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Star of the Month: Jane Powell
Remind Me

Marie: A True Story

"Criminals went free. Officials were bribed. Witnesses were threatened. The F.B.I. couldn't stop it. One woman did. She challenged the State of Tennessee and put criminal justice on trial," read the taglines for Marie: A True Story (1985). Starring Sissy Spacek, the film continued the then-vogue for movies about real-life women who worked to uncover corruption within industries and governments. Sally Field took on the unions in Norma Rae (1979), Meryl Streep fought against the nuclear power industry in Silkwood (1983), and two years later, Spacek fought crooked Tennessee politicians.

Filmed on location in Nashville and at the Tennessee State Penitentiary, Marie: A True Story was directed by Roger Donaldson, from a screenplay by John Briley, based on the 1983 book by Peter Maas. Marie Ragghianti (Spacek) leaves her abusive husband in the late 1960s, and goes to school as a single mother with three children. Thanks to a college friend (Jeff Daniels), she gets a job in Governor Ray Blanton's (Don Hood) administration, and works her way up to being the first women to head the Tennessee state parole board. While on the job, she begins to see that the Blanton and his staff are taking bribes from prisoners in exchange for early release. Marie loses her job after she refuses to go along with the corruption, and finds herself up against a very powerful political machine. She fights the good fight, but it comes at a price. Also in the cast were Keith Szarabajka, Morgan Freeman, and John Cullum. Fred Thompson, who had been the attorney for the real Marie, plays himself. It would be his first of many acting roles.

Marie was a role that Spacek couldn't turn down. As she told Bob Thomas, she had first heard the story from her brother, Ed, who was a record promoter in Memphis. When she found out that Maas had written a book about Ragghianti and Dino De Laurentis owned the rights, she felt "desperately" that they needed her. "It's important that I love the project, love the script, that I can relate to the character and yet not completely understand her so that I have to stretch myself. I like films that have a positive effect, an element of hope. When you spend so much time on a film, you have to think positively about it."

Roger Ebert thought positively about Marie: A True Story . In his review for the Chicago Sun-Times , he praised Spacek's performance, not minding that she had played a similar character before, because she played them so well. The film, he wrote, was "absorbing," and his only complaint was "that it's too predictable. There's never really any doubt in our minds that Marie will do the right thing."

By Lorraine LoBianco


Ebert, Roger "Marie: A True Story" Chicago Sun-Times 18 Oct 85
The Internet Movie Database
Thomas, Bob "Sissy Spacek Couldn't Turn Down Role in 'Marie'" Boca Raton News 13 Oct 85
Thomas, Bob "Sissy Spacek Scores Again in 'Marie: A True Story'" The Fort Scott Tribune 28 Sep 85