Maibelle Heikes Justice
“Mr. Osbourn took me to the deathhouse at the New York State penitentiary in order that I might secure better local color for my film drama, Who Shall Take My Life?” writer Maibelle Heikes is quoted in the Atlanta Constitution, explaining her research process for the 1917 film. She entered Sing Sing prison with an order from the New York Supreme Court of New York (D4). Written by Justice and directed by Colin Campbell, Who Shall Take My Life? (1917) tells the story of Big Bill O’Shaughnessy, a man convicted and executed for the murder of a woman who, after his execution, is discovered to be still alive. Although at times described as anti-capital punishment propaganda, the film was also appreciated in the press for its high level of realism and notably sparked intense discussion because of its strong moral and political stance. The Moving Picture World review mentions a screening for members of the Chicago branch of the Anti-Capital Punishment Society of America attended by prominent politician and citizen supporters (1800). Maibelle Heikes Justice was no stranger to the thorny political and emotional questions raised by the US legal system. The Moving Picture World review explained that she was the daughter of prominent Indiana jurist James Monroe Justice and speculated that quite possibly the screenwriter was familiar with many cases of “miscarried” justice, which produced the suffering of the innocent for crimes they never committed. “Miss Heikes Justice,” the writer asserts, is “an ardent opponent of capital punishment” who produces in her photoplay a “most convincing argument in favor of her belief” (1800).
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