The Sheppard's Son
As a 7 year old Sam (Bradley Reid, Jonathan Kroeker, Henry Czerny) was woken up in the early hours of July 4, 1954 as police swarmed through his home after his mother Marilyn (Lindsay Frost) was murdered and his father Dr. Sam Sheppard (Peter Strauss - Texas Justice) was arrested on suspicion of killing her. He also remembered the day that the judge sentenced his father to life in prison and all the media surrounding his father's trial. In fact Sam's whole life is haunted by those days and now as a grown up he sets about proving his father was innocent once and for all.
For those who are unaware the true story of Dr. Sam Sheppard is said to have been the inspiration for the television series "The Fugitive" and therefore in turn the inspiration for the plot of the Harrison Ford movie "The Fugitive". But that doesn't mean "Death in the Shadows: The Sam Sheppard Story" is just another version of "The Fugitive" as whilst it partly dramatizes Dr. Sam Sheppard's story and his own fight for justice in the years following his arrest and incarceration it is also the story of his son Sam and how into his grown up years he felt a need to prove his father not guilty once and for all.
What does that mean? Well what it means is "Death in the Shadows: The Sam Sheppard Story" is a movie which shifts between differend eras as it tells the story from Sam's point of view. Early on we see his experiences as a 7 year old who gets woken up on that night in 1954 to see his father being arrested before going to live with his Uncle and then getting sent to a military academy. But through this we get to see the dramatization of the historic events as we see the media furore surrounding the initial trial as his father is sentenced to life for murder. We also see his father's life after he wins his appeal where he enters the world of wrestling after the medical community turned its back on him.
But what we also see is Sam as a grown man in the 90s who still feels that his father was innocent and is determined once and for all to clear his father's name. Of course for those who are aware of Sam Sheppard's story will know his story was far from straight forwards as whilst 10 years after he was sentenced to life his lawyers won his release on appeal there was always speculation as to his involvement in the murder. Plus there was a handyman who having been thrown in prison for another murder is said to have confessed to Marilyn's murder. All these things combine to make "Death in the Shadows: The Sam Sheppard Story" interesting from a crime story point of view.
But there is more and there is a side to "Death in the Shadows: The Sam Sheppard Story" which will not be for everyone as we have Sam feeling haunted by his father. This is shown by Sam often having conversations with his late father who appears to him and whilst it allows for Sam's inner turmoil to come to the surface it almost feels too literal when we see Sam and his father talking. Although it does mean that we have Henry Czerny and Peter Strauss sharing scenes which ironically are where "Death in the Shadows: The Sam Sheppard Story" is at its best as they bring to life the conflicted feelings which Sam struggles with. In truth all the performances through out the movie are of a higher standard than you would usually see in a TV movie and the recreation of the various eras is also of a high standard.
What this all boils down to is that "Death in the Shadows: The Sam Sheppard Story" is a fascinating drama which whilst having an issue or two has a great look, great pace and great performances which are much better than you expect from a TV movie.