Bartolomeo Vanzetti (let’s give him top billing for once) and Nicola Sacco were Italian-American anarchists sentenced to death by the state of Massachusetts for two murders committed during the course of an armed robbery in 1920. Between the time of their initial trial in 1921 and their execution in 1927, the men became a global cause célèbre. Their supporters—most but not all of them on the political left—protested that their trial had been a farce and their conviction driven by anti-immigrant and antiradical prejudice.
It’s a fine topic for a smart historical doc, but until somebody makes it you can give this hagiographic puff piece wide berth. Filmmaker Miller works the standard PBS American Experience documentary template for 80 minutes but imparts remarkably little information in that time. That pious windbag Howard Zinn (author of A People’s History of the United States) gets the lion’s share of talking-head time and uses it to say things like, “These were not two ordinary men. These were men of poetic sensibility. These were men of infinite courage.” Nonagenarian peace activist Ralph DiGia recalls attending a massive protest rally for the pair and says, “It made me feel very good, and I was glad I had been there. I don’t know.” Lachrymose Italianate guitar noodling keeps you conscious of how bad you should feel about stuff throughout.