August 27, 2009

From Page to Screen: August 27, 2009

My pick today is based on the date and my general obsession with this case.

Fatal Vision by Joe McGinniss (1984) to Fatal Vision (1984)

Once again, I saw the televised (not cinematic) version of this story first and became so enraptured in the two-part miniseries (remember those?) that I immediately got myself to the local B. Dalton (before The Mother Ship became a neighborhood fixture) to pick up a copy of the book, which would become very worn over the next handful of years as I read and re-read.

There have been several books throughout the years written about the infamous Jeffrey MacDonald/Green Beret Murder case, although Fatal Vision was the first and probably the standard. Joe McGinniss was hired by MacDonald and his defense team during the criminal trial in 1979 to write an account of MacDonald's long journey to justice (the murders happened in 1970) as an allegedly innocent man. McGinniss, after the conclusion of the trial and MacDonald's conviction and after examining the evidence presented by both sides, came to believe MacDonald was guilty of the crimes and Fatal Vision was born. McGinniss' tome is unique in that he had full cooperation from MacDonald, his family, friends and defense attorneys - - and had taped "conversations" that MacDonald made for him from prison. Fatal Vision is a fascinating look at a narcissistic mind and at MacDonald's father-in-law's determined efforts to see that his daughter's and granddaughters' killer was punished.

This is one of the better true crime books I have read. Along with Christina Masewicz' Scales of Justice as a companion read, it's the definitive account of the MacDonald murders. And just for the record, I believed MacDonald to be innocent, or possibly innocent, for years. After a re-read of Fatal Vision and reading Scales of Justice, I believe he is exactly where he should be.

The 1984 miniseries version is a miniseries done right, from start to finish. The topic is interesting and worth filming. The casting is superb - - Gary Cole is a dedicated husband, father and doctor in part one, and a frightening, on-the-edge man by part two. He is unbelievably chilling. He even physically resembles the real MacDonald. Karl Malden as father-in-law Freddy Kassab is made of win - - in fact, Malden was deservedly nominated for an Emmy for this performance. The lovely and underrated Eva Marie Saint plays his wife Mildred and Andy Griffith plays attorney Victor Woerheide. The acting is stellar and regardless of your personal views on guilt or innocence, Fatal Vision is not to be missed. One of the better, if not one of the best, miniseries to come out of the 80s. I dare any viewer to not watch this and be emotionally vested in it.
By the way, the date I mentioned above is an anniversary of sorts. Thirty years ago today (August 27, 1979), Jeffrey MacDonald was convicted of three counts of murder and sentenced to life in prison in a North Carolina courtroom.


Tales of Whimsy said...

I've never heard of this before. Cool.

Jenny said...

I've never heard of this, but I wanted to comment to say I remember B.Dalton! Were they the ones who turned into Waldenbooks or were they competitors? I never see B. Dalton now but I know one of the malls here has a Waldenbooks.

Lori Johnston said...

Great book, awesome miniseries, fascinating case. I've been hooked since 1984. No joke.

Jenny, B. Dalton is owned by The Mother Ship (aka Barnes & Noble). I think as more and more B&Ns popped up, they closed the B. Daltons (which were primarily mall locations anyhow). It's rare that I see any bookstore in a mall nowadays - - sniff, sniff. As much as I love The Mother Ship, I always harbored a secret dream to open my own little bookshop.

Rita said...

I remember this. After watching the mini series, I had to fight my mom to read the book. I read much faster than she, being a Jr high student and not working as she did, so she let me read it first. I never knew what to believe. Perhaps if I read it with "adult" eyes my view would change.

thanks for reminding me of this.

Lori Johnston said...

Rita, try reading it again as an adult. My mindset today is very different than it was when I read this as a teen. Also, check out Christina Masewicz' website She wrote "Scales of Justice", attended the criminal trial and her website is a wealth of information. She started as a believer of his innocence and changed her mind after the trial and checking all evidence.