. Tony Shalhoub and John Turturo provide the voices of Sacco and Vanzetti.
I’m familiar with the case but learned a lot of new things from this movie:
- the men became anarchists due to sympathy towards the plight of poor and working people, although they were actually more prosperous themselves than typical Italian immigrants of the time
- the defense lawyer Fred Moore took on prominent leftist labor cases and stirred up a lot of publicity around the case which provoked a lot of retaliatory anger from the justice system
- their case was tried at Norfolk County Courthouse in Dedham, which is still in use
- Judge Webster Thayer was very prejudicial and allowed the prosecution to allow evidence of Sacco and Vanzetti’s anarchist ideology and WWI draft resistance even though they did not pertain to the trial
- at least one of the bullets presented as evidence in the case was not actually one found at the scene of the crime but fired later from Sacco’s pistol
- the witnesses who placed Sacco and Vanzetti at the scene of the crime were unreliable at best
- motions for retrial were denied by Judge Thayer, the same judge who tried their case
- In 1925, Celestino Medeiros confessed to the murder. Thayer still denied a retrial.
- despite their names forever linked together, Sacco and Vanzetti were isolated from one another for the entire 7 years of the case.
The issues of how the United States mistreats immigrants and fails to uphold civil liberties for all remains a relevant issue in our time. The 100th anniversary of the arrest of Sacco & Vanzetti will occur on May 5th. If you are unaware of their case or want to learn more about it, this documentary is a good place to start.