The Thin Blue Line

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The Thin Blue Line (1988) is a documentary film concerning the murder of a Texas police officer who had stopped a car for a routine traffic citation. The documentary presents testimony suggesting that the police altered, fabricated, and suppressed evidence to convict the man they wanted to be guilty, in spite of evidence to the contrary. The Thin Blue Line is American filmmaker Errol Morris' third film.

Quotes from The Thin Blue Line[edit]

  • He, of course, almost overacted his innocence: he protested he hadn't done anything, couldn't imagine why we were bringing him in. He didn't fight or he didn't resist. He just protested his innocence.
    • Gus Rose, homicide detective in Dallas
  • And we sort of tried to inquire: didn't he think it was a little strange that there was a robbery committed with that same pistol, and here it was David Harris' pistol, David Harris' automobile that picked up Randall Adams, didn't he think it was a little odd that all the utensils for committing this so-called murder were committed… were… were furnished by David Harris who got off scott free and was being a witness for the prosecution? And all he said was "Well, ho-hum, we don't feel that was in Vidor, Texas. Our people just are not that… we're not that keen on ruining a young man's life.
    • Edith James, defense attorney
  • Yeah, when I was a kid I used to want to be a detective all the time because I used to watch all the detective shows on TV. When I was a kid they used to show these movies with Boston Blacki and he always had a woman with him. And I wanted to be a wife of a detective or be a detective, so I always watching detective stories. I'm always looking because I never know what might come up. Or how I could help. I like to help in situations like that. I really do. It's always happening to me, everywhere I go, you know, lot of times there's killing or anything, even around my house. Wherever. And I'm always looking or getting involved, you know, find out who did it, or what's going on. I listen to people. And I'm always trying to decide who's lying or who killed who before the police do. See if I can beat them. Yeah.
    • Emily Miller, surprise eyewitness
  • I'm a salesman. And you develop something like total recall. I don't forget places, things, or streets, because it's a habit. Something I just picked up. I just stare intensely at people and try to figure them out. Being nosey, I just stare. I was leaving the Plush Pub one night, driving a 1977 Cadillac, heading west on Hampton. I noticed a officer had two individuals pulled over to the curb in a blue … some type of vehicle. It was… it was a blue…it was a blue… I think… it was a blue Ford. It was a blue something.
    • Michael Randell, third surprise witness
  • I always tried very hard — every judge I know of does — to not show emotion on the bench. The reason: if you do show emotion, the jury might take it that you're favoring on side or another. So you try to remain passive, emotionless, objective. I do have to admit that in the Adam's case — and I've never really said this — Doug Mulder's final argument was one I'd never heard before: about the "thin blue line" of police that separate the public from anarchy. I have to conceded that my eyes kind of welled up when I heard that. It did get to me emotionally, but I don't think I showed it.
    • Don Metcalfe, judge, Criminal District Court No. 2 in Dallas
  • You have a D.A., he doesn't talk about when they convict you or how they convict you, he's talking about how he's going to kill you. He don't give a damn if you're innocent. He don't give a damn if you're guilty. He's talking about killing you. You get numb. You get…It's like a bad dream. You want to wake up but you can't do it.
    • Randall Adams, convicted murderer of officer Robert Wood
  • He went over my testimony with me, pretty extensively, instructed me how I should testify, et cetera, how I should answer certain questions, things of this nature. That's what you call "coaching the witness", you know. Let's get this evidence in the spectrum where it's going to be most effective. At the same time, I didn't really ponder on it, but he was deceiving the jury, see. He wanted to deceive Justice. That's why I think that statute with the scales, Justice… what is she called? I don't know that she called. She's got that blindfold on. We don't see what goes on behind the closed doors.
    • David Harris, death-row inmate
  • My mom had a good phrase. She said the first night she pulled into Dallas, it was raining, that it was lightning. And they're coming into Dallas and she said if there was ever a hell on earth, it's Dallas County. She's right. She's right.
    • Randall Adams, convicted murderer of officer Robert Wood
  • Since his trial I have given up my practice of criminal law. I have not had a jury trial since I heard the verdict of this jury in this case, and don't intend to. I just feel like I'll let other people handle these problems for a while because if justice can miscarry so badly, I'd rather do something else.
    • Dennis White, defense attorney

Quotes about The Thin Blue Line[edit]

  • Our criminal justice system, on paper, is the best in the world… but we're human, and so we make mistakes. If you execute and execute and execute, at some point you will execute an innocent man.
  • I like to call Errol the Easter Bunny. I needed somebody to gather up all these facts and put them in one basket. He went and did his investigative work, and everything we're doing now is because of what he did with his investigation of the facts. That is what The Thin Blue Line did for me.
    • Randall Adams, quoted in "Predilections" by Mark Singer
  • The Thin Blue Line was a project done by Errol Morris and though it helped me by taking my case to the public, I could not win my freedom in a theater. It had to be achieved in a courtroom. After my release, Mr. Morris felt he had the exclusive rights to my life story. He did not. Therefore, it became necessary to file an injunction to sort out any legal questions on the issue. The matter was resolved before having to go before a judge. Mr. Morris reluctantly conceded that I had the sole rights to my own life. I did not sue Errol Morris for any money or any percentages of The Thin Blue Line, though the media portrayed it that way.
  • It seems like my whole life is surrounded by "wrongs" of some kind and it seems like I've never done the right thing when I could and should have. Absolving Randall Dale Adams of any guilt is a difficult thing for me to do, but I must try to do so because he is innocent. That is the I truth.
    • David Harris in a letter he wrote to his mother, September, 1988; quoted in "Predilections" by Mark Singer
  • The movie wasn't accurate. It wasn't, you know. I went along because he said what the heck, it's a movie. He tried to make me look like trash.
    • Emily Miller during Randall Adams' habeas corpus hearing; quoted in "Predilections" by Mark Singer
  • The re-enactments in The Thin Blue Line were never used to make you think you were looking at the real world. In fact, they were ironic re-enactments, re-enactments that were in conflict with each other, re-enactments that were demonstrations of falsehood, re-enactments of beliefs, re-enactments of what people claimed that they had seen rather than what I thought they had seen. And the purpose of them was to bring you deeper and deeper and deeper into the mystery of what actually happened. And to heighten the conflict between the claims made by the various witnesses and the reality of that world out there. Because, after all, there is a world out there in which things happen or don't happen.
  • I've had people accuse me of being responsible for reenactment television, for infotainment television … The reenactments have been widely imitated, but the use of graphics in the Thin Blue Line, the use of close-ups of words, or parts of an actual document, is also something that has been imitated widely. It's now seen — and I could be wrong about this. I could have my history of the documentary confused and reinterpreted by myself in a self-serving way, I'm not sure — but I believe my use of these close-ups was something that's unusual and originates with Thin Blue Line. So I like to think of it as not the convention, but something that's come to be imitated widely. Even by myself.

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