Picks and Pans Review: The Trials of Alger Hiss

UPDATED 04/21/1980 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 04/21/1980 at 01:00 AM EST

In 1948 Hiss, a brilliant lawyer and ex-State Department official, was accused of passing on government secrets to the Communists. He denied it, was convicted of perjury and served three and a half years in prison. This exhaustive first documentary by John Lowenthal (an ex-Rutgers law professor and, not surprisingly, friend and sometime counsel to Hiss) stirs the same old questions about the case. It suggests, for instance, that the jurors might not have voted Hiss guilty if they had had all the information available to the prosecution at the time. The historic footage is engrossing, especially that of Congressman Richard Nixon riding the case to national prominence during the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings on security violations. Hiss, now 75, has spent his life since the trial vainly—and unconvincingly—seeking vindication. This film should serve his cause even as it infuriates those who believe him guilty. (Not rated)

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