23rd August 2007 marks the 80th anniversary of the state-execution of the Italian Anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, for murders they did not commit, amidst a backdrop of rising anti-immigrant sentiment in the USA. Following Guiliano Montado's powerful film, and exactly fifty years later, on 23rd August 1977, Michael Dukakis, then Governor of Massachusetts, issued a proclamation absolving the two men of the crime.
Directed by Giuliano Montado, with original music by Ennio Morricone. This film also won Best Actor (Riccardo Cucciolla) at the Cannes Film Festival,1971.
S P O I L E R
On 15th April, 1920, in South Braintree, Massachusetts--a quiet hoe manufacturing town about ten miles from Boston USA, Frederick Parmenter and Alessandro Berardelli were shot dead while carrying two boxes containing the payroll of a shoe factory. After the two robbers took the $15,000 they got into a car containing several other men and were driven away.
Several eyewitnesses claimed that the robbers looked Italian. A large number of Italian immigrants were questioned but eventually the authorities decided to charge Bartolomeo Vanzetti and Nicola Sacco with the murders. Although the two men did not have criminal records, it was argued that they had committed the robbery to acquire funds for their anarchist political campaign.
The trial started on 21st May, 1921. The main evidence against the men was that they were both carrying a gun when arrested. Some people who saw the crime taking place identified Bartolomeo Vanzetti and Nicola Sacco as the robbers. Others disagreed and both men had good alibis. Vanzetti was selling fish in Plymouth while Sacco was in Boston with his wife having his photograph taken. The prosecution made a great deal of the fact that all those called to provide evidence to support these alibis were Italian immigrants.
Vanzetti and Sacco were disadvantaged by not having a full grasp of the English language. It was clear from some of the answers they gave in court that they had misunderstood the question. During the trial the prosecution emphasized the men's radical political beliefs. Vanzetti and Sacco were also accused of unpatriotic behaviour by fleeing to Mexico during the First World War. The trial lasted seven weeks and on 14th July, 1921, both men were found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to death.
Many observers believed that their conviction resulted from prejudice against them as Italian immigrants and because they held radical political beliefs. The case resulted in anti-US demonstrations in many European countries, and at one of these in Paris, a bomb was sent by mail to the American embassy.
In 1925 Celestino Madeiros, a Portuguese immigrant, confessed to being a member of the gang that killed Frederick Parmenter and Alessandro Berardelli. He also named the four other men, Joe, Fred, Pasquale and Mike Morelli, who had taken part in the robbery. The Morelli brothers were well-known criminals who had carried out similar robberies in area of Massachusetts. However, the authorities refused to investigate the confession made by Madeiros.
Important figures in the United States and Europe became involved in the campaign to overturn the conviction. John Dos Passos, Alice Hamilton, Paul Kellog, Jane Addams, Heywood Broun, William Patterson, Upton Sinclair, Dorothy Parker, Ben Shahn, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Felix Frankfurter, John Howard Lawson, Freda Kirchway, Floyd Dell, Bertrand Russell, George Bernard Shaw and H. G. Wells became involved in a campaign to obtain a retrial. Although Webster Thayer, the original judge, was officially criticised for his conduct at the trial, the authorities refused to overrule the decision to execute the men.
By the summer of 1927 it became clear that Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti would be executed. Vanzetti commented to a journalist: "If it had not been for this thing, I might have lived out my life talking at street corners to scorning men. I might have died, unmarked, unknown, a failure. Now we are not a failure. This is our career and our triumph. Never in our full life can we hope to do such work for tolerance, justice, for man's understanding of man, as now we do by accident. Our words - our lives - our pains - nothing! The taking of our lives - lives of a good shoemaker and a poor fish peddler - all! That last moment belong to us - that agony is our triumph. On 23rd August 1927, the day of execution, over 250,000 people took part in a silent demonstration in Boston.
Fifty years later, on 23rd August, 1977, Michael Dukakis, the Governor of Massachusetts, issued a proclamation, effectively absolving the two men of the crime - partly due to the powerful film by Giuliano Montaldo made six years earlier.
More Anarchist Media from ChristieBooks Video Channel at Brightcove
The Sacco-Vanzetti Controversy: A Question of Prejudicial Justice
The History of Sacco e Vanzetti