The television mini-series format really came into its own when CBS aired what's still a daring, brutal adaptation of Vincent Bugliosi's massive, best-selling tome (co-written with Curt Gentry). The key prosecuting attorney against demonic hippie Charles Manson, Bugliosi's book on the trial provided more than enough dramatic twists & turns to inspire a gripping teleplay, and the production didn't shy away from quick glimpses of the murder scene as graphically revealed in the book's stark black & white photo gallery.
Veteran teleplay writer J. P. Miller ("The Lindbergh Kidnapping Case") structured an exceptional docu-drama that was photographed in a suitably coarse, high-contrast style to capture the tragic tale's ugliness. (For novitiates, this is the famous Tate-LaBianca murders, which began when a pregnant actress Sharon Tate was murdered with her guests at the home of her .husband, director Roman Polanski.)
Though it took a new 2004 production of the famous Manson case to rescue this classic drama from the vaults, it's great to finally see some of the top work done for TV during the 70s finally making its way to DVD. The source materials aren't always in the best of shape, and spoiled viewers won't regularly get Dolby 5.1 or 2.0 re-mixes of the soundtracks, but these superior productions are worth their weight in gold.
The source print has some dirt and nicks in a few spots, but otherwise reflects the loose, docu-drama style envisioned by director Gries, an underrated director who died in 1977 after completing the Muhammad Ali biopic, "The Greatest."
In 1991 and 1992, Vincent Bugliosi enjoyed a brief return to TV when two of his crime chronicles - "And The Sea Will Tell," and "Till Death Do Us Part" - were effectively dramatized. Star Steve Railsback never cracked the A-list in film and TV, and though he gained immortality of sorts in "The Stuntman," his portrayal of Charlie Manson marked a high point that pretty much typecast this otherwise solid actor in murderous roles.
© 2004 Mark R. Hasan