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  • I have not seen this this very fine courtroom drama in almost thirty years, but it remains an unforgettable experience. Basehart, Shatner, Cassidy, Salmi, and Mitchell all give excellent performances. It is also a highly intelligent film, dealing with complex issues of military morality. indeed, it is puzzling that this fine film has never been rerun..then again, most of the great Television dramas are never rerun. Perhaps a new cable network could be it "QTV' for "quality Television', devoted to shows like The Defenders, Naked City, Slatterys People,The Westerner,My World ( And Welcome to It), Nichols and to the great dramas of the golden age, such as this. Of course, thats yet another impossible dream
  • Based on a Broadway play, THE ANDERSONVILLE TRIAL was a made for television production directed by George C. Scott with a number of major performances, led by William Schatner as the Union Prosecutor, and Jack Cassidy as the Southern born defense counsel for Confederate Captain Henry Wirtz (Richard Basehart). The court-martial is headed by General Lew Wallace (Cameron Mitchell), who is determined to bring in a speedy, clean-cut verdict as quickly as possible. Among the witnesses is Albert Salmi, a Union soldier who survived the camp, but who has a dirty secret that clever Jack Cassidy pushes into the faces of the court-martial judges.

    Historically some 49,000 Union prisoners were sent to Andersonville, and 13,000 died there under hideous conditions. Food was scarce. They had little in the way of proper shelter. The camp's sanitation was non-existent.

    Who was to blame? Well, at the time blame was on Captain Wirtz, who was commander of the camp. All decisions for the sake of the men were in his hands, and the number of dead was too large to ignore. However, the Confederacy in 1863-65 was having trouble feeding it's troops and it's people. Wirtz actually tried to get supplies, but couldn't get far on that. Also, Northern prisons for Confederate prisons, such as Elmira in New York State, were equally vile. Finally, attempts by the South to get a trade of captured soldiers with the North ground to a halt due to the combined refusal of General Grant or Secretary of War Stanton to agree to it (they reasoned the released trained southern soldiers would resume war work, and lengthen the course of the war).

    Wirtz would be found guilty, and would be hanged in November 1865. He was the only Confedrate hanged for a war crime (unless you count the four Lincoln Assassination defendants). The play tries to show the impossible situation that fell on Wirtz's shoulders, with him trying to balance his duty to the southern cause, his duty to his prisoners, and his fears of those prisoners. Basehart's agonizing testimony on the stand, where he keeps thinking of the prisoners tunneling and tunneling out of the camp, is still a memory to me yet, thirty five years after I saw it the first time.

    But there is more than that in the play. The scene where Mitchell is trying to get the prosecution to concentrate only on the facts, and not give rise to a theory of unchecked universal evils ("A world of Andersonvilles", as Shatner puts it)is wonderful. Mitchell is trying to remind Shatner that all he has to do is prove a case against this defendant. Finally, in disgust, Mitchell asks a hypothetical question to test the loyalty of Shatner to the U.S.: What if the U.S. had supported slavery in 1860 and the South supported abolition? Shatner shatters Mitchell by insisting a greater loyalty would dictate supporting the Confederacy.

    Jack Cassidy has some terrific moments attacking the prosecution, which he rightly considers a show trial and an act of hypocrisy. He even gets under Shatner's skin at one point by showing how Shatner - if he gets a conviction - will have something to build a political career on.

    All in all it was a terrific moment of televised drama. It has been shown occasionally and it should be shown more.

    Oh, by the way. I mentioned the Northern Prison Camp at Elmira, NY. It's commander was Benjamin Tracy. In the post war eras (he died in 1917), Mr. Tracy became a successful corporate lawyer, leading New York State Republican, and Secretary of the Navy under President Benjamin Harrison (1889 - 1893). He is considered by some the father of the modern U.S. Navy. Wirtz, his opposite number, was hanged. Sometime in the 1950s or so, his grave received a new tombstone from some unknown supporter. It gives his name, dates of birth and death, and puts under it, "C.S.A. Martyr". I leave it for the reader to decide what was justice or what wasn't.
  • lemminpie14 November 2004
    I watched this on TV when I was 13 or 14 yrs old and was engrossed in it. It left a lasting impression on me. Even to this day, I still think about it. As a kid, I couldn't have told you if the acting was first rate. Evidently it was; I do remember thinking the actors presented it as if the story had happened to them. I also remember being aware that William Shatner was remarkably restrained in this role and thinking how convincing he was.

    I can't say this particular movie sparked my interest in American history, but it certainly looms large. Even if the story has been "Hollywood-ized" with the addition of bogus testimony of the camp commandant, the rest of the story is quite true. The sad story of Civil War POW's at Camp Sumter (the actual name of the prison) should be studied by all, not just students of American history. Incidentally, the Andersonville National Historic Site (outside of Richmond, VA) is the only national park that serves as a memorial for ALL American POW's. Because of having seen this movie, I sought out more info about the actual place and actual facts. This doesn't necessarily prove it's a well made movie, but it's the highest compliment I can pay to The Andersonville Trial.

    To me, the time invested in watching this movie is worth it.
  • This is one of those rare presentations that one remembers, not only the content, but also the feelings and thoughts that it evoked, even decades after viewing. This is the very best courtroom drama I have ever seen. The captains of the Enterprise and whatever the name of the sub was on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (Shatner and Basehart) show what they were capable of doing with first-rate material and direction. Set aside some uninterrupted time to see this one.
  • As with many of you, it has been over thirty years since I have seen this on PBS. It stirred me then so much, I watched it again in close rerun cycle. I have often wished it was available on video, but never saw it, though it recently showed up at the head of someone's snarky list of Civil War themed movies. That got me thinking and sent me here, where I noticed many were still bemoaning the lack of a video. Well, lists it as having been released on video in 1991. Yay! That source does indicate both "out of stock" and "15 new or used copies available." You may have to actually place an order to find out which is true. Anyway, be of good cheer, comrades. It's out there somewhere!

    I agree with all the positive comments, including those rating Shatner's performance as the prosecuting judge advocate. That he was directed by the man who debuted the role on Broadway was a sweet good fortune. I'd read an article in Playboy about George C. Scott around that same time, in which the author described being on the set with Scott coaching Shatner through a particularly dramatic scene, crouched down and gesturing with him, and both described as "baby bulls." I would love to have been a fly on the wall during some of the rehearsals and script sessions! Helluva show.
  • One of the many pleasures of this compelling court martial drama, adapted from Saul Levitt's 1959 Broadway play, is seeing actors we associate from with lightweight TV shows doing something meatier.

    Lt. Col. N.P Chipman (William Shatner) is the Army prosecutor, Otis Baker (Jack Cassidy) the defense attorney and Gen. Lew Wallace (Cameron Mitchell) the judge in the trial of Henry Wirz (Richard Basehart), the Confederate officer who ran a prisoner of war camp in Andersonville which saw 14,000 Union prisoners die from cruel neglect. Witnesses include Lt. Col. Chandler (Harry Townes), who was assigned to inspect the Andersonville prison; Dr. John C. Bates (Buddy Ebsen), the physician at the camp horrified by his experience; Ambrose Spencer (John Anderson), a plantation owner who can testify that food offered to the camp by nearby residents was refused; James Davidson (Michael Burns, whose liquid blue eyes are an asset to his performance), a haunted 19-year-old prisoner who claims a fellow was torn apart by dogs; Jasper Culver (Lou Frizell) another prisoner who has a story about a man named Chickamauga; Sgt. James Gray (Albert Salmi) who testifies that Wirtz killed a man with his own hands; and Dr. Ford (Whit Bissell), the one witness for the defense. Martin Sheen has a bit as a Union officer; Alan Hale Jr. (the Skipper on "Gilligan's Island") plays one of the court-martial board members, though he has no lines.

    My favorite among the supporting cast is Buddy Ebsen, who as Jeb Clampett in "The Beverly Hillbillies" always gave the part far more than it seemed to deserve; here he gives his small role tremendous force with a low-key performance. I also enjoyed John Anderson, who I know from "Twilight Zone" episodes and his role as a used car salesman in "Psycho"; his performance here is typical but welcome.

    Jack Cassidy has the same oily charm that serves him so well as a "Columbo" villain; but his character also has a strong sense of justice and credibly charges hypocrisy in his opponent. William Shatner, forever to be associated with "Star Trek," is not the perfect choice for a righteous crusader undergoing his own moral struggle: genuine sincerity always eludes him. But he still gives a richly textured performance and finally is successful in his role. The richest performance by far is from Richard Basehart as the German-accented Confederate officer who chose to follow orders from his military superiors while vetoing his own conscience. The parallels between him and Nazi war criminals is made clear; and Basehart brings out every subtlety to the man in a big, but not overdone or showy, manner.

    George C. Scott, who had Shatner's role in the Broadway production, directs admirably well. The play is based on the transcript of the actual trial, with significant changes made for dramatic purposes; for one, Wirz did not testify on his own behalf, as he does here. This is highly recommended to anyone looking for a weighty drama, or a fascinating glimpse at American history.
  • A wonderful TV movie about the most notorious of the "concentration camps" of the American Civil War. It has a first-rate cast, with Richard Basehart giving an especially intense performance as the camp commandant. I hope some day it comes out on video or is rebroadcast, perhaps by the History Channel.
  • I only wish they would put this film out on video because it is one that truly deserves to be called a classic. Forget The Caine Mutiny and A Few Good Men. This is the best and most riveting courtroom thriller ever made. I always thought of William Shatner as a blowhard who couldn't act his way out of a paper bag, but here maybe for the only time, he gives an excellent performance as the prosecutor with a heart determined to bring this man to justice. Andersonville really was a hell on earth and the descriptions of it they give here will give you chills. The best scene is the one where Shatner cross examines Richard Basehart and keeps asking him why he didn't disobey orders if it could have saved so many innocent lives. What gets me is that Basehart's character (Captain Wirz) keeps insisting that he was only obeying orders. This is the same excuse that the Nazis and the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials used. You keep wondering if this man really has no soul. George C. Scott played the prosecutor in the Broadway version and does a wonderful job of directing it. This was made at about the same time that he made Patton I believe. This is a great film with a first rate cast. I only wish it could be seen more often.
  • Back in 1998, I submitted the below review of The Andersonville Trial. Over the course of years, I searched for a video copy of the show, and finally paid a high price for it at eBay! Now, however, and finally, reason has triumphed, and this excellent presentation is available on DVD. I urge fans of this production to get DVDs of the show, and preserve its memory in your DVD library. As a top-notch and award winning drama, it is only when patrons support quality television like this that we can hope for even greater committments to such fare on the "boob tube." If we are prepared to support schlock on television and not shows like The Andersonville Trial, we will be left with nothing to preserve for TV generations to come.

    This presentation is one of the most compelling dramas ever filmed for television. It was directed by George C. Scott, and includes great performances by such performers as Cameron Mitchell, William Shatner, Jack Cassidy, Albert Salmi and Richard Basehart.

    It is the story of one of the few post Civil War trials, of the "commandant" of the POW camps at Andersonville. The conditions of the compound were horrible, and Henry Wirz (Richard Basehart)was charged after the war for terrible treatment of the prisoners.

    Every performance in the presentation is excellent--it is great to see so many fine performers work together.
  • 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.
  • When I saw this being rebroadcast on Ovation (part of the Trio/Oxygen genre cable channels), I was surprised to see a younger William Shatner doing what he's always done best - overacting and over-emoting. At the same time, I felt that it was done with pure intentions, and was an overall stellar performance. With the action pretty much all taking place in one room (with some shots outside the courtroom), it really did a great job of depicting the events in Andersonville, and would be a great compliment to the Andersonville mini-series that was aired a few years ago. If I see this available on video/DVD in the near future, I am definitely going to pick it up.
  • I saw "The Andersonville Trial" on Bravo about four years ago and was struck by its power. It is a highly literate play, dealing with very important and perhaps timeless issues -- responsibility for and complicity in war crimes.

    All the actors are excellent, and I believe Shatner, Cassidy, Basehart, Salmi and Ebsen gave the performances of their careers. There's even the luxury of Martin Sheen in a small role.

    It's especially impressive to see these fine actors convey the time and place so powerfully. None of them comes across as a refuge from the late 20th-century:). Scott's direction (and by extension, his use of camera angles) is intelligent and taut.

    How wonderful to have this outstanding production available on video. Can't recommend it enough.
  • dutchqd13 December 2002
    When I saw that this video starred William Shatner and was directed by George C. Scott, I thought "Great, one over-actor directing another." Actually, this is something everything involved with it can be proud of, and it may be the best thing ever presented on PBS.

    The story is the trial of Henry Wirz, the commandant of the notorious Confederate P.O.W. camp at Andersonville, Georgia. Shatner is the Union Army prosecutor who must tread onto dangerous ground to make his case. (In the original Broadway production, Scott played this role.) Equally good is Jack Cassidy as Wirz's manipulative defense attorney. Richard Basehart plays Wirz as he was: proud, arrogant and unrepentant. Leading support is a cast some of the finest character actors of a generation: Cameron Mitchell, Buddy Ebsen, John Anderson, Albert Salmi and Whit Bissell.

    But center to this production is the compelling script. Based on the transcript of the actual tribunal, Saul Leavitt imbued this record of brutality with a great sense of humanity.

    This one should not be missed. I rate it 10/10.
  • This pocket-sized movie has an epic sized heart. Was George C. Scott in the military? The actors move about the courtroom as if they know the place. When Shatner wants to get in somebody's face, he's a veritable bull in the corrida when it comes to handling witness and generals alike. And Richard Basehart - hey, don't get me started. I figured an oscar for sure here.

    I plan to rent it again this weekend.