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Films >> Lindbergh Kidnapping Case, The (1976) >>

[1] The television docudrama The Lindbergh Kidnapping Case was written by J. P. Miller, whose credits that year also include Helter Skelter. This award-winning dramatist examines the darker side of human experience including alcoholism, pedophilia, kidnapping, and murder.

[2] Miller's rendering of the Lindbergh kidnapping and subsequent trial of Bruno Hauptmann closely follows the events as they are presented in the biographies of Charles A. Lindbergh, the memoirs of the participants, and the contemporaneous media reports. The New York Times gave full front-page coverage to the events. The files and transcripts of the interviews with suspects and witnesses are part of the public record. And that is the greatest challenge, to provide a script with dramatic tension to an audience already quite familiar with the final outcome of the investigation and trial. To further complicate the writing, many of the principals were still alive. In 1976 there was still some acknowledgment of the sensibilities of survivors. Millers solution seems to be a balance between accepted truths, dramatic convention, and the time constraints of commercial television.

[3] Miller creates a credible drama that includes all the important details of the crime and trial, but in the interest of clarity and plot line, he does select and modify elements of the case. Since Hauptmann pleaded innocent to the end, there were questions concerning the execution of the kidnapping that were never fully exposed. One such question is the matter of pure chance that puts the Lindberghs at Hopewell on that fateful Tuesday night. Miller introduces the suicidal maid, Violet Sharpe, and dabbles with the perception that she might have been involved as a part of the plot. There is the appearance of John Condon, the self-promoting teacher, who is pivotal as the contact person for the kidnapper. Miller gently broaches the possibility that Condon was part of the plot. That suspicion is dismissed in the film more quickly than it was by the public or investigators.

[4] Miller provides us with some dramatic footage of the arrest of Bruno Richard Hauptmann. The arrest of Hauptmann was really a scene from The Untouchables, a popular television cops and robbers show set in the Roaring 20s, but the demolition of Hauptmanns garage was more symbolic than factual. Finally, the representation of the John Hughes Curtis, one of several perpetrators of hoaxes during the investigation, is surprisingly benign. Curtis was a friend of the Morrow family (Charles' in-laws), which makes his betrayal more malevolent. Miller brushes past the admission as if it were a footnote.

[5] Finally, Miller omits the most inflammatory allegation to grow from the crime: the conspiracy theory that claims that Lindbergh had caused the death while playing with his son and buried him in a shallow grave.

[6] So the story is told, the mass of evidence is sifted and selected, but the screenplay fails to find a focus that would give it a passionate center. There is little tampering with the events other than surgical removal of much of the clutter of real life. Lindbergh appears in the film as he is presented by all his biographers, a man with public demeanor of absolute control bordering on icy detachment. The rest of the participants are presented without prejudice, even Bruno Hauptmann.