Crime Film Documentaries
Instructor: James R. Elkins
"The Thin Blue Line"
[1 hr. 43 mins.]
[film by Errol Morris]
"Errol Morris's gripping investigation into the murder of
a Dallas police officer was responsible for freeing the man originally—and
erroneously—charged with and convicted of the crime. Through
archival footage, interviews and stylized reenactments, Morris
skillfully makes a case for the innocence of a man who happened
to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Widely acclaimed,
this breakthrough documentary captured numerous awards."
Errol Morris & "The Thin Blue Line" Videos
Commentary on "The Thin Blue Line" as a Documentary Film
Bill Moyers interviews Errol Morris on 'The Thin Blue Line'
The Making of "The Thin Blue Line"
[13:03 mins.] Pt2 [9:05 mins.] [Errol Morris talks about making "The Thin Blue Line," the story of Randall Dale Adams,
a man convicted and sentenced to die for a murder he did not commit.]
Earl Morris and "The Thin Blue Line"
Morris's "Thin Blue Line" Website
Adams Settles Suit with Errol Morris Over "The Thin Blue Line"
[New York Times, August 6, 1989]
Wisconsin Documentarian Torn Over Recent Execution of Texas Prisoner
[01:58 :: audio] [Wisconsin Public Radio, Interview, July 9, 2004]
of the Film
Reviews of "The Thin Blue Line"
[The New Yorker]
Randall Dale Adams and His Case
Adams & the
Randall Adams, Adams v. Texas (New York: St. Martins
Press, 2001)(with William Hoffer & Marilyn Mona Hoffer)
Gary Cartwright, Turn Out the Lights: Chronicles of Texas
During the '80 and 90s 144-163 (Austin: University of Texas Press,
2000)("The Longest Ride of His Life," Cartwright's chapter on
the Randall Dale Adams case was first published in the Texas Monthly,
"Predilitions" (a New Yorker profile of
Errol Morris), in Mark Singer, Mr. Personality: Profiles and Talk Pieces
from The New Yorker 362-___ (Boston : Mariner Books, 2005)("Predilictions"
appeared in The New Yorker on February 6, 1989) [on-line
Renée R. Curry, Errol Morris' Construction of Innocence in The Thin
Blue Line, 49 (2) Rocky Mt. Rev. Language & Literature 153 (1995)
Charles Musser, Film Truth, Documentary, and the Law: Justice at the
Margin, 30 U.S.F. L. Rev. 963 (1996)
Bennett L. Gershman, The Thin Blue Line: Art or Trial in the Fact-Finding
Process, 9 Pace L. Rev. 275 (1989) [on-line
Fredrik J. Heinemann, Narrative Technique in Errol Morris's The Thin
Blue Line, 2 (1) EliS_e (2002) [on-line
"Oddities and Odyssesus: The Thin Blue Line (1988)," in Richard
K. Ferncase, Outsider Features: American Independent Films of the 1980s
103-114 (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1996)
Richard K. Sherwin, Law Frames: Historical Truth and Narrative
Necessity in a Criminal Case, 47 Stanford L. Rev. 38 (1994)
Linda Williams, "Mirrors Without Memories: Truth, History
and The Thin Blue Line," in Barry Keith Grant & Jeannette
Sloniowski (eds.), Documenting the Documentary: Close Readings of Documentary
Film and Video 379-396 (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1998)
Recommended Videos Featuring Errol Morris
Errol Morris on the Jeffrey McDonald case
[The Colbert Report, September 20, 2012] [5:10 mins.] [The Atlantic article]
The controversial case of Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald
[9:26 mins.][Rita Braver reports filmmaker Errol Morris's book on the MacDonald case]
Recovering Reality: A Conversation with Errol Morris
[6:27 mins.] [a conversation with Errol Morris for the Columbia Journalism Review; commenting on how we "do history"]
Graduation Speaker, 2010, Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism
[15:32 mins.] [talking about the nature of journalism; "putting the world back together again to make sense of it"; arguing that all journalism should be investigative journalism; "there is no forumla for pursuing the truth"; interesting references to "The Thin Blue Line"]
Prosecutorial Misconduct: Doug Mulder
"Both Adams’ defense attorney Edith James (interviewed in "The
Thin Blue Line") and filmmaker Errol Morris (interviewed on the
ABC News program, Nightline (March 21, 1989)) suggest that the Dallas
County prosecutor may have sought to convict Randall Adams of a murder
he did not commit primarily because he was old enough to be eligible
for the death penalty in Texas, whereas the likely killer, David Harris,
was only sixteen years old at the time of the crime and thus too young
to be a candidate for execution." ~ Anthony Chase, Avant-Garde,
Kitsch and Law, 14 Nova L. Rev. 549 (1989-1990)
"He [the prosecutor] went over my testimony with me, pretty extensively,
instructed me how I should testify, et cetera, how I should answer certain
questions, things of this nature. That's what you call 'coaching the
witness,' you know. Let's get this evidence in the spectrum where it's
going to be most effective. At the same time, I didn't really ponder
on it, but he was deceiving the jury, see. He wanted to deceive Justice.
That's why I think that statute with the scales, Justice… what is she
called? I don't know that she called. She's got that blindfold on. We
don't see what goes on behind the closed doors." ~ David Harris,
in "The Thin Blue Line"
Are Faulted In Dallas Murder Case
[New York Times, March 23, 1989]
Strange Days: Errol Morris gets history right by recognizing that it's usually all wrong
[Robert Wilonsky, Dallas Observer, February 5, 2004]
[subtitled: "How did Dallas convict so many innocents?
With faulty eyewitnesses, sloppy police work and overzealous prosecutors";
Glenna Whitley, Dallas Observer, August 2, 2007]
"With Mulder unable to shake Adams' assertion that he had left
Harris two hours prior to the shooting, acquittal seemed a formality.
Then, at the 11th hour, three surprise eyewitnesses came forward. R.L.
Miller and his wife, Emily, described driving slowly by and seeing everything.
Both identified Adams as the driver of the car. (Significantly, one
week later, Mrs. Miller's daughter, due to face armed robbery charges,
learned that her case had been quietly dropped.)
Another motorist, Michael Randell, claimed to have seen two people in
the car. The passenger was indistinct but he had no trouble recognizing
Adams as the driver." ~ Colin Evans, in an entry on the Law Library—American
Law and Legal Information website
murderer had official accomplices
[Martin Yant, The Free Press, July 28, 2004]
Ring of Truth
[Hans Sherrer, Editorial, Justice: Denied: The Magazine for the Wrongly Convicted]
[Dallas, Texas; firm profile]
Defense Attorneys: Edith James and Dennis White
"Since his trial I have given up my practice of criminal law.
I have not had a jury trial since I heard the verdict of this jury in
this case, and don't intend to. I just feel like I'll let other people
handle these problems for a while because if justice can miscarry so
badly, I'd rather do something else." ~ Dennis White, defense attorney
for Randall Dale Adams, in "The Thin Blue Line [Transcript
of "The Thin Blue Line"]
An Excursion into the Dark Side of Law & Psychiatry (Dr.
James Grigson's Psychiatric Testimony in the Death Penalty Phase of the
Errol Morris had originally planned to make a documentary
on Dr. Death, Dr. James Grigson and it was Grigson, according to Morris,
who first told him about the Randall Dale Adams case. Morris dropped his
plans to do a film on Dr. Grigson and went on to make "The Thin Blue
"Dr. Grigson interviewed me for 15 minutes. He did not ask about
the crime, only about my family. The only other thing he wanted to know
was my interpretation of: 'a rolling stone gathers no moss,' and of,
'a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.' At trial he testified
for 2 hours—1 ˝ hours about his background, awards, expertise, etc.;
˝ hour about our interview" ~ Randall Dale Adams, in "The
Thin Blue Line" [Transcript
of "The Thin Blue Line"]
Dr. James Grigson was, according to an article that appeared in the
Washington Times, December 20, 2003 announcing Grigson's retirement,
involved in 167 capital cases, and in over a 100 of them he testified
that the defendant would kill again if given the opportunity.
Upon his retirement, Doug Mulder, the prosecutor in the Randall Dale
Adams case threw "a lavish party" for Dr. Grigson at the local
country club (again according to the Washington Times article).
The Washington Times article further notes that Dr. Grison was
expelled from the American Psychiatric Association in 1995.
'Dr. Death' retires after 167 capital case trials," Washington
Times, December 21, 2003]
[Wikipedia]["In Texas, jurors are required to determine
'whether there is a probability that the defendant would commit criminal
acts of violence that would constitute a continuing threat to society.'
Grigson offered such predictions in at least 124 death penalty cases,
115 of which resulted in death sentences."]
Dr. James Grigson
[Dallas Morning News, 2004]
The Future of the Death Penalty in the U.S.: A Texas-Sized Crisis
[Richard C. Dieter, Executive Director Death Penalty Information Center, May 1994]
Psychiatric Testimony & Predications of Dangerousness
v. Estelle, 463 U.S. 880 (1983)
v. Estelle, Sup.Ct.'s opinion][Oral
Arguments in Barefoot v. Estelle at the Supreme Court]
Supreme Court Oral Arguments in Estelle v. Smith
Dangerousness and Flipping Coins
[Science & Law Blog]
Danger to Other
[excerpted from Jan Pols, The
Politics of Mental Illness: Myth and Power in the Work of Thomas S. Szasz]
Health, the Law and Predicting Violence
[John Monahan, professor of law & professor of psychology
and psychiatric medicine, University of Virginia Law School][NPR][audio
file][April 18, 2007]
David Harris: Was He a Psychopath?
In "The Thin Blue Line," one of Harris's friends,
Floyd Jackson, says of David Harris, "He didn't have a conscience. You
know, if I do something bad, you know, it kind of gets to me. I feel,
you know, ‘shucks, I shouldn't have done that. I feel bad about it.' It
didn't bother him."
What "Psychopath" Means
[Scott O. Lilienfeld & Hal Arkowitz, Scientific
American Mind, 2007]
Buller-McGinnis Model of Serial Homicidal Behavior
[Georgie Ann Weatherby, Danielle M. Buller & Katelyn
McGinnis, Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice Research &
The Treatment of Psychopathic
and Antisocial Personality Disorders: A Review
[Jessica H Lee, Clinical Decision Making Support Unit,
The Mask of Sanity:
An Attempt to Reinterpret the So-Called Psychopathic Personality
[Hervey M. Cleckley, 5th ed., revised, 1984][PDF file
of the book; 485 pages]
Portrayals of Psychopaths
John Batt, The New Outlaw: A Psychological Footnote to the Criminal Law,
52 Ky. L.J. 497 (1963-1964)
_______, Notes from the Penal Colony: A Jurisprudence beyond Good and
Evil, 50 Iowa L. Rev. 999 (1964-1965)
[John Batt was the law professor at the University of
Kentucky who gave me my first glimpse at crimes, criminals, and criminal
law. He encouraged his students to think about the "criminal mind"
and the psychology, economics, and politics of crime. Batt was one of
the most interesting and engaging teachers I've ever encountered. I worked
for him as a research assistant when I was a student and we later became
close friends. John Batt showed me the way. John died, Tuesday, November
17, 2009 in Lexington, Kentucky.][Obituary]
Legal Proceedings: Randall Dale Adams appealed his conviction
for the murder of Robert Wood, the Dallas police office. The Texas Court
of Criminal Appeals upheld the verdict, without a single dissent.
Less than three days before Adams's scheduled execution on May 8, 1979,
he received a stay of his execution by Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr., acting
on behalf of the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court held, in an 8-1
opinion that the jury selection procedure in Adams trial violated Witherspoon
v. Illinois, 391 US 510 (1968). The case was remanded for further proceedings.
To avoid a new trial, state prosecutors appealed to the governor of Texas
to commute Adams's sentence to life in prison. Adams's lawyers sought
a new trial, notwithstanding the commutation and lost their appeal in
the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals that affirmed the conviction.
David Harris finally admitted that he, not Randall Dale Adams, had killed
Robert Wood. David Harris was executed on June 30, 2004 for the killing
of a man named Mark Mays in September, 1985.
On December 2, 1988, Dallas District Court Judge Larry Baraka recommended
to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals that Adams be granted a new trial.
Judge Baraka, less than two months later, on January 30, 1989, requested
that the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles parole Adams but the Board
refused. On March 1, 1989 the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled, unanimously,
that Adams was entitled to a new trial. Three weeks later, he was released
from prison, and on March 23, 1989, Dallas District Attorney John Vance
dropped the charges against Adams.
Randal Adams Case: Judicial Opinions
Adams v. Texas, 448 U.S. 38 (1980)
text of the Supreme Court's opinion]
Ex parte Adams, 768 S.W.2d 281 (Tex. Crim App. 1989)
Errol Morris (documentary film maker)
Errol Morris: The Thinking Man's Detective
[Smithsonian magazine, March 2012]
Play It Again, Sam (Re-enactments, Part One)—Errol Morris pt.2
[New York Times blog]
Werner Herzog in Conversation with Errol Morris
[Believer, 2008 ]
Videos Featuring Errol Morris
Errol Morris—60 Minutes
Errol Morris in conversation with Adam Curtis
[12:47 mins.][British Academy of film and Television Arts]
Errol Morris in conversation with David Edelstein
[18:17 mins.][New York Documentary Film Festival]
Errol Morris Interviewed by Scott Feinberg
Werner Herzog & Errol Morris Conversation
[12:59 mins.] [Toronto Film Festival, September 13, 2010] Pt2 [14:55 mins.] Pt3 [13:40 mins.] Pt4 [11:06 mins.] Pt5 [7:35 mins.]
Film about Movies by Errol Morris
Q&A with Errol Morris, "Gates of Heaven"
Errol Morris Videos (and his film "Standard Operating Procedures")
Errol Morris Talks
[6:32 mins.] [talks about his film, " Standard Operating Procedures," and the stories behind the photos taken at Abu Ghraib]
Morris Interview with Tom Ryan
Morris on QTV
Errol Morris Videos ("Fog of War")
Errol Morris: History As A Crime Scene
Errol Morris Videos (Commenting on "Tabloid")
Errol Morris: ReThinkInterview
Errol Morris: Tabloid
Errol Morris Q&A for "Tabloid"
[15:01 mins.] [Toronto Film Festival, 2010]
Errol Morris Talks to Roger Ebert Pt2 Pt3 Pt4 Pt5 Pt6 Pt7 Pt8
Errol Morris Videos (Commenting on "The Unknown Known")
Errol Morris on Donald Rumsfeld: 'One of the strangest interviews I've ever done'
Why Would Rumsfeld Participate in "The Unknown Known"
[3:21mins.] [with Indiewire's Dana Harris]
Intro by Errol Morris for "The Unknown Known"
[6:59 mins.] [Morris commenting on his induction into the Badass Hall of Fame]
Errol Morris premieres "The Unknown Known" at NY Documentary Film Festival
[13:13 mins.] [the film is made from 30 hours of interviews over 11 days]
Errol Morris with David Poland
Errol Morris on "The Unknown Known" (2014)
[47:58 mins.][interviewed by
Errol Morris on Donald Rumsfeld, The Unknown Known, and Evidence-Based Journalism
[41:29 mins.] [Reason TV, interview by Nick Gillespe]
Post-Screening Discussion of "The Unknown Known"
[1:00:38 mins.][Mahindra Humanities Center, Harvard University]
Errol Morris interviews mob lawyer Murray Richman
[9:57 mins.] Pt2 [9:32 mins.] Pt3 [9:18 mins.]