Daniel (1983): Sidney Lumet’s Adaptation of Doctorow Novel Starring Timothy Hutton and Lindsay Crouse

One of Sidney Lumet’s uncharacteristically unfocused films, Daniel, the controversial adaptation of E.L. Doctorow’s 1971 novel “The Book of Daniel” concerns the lives of the children (played by Timothy Hutton and Lindsay Crouse) of a couple of “traitors.”

The parents are patterned after Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were executed for atomic espionage conspiracy in 1953.

In the book and the movie, they are called Paul and Rochelle Isaacson, and their drama is seen largely through the eyes of their children, who must confront their painful heritage in order to deal with their own lives in during the politicized 1960s.

The movie is thematically provocative but dramatically flawed. In this version, Daniel Isaacson tries but fails to find out if his parents were innocent of plotting to get defense secrets for the Soviet Union. He comes up with a theory that another couple might have been real spies, and that they were somehow protected and able to flee. Leaving this issue unresolved frustrated many critics and viewers, who expected to get more out of such an intriguing saga.

Moreover, critics debated at the time the issue of the “moral responsibility” of such inflammatory topic to the real facts. In response, Doctorow and Lumet said that ‘Daniel” was inspired by the case, but that there was no attempt to be historically accurate.

The cast features excellent character actors, such as Mandy Patinkin, Edward Asner, Ellen Barkin, Julie Bovasso, Tovah Feldshuh, Joseph Leon, Amanda Plummer, and John Rubinstein.

Running Time: 130 Minutes