Skip to main content
The Independent Critic

Archival Footage of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg
Alvin Goldstein
90 Mins.

 "The Unquiet Death of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg" Review 
Add to favorites
Debate will likely linger forever regarding the fate of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were convicted in 1953 of conspiracy to commit espionage for allegedly passing off information about the recently developed atomic bomb to the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union, in turn, just so happened to produce their own atomic bomb after the Americans had dropped their bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Were Julius and Ethel Rosenberg members of the Communisty Party? The couple actually met as members of the Young Communist League, a fact filmmaker Alvin Goldstein points out, that is more indicative of their desire for a better life for the poor than their preference for a desired political system.

Filmed in 1974 by documentarian Alvin Goldstein, The Unquiet Death of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg looks at the facts and procedures of the Rosenberg case, the climate of the times (including the soon to be realized McCarthy era) and incorporates interviews with lawyers, FBI agents, jurors and even the couple's two surviving sons to create a stark and powerful human drama about two people who were involved, perhaps, in something far bigger than they could ever realize and who, in turn, paid a far bigger price than anyone could ever expect.

It is disturbing to note, as Goldstein does, that no other individual convicted for this incident was executed and, in fact, 17 years was the maximum served by anyone else centrally involved in the case. The simple truth is, and I think most involved in justice issues have an opinion on the Rosenberg-Sobell case, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were, indeed, convicted out of the anti-Communist post-war hysteria in the United States that spiraled into the McCarthy Era when justice became a joke and anyone who dissented from popular opinion or patriotism became the accused. Dropping into this environment the Rosenberg's, an admittedly anti-Capitalist couple whose involvement in Communism was easily verifiable, it's hard not to wonder if the United States government simply found them to be the ideal "example" for a dissenting public.

The joy, and I use the word joy very loosely here, of Goldstein's film, is that it creates all of these questions and makes you want to immediately begin researching the Rosenberg case for yourself. While the film is undeniably and, perhaps a touch inappropriately, sympathetic towards the Rosenberg's, Goldstein wonderfully researches both sides of the issue and presents interviews, research and archival footage supporting both sides of the case.

One inevitable downfall of re-releasing an older documentary is that since the film was first produced in 1974, additional information and evidence has been released, by both the United States and Soviet Union. Yet, on a certain level, having this knowledge only makes Goldstein's film more intriguing and his evidence that more convicting of the United States. It has become evident that, at the bare minimum, Julius Rosenberg was a recruiter for the Soviets, a fact brought forth in court testimony and, undoubtedly, a rather damning fact against Rosenberg. Evidence against Ethel Rosenberg remains slight and unconvincing at best, she perhaps being a woman who was convicted more for her sympathies towards Communism and her refusal to throw her husband under the bus alone.

Indeed, the greatest crime of the Rosenberg's may very well have been their own refusal to admit guilt, a fact that distinguished them from the others convicted in the case. This staunch denial of their guilt and the paranoia of the times may very well have sealed their fate.

Created with tremendous attention to detail, intelligently constructed and paced in such a way that even the very heady archival footage never becomes bland or boring, The Unquiet Death of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg is a "must have" for any fans of full-length documentaries.

The Unquiet Death of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg has been digitally remastered as part of the FACETS "Limited Edition" series and is being released on April 27, 2010. Visits the FACETS website to pre-order the DVD.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic