20 March 2011 | MartinHafer
fascinating but it has an odd take on historical accuracy.
Andersonville was a Confederate prisoner of war camp renowned for its inhumanity to its prisoners. Photos taken of survivors are similar in appearance to survivors of Auschwitz--gaunt skeletons with skin stretched over them. While it was notorious, it was not completely unique, as POW camps on both sides were dreadful places--treating the prisoners like refuse instead of men.
"The Andersonville Trial" is a made for TV recreation of the Broadway play from a decade earlier. It is based on the actual war crimes trial held for the commander of this hellish place following the war. In some ways it is amazingly historically accurate (such as having some of the testimony given almost verbatim from the actual transcripts of the trial). However, in other ways it diverges way from the truth. Some of this divergence I appreciate--such as the prosecutor's looking into himself about the morality of refusing to obey an order that is immoral. Some of it, however, was simply done to make for a more effective and dramatic play--and the history teacher in me balks at this. For example, the defendant never testified during the trial--yet here, a MAJOR portion of the play consists of his testimony. Frankly, I just wished they'd left this out in the spirit of accuracy.
So is the film worth seeing? Well, yes, but I also feel that the dry nature of the play will make it difficult for some viewers with shorter attention spans to stick with it. In addition, the acting, while generally very good, comes off at times as a bit over-wrought. It's interesting to watch but the actual trial could not have been THAT intense. And, surprisingly, William Shatner's performance was not the most overly emotive and he did a good job of playing the 'conscience' of the movie--Basehart, conversely, was just too much--which is odd, because he was a very capable actor. Also, the film is worth seeing because the issues brought up here are also ones that apply to WWII, Vietnam, Rwanda and a bazillion other situations.
By the way, this production was directed by George C. Scott--who was in the original play. In addition, the film is chock full of recognizable character actors such as Richard Basehart, Whit Bissell, Jack Cassidy, Cameron Mitchell, Buddy Ebsen and many other faces that people of my generation would recognize.