“Are you an anarchist, a communist, a socialist, a union man?”
The true story of Sacco and Vanzetti is practically forgotten these days, but the 1971 Italian film directed by Guilano Montaldo recreates the politically charged murder and robbery case against the backdrop of the political insecurity of the times.
America in the 1920s was in the throes of a “red scare” and increasing labour unrest. More than 25,000 Italians had been deported for a variety of reasons–including for their political beliefs and involvement in the labour movement. Following a payroll holdup on April 15,1920, that left several people dead, the police arrested two Italian anarchists for the crime. This riveting film plots the genesis of the case–from the arrests through the kangaroo court trial–to its ugly conclusion.
In spite of conclusive evidence that Nicola Sacco (Riccardo Cucciolla) and Bartolomeo Vanzetti (Gian Maria Volonte) were not guilty (they both had substantial alibis for the day of the robbery), the court was determined to find these men guilty. Scenes from the emotionally charged courtroom make it perfectly clear that the unleashed prosecutor, Frederick Katzmann (Cyril Cusak) spouts racial hatred towards those he considered “from the dregs of society” while ranting about “democracy and justice.”
Ultimately, Sacco and Vanzetti’s beliefs as anarchists go on trial. Vanzetti, a fresh fish seller eloquently explains that “anarchy would create a world without frontiers” but any attempts to explain his anti-war beliefs end in the accusation that he was a draft dodger (he went to Mexico in 1917). The film does an excellent job of showing the state’s fear and lack of understanding of anarchists, and the world’s reaction to the heinous injustice exacted on these two men for their political beliefs.
The actors who play Sacco and Vanzetti look remarkably like their real-life counterparts, and the photography lends an eerie archival quality to the story. Well worth catching.