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.