The Right of the People (1986) Needs Amending
Sometimes, even the worst film will have a moment…a scene…a shot…that elevates it and lends it some value. Such is a dream-like sequence in The Right of the People, a 1986 best-forgotten made-for-TV movie starring Michael Ontkean, Billy Dee Williams, and Jane Kaczmarek. In a surreal recreation of an earlier scene, two gunmen enter a restaurant intending to rob it but every patron and employee of the restaurant pulls out a weapon and aims at the perps. The scene uses camera angles and a rhythm that do not match the rest of the movie, thereby making it memorable…and The Right of the People is far from memorable.
Like many films that exploit a controversial issue, in this case gun control and the right to carry, The Right of the People presents two polar opposites, no middle ground, and a lot of clichés. After a restaurant-robbery-gone-bad, prosecutor Christopher Wells (Ontkean) campaigns to pass “Proposition G” in his midsized town, St. Lawrence. Proposition G would allow everyone over 18 years of age with no criminal record and no history of mental illness (that leaves a lot of folks out) to carry a gun, concealed or openly. Much to the dismay of the chief of police (John Randolph) and a city councilwoman, the proposition passes by an overwhelming majority (perhaps the anti-gun brigade was kept away from the polls at gunpoint).
After a comical scene in which citizens are shown arming themselves in various ways (including the infamous garter-holstered gun), the audience meets a genuine wacko who plays with his guns and seems destined to go nuts in a public place. In another comical scene, two would-be armed robbers enter a store only to find that everyone there is carrying, and they skedaddle (sorry, no other word adequately describes the action) out of there wondering if everyone in this town is crazy. Later an unlikely hero shoots four escaping robbers who shot several people in a grocery store. As would be expected in an anti-gun movie, there are several incidents in which guns are drawn for trivial reasons while everyone anxiously awaits a fender-bender that will result in a shooting.Continued on the next page