Daniel (1983)

R | 129 mins | Drama | 26 August 1983

Director:

Sidney Lumet

Writer:

E. L. Doctorow

Producer:

Burtt Harris

Cinematographer:

Andrzej Bartkowiak

Editor:

Peter C. Frank

Production Designer:

Philip Rosenberg
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HISTORY

The film begins with a close-up of actor Timothy Hutton as “Daniel Isaacson,” performing a monologue about capitol punishment and electrocution. The passage continues intermittently throughout the film. The narrative weaves in between the present-day life of Daniel Isaacson and the past lives of his parents, “Paul” and “Rochelle,” who met as young political revolutionaries in 1940s New York City and were executed in the 1950s for espionage. Daniel and his sister, “Susan” are portrayed as youths in these sequences, which depict their happy childhood at their father’s radio repair shop, their family vacation with a socialist group to a Paul Robeson rally, their parents’ arrest, and their subsequent escape from an orphanage. The picture is framed by newsreel footage of anti-Vietnam War demonstrations.
       Although a 17 Oct 1973 HR news item announced that producers David Susskind and Abby Mann had acquired screen rights to E. L. Doctorow’s The Book of Daniel (New York, 1971), with plans for Mann to adapt the novel into a feature film, the project remained in limbo until late Mar 1982, when DV reported that Sidney Lumet optioned a screenplay, written by Doctorow. The deal was announced in a 31 Mar 1982 DV column, which stated that Zanuck/Brown Productions was considering the project. At that time, Lumet was directing The Verdict (1982, see entry) for Zanuck/Brown, but the studio eventually decided against The Book of Daniel. A 1 Jul 1982 NYT article explained that Lumet submitted the property to various studios thirty-three times over a decade, long before Mar 1982, but executives were ... More Less

The film begins with a close-up of actor Timothy Hutton as “Daniel Isaacson,” performing a monologue about capitol punishment and electrocution. The passage continues intermittently throughout the film. The narrative weaves in between the present-day life of Daniel Isaacson and the past lives of his parents, “Paul” and “Rochelle,” who met as young political revolutionaries in 1940s New York City and were executed in the 1950s for espionage. Daniel and his sister, “Susan” are portrayed as youths in these sequences, which depict their happy childhood at their father’s radio repair shop, their family vacation with a socialist group to a Paul Robeson rally, their parents’ arrest, and their subsequent escape from an orphanage. The picture is framed by newsreel footage of anti-Vietnam War demonstrations.
       Although a 17 Oct 1973 HR news item announced that producers David Susskind and Abby Mann had acquired screen rights to E. L. Doctorow’s The Book of Daniel (New York, 1971), with plans for Mann to adapt the novel into a feature film, the project remained in limbo until late Mar 1982, when DV reported that Sidney Lumet optioned a screenplay, written by Doctorow. The deal was announced in a 31 Mar 1982 DV column, which stated that Zanuck/Brown Productions was considering the project. At that time, Lumet was directing The Verdict (1982, see entry) for Zanuck/Brown, but the studio eventually decided against The Book of Daniel. A 1 Jul 1982 NYT article explained that Lumet submitted the property to various studios thirty-three times over a decade, long before Mar 1982, but executives were reportedly uncomfortable with its controversial subject. While neither the film nor the novel refer to Julius and Ethel Rosenberg by name, the narrative explores the couple’s 1953 execution for divulging atomic secrets to the Soviet Union, and the impact it might have had on their children. Lumet told the NYT that the Rosenberg story was generally a source of discomfort and “embarrassment” to Americans, and producers were reluctant to invest in a picture that did not have a guaranteed audience.
       When The Book of Daniel was on hold, E. L. Doctorow published his first bestseller, Ragtime (New York, 1975), and Lumet directed a series of hit movies, including Dog Day Afternoon (1975, see entry) and Network (1976, see entry), giving them a more viable box-office reputation. In mid-May 1982, entrepreneur John Heyman offered to recruit investors for The Book of Daniel and secured $8.2 million in six weeks. Lumet agreed to work for Directors Guild scale instead of his standard $1.5 million fee, and Doctorow was paid the Writers Guild minimum for his screenplay, as well as an executive producer credit.
       On 26 Jun 1982, HR reported that casting was underway, and Mandy Patinkin had recently been hired to costar with Timothy Hutton. One month later, a 28 Jul 1982 HR column stated that filming was set to take place at Astoria Studios in Queens, NY, and a 6 Oct 1982 Var article confirmed that principal photography began on 27 Sep 1982. Shooting was scheduled to continue through mid-Nov 1982, according to a 5 Nov 1982 Backstage news item that referred to the picture by its new title, Daniel.
       In the first week of production, a 1 Oct 1982 DV article announced a financing, production, and distribution partnership between John Heyman’s Film Writers Co. and Paramount Pictures. The deal had been in the works for four months, and marked the first enterprise in Paramount’s new “production acquisition” strategy, in which independent film companies financed foreign distribution while Paramount covered domestic release. Although the project was initially developed outside Paramount’s jurisdiction, the studio maintained the same authority as “in-house” productions, with approval rights to script, casting, budget, and packaging.
       End credits include: “Portions filmed at Astoria Studios, Astoria, New York,” and, “The producers wish to thank: The Mayor’s Office for Motion Pictures & Television; Trans World Airlines.”
More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Backstage
5 Nov 1982.
---
Daily Variety
31 Mar 1982.
---
Daily Variety
1 Oct 1982
p. 1, 39.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Oct 1973.
---
Hollywood Reporter
26 Jun 1982.
---
Hollywood Reporter
28 Jul 1982.
---
Hollywood Reporter
24 Aug 1983
p. 3, 21.
Los Angeles Times
23 Sep 1983
p. 1.
New York Times
1 Jul 1982.
---
New York Times
26 Aug 1983
p. 10.
Variety
6 Oct 1982.
---
Variety
24 Aug 1983
p. 14.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A John Heyman Production
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
DGA trainee
DGA trainee
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
Exec prod
Exec prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
Asst cam
Asst cam
Gaffer
Best boy
Rigging gaffer
Key grip
Best boy
Dolly grip
Rigging grip
ART DIRECTOR
Prod des
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Apprentice ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set dec
Set dresser
Prop master
Props
Const foreman
Const grip
Scenic artist
COSTUMES
Ward
MUSIC
Traditional songs sung by
Addl mus
Paul Robeson recordings courtesy of
Piano accompaniment by
Incidental mus by
SOUND
Sd mixer
Sd boom
Re-rec mixer
VISUAL EFFECTS
MAKEUP
Makeup
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Unit mgr
Scr supv
Prod office coord
Transportation capt
Loc coord
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod auditor
Unit pub
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col by
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel The Book of Daniel by E. L. Doctorow (New York, 1971).
SONGS
"Peat Bog Soldiers," sung by Paul Robeson, courtesy of CBS Masterworks
"Give Peace A Chance," by John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
PERFORMER
DETAILS
Alternate Titles:
The Night Daniel Died
The Book of Daniel
Release Date:
26 August 1983
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 26 August 1983
Los Angeles opening: 23 September 1983
Production Date:
27 September--mid November 1982
Copyright Claimant:
Paramount Pictures Corporation
Copyright Date:
28 March 1984
Copyright Number:
PA207389
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Lenses
Lenses and Panaflex® camera by Panavision®
Prints
Prints in Metrocolor®
Duration(in mins):
129
MPAA Rating:
R
Countries:
United Kingdom, United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
37035
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

At a holiday meal, siblings Daniel and Susan Isaacson argue about the legacy of their parents, Paul and Rochelle, who were executed for allegedly leaking atomic secrets to the Soviet Union. Susan, who has emerged from a troubled youth to become a political revolutionary, wants to invest her inheritance in an endowment for the anti-Vietnam War movement called the Isaacson Foundation, but Daniel does not wish to resurrect the controversial family name. A husband and father-to-be, Daniel is not in favor of radical uprising, and believes the world’s problems are best resolved intellectually. Susan is outraged by Daniel’s dismissal of the foundation and accuses the young man of giving their parents a second death sentence by “killing” their endowment. As the siblings become estranged, Susan attempts suicide and is institutionalized, but Daniel argues for her release, insisting that her depression is a result of childhood trauma. When Daniel reunites with Susan at the sanitarium, she warns that the government is still trying to destroy their family and he decides to initiate the Isaacson Foundation, after all. To publicize the budding institution, Daniel meets a journalist who studied his parents’ case and learns about newly declassified documents. The records prove the government used fraudulent evidence against the Isaacsons, but the reporter still believes the couple to be guilty, and warns Daniel against using the foundation to clear the family name. Hoping to uncover the truth, Daniel goes on a quest of self-discovery and becomes more aware of his parents’ political idealism, as well as their involvement in the Communist Party. Daniel’s adoptive father, Robert Lewin, who worked as a young lawyer ... +


At a holiday meal, siblings Daniel and Susan Isaacson argue about the legacy of their parents, Paul and Rochelle, who were executed for allegedly leaking atomic secrets to the Soviet Union. Susan, who has emerged from a troubled youth to become a political revolutionary, wants to invest her inheritance in an endowment for the anti-Vietnam War movement called the Isaacson Foundation, but Daniel does not wish to resurrect the controversial family name. A husband and father-to-be, Daniel is not in favor of radical uprising, and believes the world’s problems are best resolved intellectually. Susan is outraged by Daniel’s dismissal of the foundation and accuses the young man of giving their parents a second death sentence by “killing” their endowment. As the siblings become estranged, Susan attempts suicide and is institutionalized, but Daniel argues for her release, insisting that her depression is a result of childhood trauma. When Daniel reunites with Susan at the sanitarium, she warns that the government is still trying to destroy their family and he decides to initiate the Isaacson Foundation, after all. To publicize the budding institution, Daniel meets a journalist who studied his parents’ case and learns about newly declassified documents. The records prove the government used fraudulent evidence against the Isaacsons, but the reporter still believes the couple to be guilty, and warns Daniel against using the foundation to clear the family name. Hoping to uncover the truth, Daniel goes on a quest of self-discovery and becomes more aware of his parents’ political idealism, as well as their involvement in the Communist Party. Daniel’s adoptive father, Robert Lewin, who worked as a young lawyer in the Isaacson defense, explains that the government was eager to scapegoat a common enemy during the Cold War, and the Isaacson case provided a convenient and well-publicized opportunity to display America’s intolerance for Communism. Federal agents forced a confession from the Isaacson’s dentist friend, Selig Mindish, and convicted the couple without real evidence. Believing Mindish holds the true story behind his parents’ case, Daniel travels to Orange County, California, where Mindish’s daughter, Linda, grudgingly takes him to her father’s nursing home. Although the senile gentleman recognizes Daniel, he is unable to speak, and the boy remains unresolved about his parents’ involvement in the conspiracy. However, Daniel is certain that his parents’ devotion to political freedom would have prevented them from betraying their associates. He speculates the Isaacsons may have sacrificed their lives in principle, to protect another couple that was guilty of espionage. With newfound appreciation of his parents’ courage, Daniel reunites with his wife and infant child, but his sister, Susan, is unable to come to terms with the past and succumbs to her mental illness. In the wake of Susan’s death, Daniel honors the Isaacson legacy by marching in mass anti-Vietnam War protests, supporting the ongoing fight for justice, liberty, and world peace. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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