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LGM Film Club, Part 336: Fonda as Darrow

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So this video quality is not very good. Henry Fonda’s words don’t match his mouth. And whoever broadcast this 1974 Fonda one-man show for NBC where he plays Clarence Darrow used a damned laugh track for the jokes, which makes it painful and dated. On the other hand……HENRY FONDA IS PLAYING CLARENCE DARROW IN A LIVE PERFORMANCE! And Fonda is just great. First, who else would you want playing Darrow? Who so personified the liberal American male of the twentieth century? He’s perfect in this role. It’s really a master class in acting. Moreover, I don’t really think of Fonda as a stage actor so it’s fascinating to watch him perform and just how great he is. Much of the play is Fonda reliving the various famous cases he worked on and what was surprising is how little time they spent on the Scopes Trial. William Jennings Bryan–who Darrow knew and respected–is portrayed as a dumb yokel and of course Scopes did force him to make a fool of himself on the case, but I expected a bit more here. There’s a lot more time and energy spent on Darrow’s attempts to defend the McNamara brothers in the 1910 Los Angeles Times bombing and what he had to do when he realized they were guilty as sin. Anyway, this is well worth your time.

It’s also impossible to imagine this program on a prime-time network today. Not when CSI: Boise is starting its 57th season.

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