Sidney Lumet's film is based on the novel The Book of Daniel by E L Doctorow, an obvious use of the Julius and Ethel Rosenberg case of the 1950's. The Rosenberg's were convicted of conspiring to give atomic bomb information to the Soviets, and executed in 1953. Whilst it is believed that the Rosenberg's were justly convicted, what made the case contentious was the severity of their punishment. Doctorow renamed the Rosenberg's the Isaacsons, and uses the Rosenberg myth to explore the dark side of infamy. The film is told from the Isaacson children's point of view, Amanda Plummer who even as a child when her parents were killed, shows indications of her later mental breakdown, and Timothy Hutton who appears to be the stronger of the two. Both have internalised their grief, with Plummer's idealism shown to be as unhealthy as that of her parents, and Hutton's fetish about different methods of execution. We see the children's resentment of their parents because the imprisonment and eventual deaths of the parents cost the children their protection. It's not important to the children whether their parents are innocent. They believe the political activism the parents expressed is self-destructive. Our view of the Isaacson's activism as a demonstration of passion is divided between heroic and foolish, with Mandy Pantikin's Paul Isaacson being the best example, when he collapses at the sight of the electric chair. Is he a foolish coward or would anyone faint in fear at the time of death? (though Mrs Isaacson doesn't). Doctorow (who adapted his own book) casts doubt on the guilt of the Isaacson's to provide for the children's anguish..Read more ›
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I FIND THIS MOVIE VERY INTERESTING BECAUSE ITS SIMILAR TO THE CASE OF JULIUS AND ETHEL ROSENBERG WHO WERE TRIED AND EXECUTED FOR ESPIONAGE IN THE 1950'S,ITS IDENTICAL TO THEIR CASE. I FIND THAT THE ACTORS PLAYED THEIR ROLES WELL,AND RECOMMEND THIS MOVIE FOR VIEWING VERY HIGHLY.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Historical drama with magnificent actorsAug. 1 2008
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Timothy Hutton is luminous in this film, as the fictional son of the Rosenbergs. He should have own an award for this portrayal. All the actors, so many well known now, and including the children portraying the young Daniel, are wonderful. There are layers of story unfolding, and the layers are punctuated by the singing of Paul Robeson at intervals, giving a depth and weight to the already intense story. A few viewers may not like the parts where Daniel talks about the many forms of execution, but this is a small part of the film. I recommend this film to anyone who lived through the 60s, and interested in the many films directed by Sidney Lumet. Superb.
25 of 32 people found the following review helpful
history as dramatic fictionMarch 6 2001
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Format: VHS Tape
Sidney Lumet's film is based on the novel The Book of Daniel by E L Doctorow, an obvious use of the Julius and Ethel Rosenberg case of the 1950's. The Rosenberg's were convicted of conspiring to give atomic bomb information to the Soviets, and executed in 1953. Whilst it is believed that the Rosenberg's were justly convicted, what made the case contentious was the severity of their punishment. Doctorow renamed the Rosenberg's the Isaacsons, and uses the Rosenberg myth to explore the dark side of infamy. The film is told from the Isaacson children's point of view, Amanda Plummer who even as a child when her parents were killed, shows indications of her later mental breakdown, and Timothy Hutton who appears to be the stronger of the two. Both have internalised their grief, with Plummer's idealism shown to be as unhealthy as that of her parents, and Hutton's fetish about different methods of execution. We see the children's resentment of their parents because the imprisonment and eventual deaths of the parents cost the children their protection. It's not important to the children whether their parents are innocent. They believe the political activism the parents expressed is self-destructive. Our view of the Isaacson's activism as a demonstration of passion is divided between heroic and foolish, with Mandy Pantikin's Paul Isaacson being the best example, when he collapses at the sight of the electric chair. Is he a foolish coward or would anyone faint in fear at the time of death? (though Mrs Isaacson doesn't). Doctorow (who adapted his own book) casts doubt on the guilt of the Isaacson's to provide for the children's anguish..Hutton interviews survivors of the trial and settles on the theory that his parents were the dupe of the informant, who fingered them in order to deflect attention from the real culprits. Whilst this theory cannot be substantiated, it's more palatable for the Isaacsons than it could be for the Rosenbergs, who the Communist Party wanted us to believe were also framed. Of course this theory requires that there existed a conspiracy, and the film points out that the Soviet's advances in nuclear weapons can be explained by their independent efforts. After all, wasn't it feared that the Nazi's would beat the Americans to the bomb if their invasion of Russia was a success? The alternate theory that there were no culprits and the Isaacsons were merely scapegoats for Cold War paranoia would probably lead both children to suicide. Lumet creates two time frames, distinguished by cinematography Andrejz Bartkowiak's orange tint for the past and blue tint for the Vietnam era that is the present where the children are now adults, and intercuts in memory and with the progression of Hutton's quest. This intercutting works the best with Lumet's set pieces, an anti-Communist ambush after a Paul Robeson concert, and the two executions presented mercifully in long shot, though a final comparative funeral seems false since it's hard to imagine that the Isaacsons would have been allowed a public funeral. It feels like it exists so Lumet could make the parallel. There is a memorable image of the children being passed over the heads of a crowd during a rally, but the extended stock footage that Lumet opens and closes the film with is less successful. I also tend to agree with Pauline Kael's assessment of the Robeson songs on the soundtrack, in her review in her collection State of the Art. She says its a secret rarely let out: Robeson was a monotonous singer and his songs all sound the same (except for one up-tempo number towards the end). When men appear with baseball bats to attack the Isaacsons and other Communist Party members who have heard Robeson sing live, you wish they would use their bats on Robeson's arranger instead. Lumet has the reputation for encouraging his actors to yell, a point taken to near parody by the hysteria of Julie Bovasso as Patinkin's sister who is lumbered with the children when both parents are arrested, and Patinkin is probably the worst offender. However Lindsay Crouse as Mrs Isaacson is a touching mother and I also liked the polite hostility of Carmen Matthews as the widow of the Isaacson's lawyer. Hutton is all hair and beard but Amanda Plummer has a Judy Garland-ish vulnerability, with a scene where he tries to rouse her out of her madness and she returns to the solace of her foetal position in a dance-like move.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Great story, great director, great actorsJune 18 2014
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This strikes me as a quiet, forgotten movie from the early '80s, but it's a great story directed by a Sidney Lumet, whose movies have never disappointed me going all the back to 12 Angry Men in the late 1950s. Great performances by the cast, including Mandy Pantinkin, Lindsay Crouse, and Timothy Hutton, who strikes me as among the most underrated actors of his generation. Like other Lumet films, this movie takes on some weighty and important issues, by tweaking and revising the real story of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, the American Communists who were convicted and executed, on charges of espionage for the Soviet Union, in the 1950s. This movie focuses on the damaged children of an executed Communist couple, picking up the story about a dozen years later, at the height of the antiwar movement in the late 1960s. The daughter suffers severe mental illness, while the son [Hutton] embarks on a mission to explore and come to terms with his parents' story and its impact on him and his sister. The film intertwines Daniel's current mission with flashback scenes that reveal his parents' story, as well as their experience of it as children. Great film, especially for those of us who love history, the 1950s, the 1960s, as well as the early 1980s.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
One of Sidney Lumet's best filmsApril 27 2015
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One of the most interesting things about both this movie and its source material, which is THE BOOK OF DANIEL by novelist E.L. Doctorow, is that it isn't about whether or not Paul and Rochelle Isaacson (the fictional stand-ins for Julius and Ethel Rosenberg) are guilty or innocent of passing government secrets to the Soviet Union and are therefore deserving (or not) of being executed. It's about the psychological impact upon their children Daniel and Susan Isaacson of all that happened to their parents and, indeed, of all that their parents were as people. It's a manifold character study that asks us to go beyond simplistic conclusions such as "those poor kids" and acknowledge that all parents leave their mark upon their children in one way or another. It also shows us that each child at some point finds their own way of coping.....or not....with their parents' legacy. Without giving too much away, neither child is undamaged, but one child does indeed slowly comes to terms with what was handed to them, for better or for worse.
The acting by all of the cast is superb. I would maintain that this movie showcases Timothy Hutton's finest performance ever as Daniel, and Amanda Plummer, Mandy Patinkin and Lindsay Crouse as Daniel's sister, father and mother are equally strong. Ed Asner gives a powerful turn as the Isaacson's defense lawyer Ascher, an intelligent but harried man who knows his case is doomed from the beginning. The soundtrack consists of Paul Robeson's many performances of spirituals, appropriate for the time and the context, and everything feels inexorable to the very end, and yet, somehow, there is light at that end.
Shed any preconceptions you might have that this will convince you of the innocence or guilt of the Rosenbergs in actual history...that's not this movie's agenda. It's about the children and those who love them.
In The Time Of Our TimeMay 30 2009
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Book/ DVD Review
This review is being used for both book and DVD versions of Doctorow's work as the central points to be made in regard to both works are similar. The film starring Timothy Hutton as Daniel and directed by the acclaimed Sidney Lumet fairly closely hems to Doctorow's story line. Hutton does an excellent job as Daniel. Obviously, such dramatic moments as the attempts to run away from the state authorities by the Rosenberg children after their parents' arrest, the touching visiting scenes by the children in the prison just prior to the executions, the executions and the tragic fate of one of the children (in the book, not real life) get more attention than in the book. But that is cinematic license, and here is not overplayed.
The Book Of Daniel, E.L. Doctorow, Random House, New York, 1971
Daniel, starring Timothy Hutton, directed by Sidney Lumet, DVD release 2008
At first blush the Rosenberg Cold War Soviet espionage case of the 1950's, that ended in the execution of both Julius and Ethel Rosenberg by the American state despite a worldwide campaign to save their lives, would not appear to be a natural subject for fictional treatment. Unlike, let us say, Kim Philby and the various Cambridge spies the Rosenbergs' biographies and political profiles do not have the stuff of larger than life drama. Moreover, whatever their efforts were on behalf of the defense of the Soviet Union, as they saw it, the details do not jump out as the makings of a spy thriller. And the well-known historical novelist (`Ragtime", Loon Lake", etc.), E.L. Doctorow, does not go into any of that material. What Doctorow has attempted to mine, and I think within the parameters that he has set himself successfully so, is the effect that the political actions of the Rosenbergs had on their children at the time, on their children's futures (in state custody and later adopted privately) and on the trauma of being the "heirs to an execution" in adulthood. Add to that the biblical implications ("The Book Of Daniel") that Doctorow weaves into his story and that is more than enough material for one novel.
Naturally, the question of the fate of the children of famous (or infamous, as the case may be) is a fair subject for treatment, fictional or otherwise. There is a whole flourishing body of literature concerning this topic. What makes the Rosenberg children distinct (a boy and girl, rather than the real two boys, fictionally named Daniel and Susan Issacson here) is that they were son and daughter to parents who in the eyes of the American state and significant parts of the American population were traitors. Not a good way for young kids to develop their self-esteem. That struggle, placed in the context of the traumas over personal identification which were rift as they grew to adulthood and that helped define the 1960's the time of the action of this story, drive the main themes of the story. The interlocked questions of life in the academy (Daniel is something of a professional graduate student), life on the political streets (Susan has chosen a psychologically dangerous way to cope with her heritage by going full-bore into the left-wing political activity of the period) and coming to grips, successfully or not, with their legacies give the plot substance.
Aside from Doctorow's main themes of exploring the thorny question of the responsibility that parents have for their children, either as parents or as political people, the last part of the book where Daniel, as a coping mechanism if nothing else, begins to get "political" provides some interesting (for the time) theories about what happened in the Rosenberg case. The themes of "good Jew, bad Jew" (as shown by the large cast of Jewish characters in the trial process), the alleged inadequacies of the defense, the scarcity of government evidence (the Rosenbergs were convicted of that old stand-by "conspiracy"), the nature of the early Cold War period and the personal and political limitations of the Rosenbergs themselves get a full workout here. In the end though, as I mentioned in a commentary reviewing Rosenberg granddaughter Ivy Meerpol's film, "Heir To An Execution", concerning the personal characters of the Rosenbergs they did their duty as communists, as they saw it. For that they deserve all honor. And someday some real justice to clear their names.