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SEPARATE BUT EQUAL

For Hicksflicks.com, Jan. 10, 2014

"Separate But Equal" (1991) is an excellent true story, a two-part TV movie (or miniseries, if you prefer) about the Brown vs. the Board of Education case that went before the Supreme Court in 1954, which struck down state laws regarding segregated schools.

Sidney Poitier stars as Thurgood Marshall, the lawyer who would go on to become the first black U.S. Supreme Court justice, here representing the NAACP. On the other side is Burt Lancaster as John W. Davis, clear-eyed and generous but strict as to points of law. And Richard Kiley is Chief Justice Earl Warren, attempting in the film's second half to rally the justices to a unanimous vote to signal to the country their unity on this vital issue.

The film is specific in its demonstration of the legal procedures involved but it's never boring and quite educational. And all three stars are top-notch (this was Lancaster's last film before his death), as are supporting players Cleavon Little, Lynne Thigpen and others.

The result is a fascinating treatise on the difficulties of a complex constitutional issue, which in this case is legal but which most everyone involved agrees is wrong. How it is resolved makes for a rare film that is both entertaining and enlightening.

This is a budget-priced reissue of "Separate But Equal," which was initially released on DVD in 2003, and before that on VHS in 1996. The film has long been out of print so here is your chance to see for the fist time or revisit a stirring film.

And it serves as a reminder that network-television movies were once a staple of prime-time TV and were occasionally brilliant.