The makers of “Twilight Zone: The Movie” were portrayed by a prosecutor Wednesday as careless men who placed children in harm’s way and caused their violent deaths.
But a defense attorney said an explosives expert, who will testify for the prosecution, is to blame for the tragedy.
Defense lawyer James Neal, calling the movie-set accident “unforeseen and unforeseeable,” told jurors that the explosion that sent a helicopter careening to earth was caused by a special effects operator who triggered explosives at the wrong time.
Neal blamed James Camomille for the mishap, saying he “violated the first principle of a special effects man--to make sure the area is clear before you set off the special effect.”
Landis’ attorney also noted that his client was standing five or six feet from the crash and that, had the helicopter tilted differently, it would have killed Landis.
Landis’ position showed that he did not expect the crash and did not think the scene was particularly dangerous, Neal said.
Neal spoke after Deputy Dist. Atty. Lea Purwin D’Agostino concluded a lengthy opening statement in which she told jurors to be prepared for films that will show them in detail how actor Vic Morrow and two small children were killed.
“You are going to see that nothing in that scene was an illusion,” she said. “These were not deaths where someone could get up and wipe the bloody-looking ketchup off. These were real deaths.”
Speaking in a jammed courtroom, she described the powerful explosions that rocked the outdoor movie location during a July 23, 1982, rehearsal and quoted Landis as telling a worried co-worker: “This is just a warm-up for what’s coming. You haven’t seen anything yet. Don’t be so squeamish.”
D’Agostino, focusing on the hiring of two small children for a Vietnamese sequence in the movie, told jurors that Landis could not be persuaded to use dolls or midgets but insisted that real children be placed in the scene featuring explosives and a low-flying helicopter.
When a casting agency balked at the idea, the prosecutor said Landis’ retort was: “The hell with you. We’ll get the children ourselves. We’ll get them off the street if we have to.”
She also quoted associate producer George Folsey as joking about the hiring of the children in violation of labor codes.
“Ho, ho, we’ll probably wind up in jail for this,” were the words she said Folsey spoke.
Landis, associate producer Folsey and three other members of the film crew are charged with involuntary manslaughter in the case, which puts Hollywood’s safety regulations and movie-making procedures on trial.
Besides Landis and Folsey, unit production manager Dan Allingham, special effects coordinator Paul Stewart and pilot Dorcey Wingo are on trial. Landis, director of such box office hits as “Animal House” and “Trading Places,” is the first director ever to face criminal charges for a movie set mishap.
There was standing room only in the courtroom of Superior Court Judge Roger W. Boren for the opening evidentiary session, which comes more than four years after actor Vic Morrow and the two children, Renee Chen, 6, and Myca Le, 7, died in the hills of Indian Dunes, 30 miles north of Los Angeles, in one of the worst movie accidents ever.
Morrow, 53, had been instructed to carry one child under each arm as he waded through a river during a mock Vietnam War sequence. Explosions were going off, and a helicopter was to fly in to rescue him, but the copter was buffeted by the explosions, went out of control and crashed on top of Morrow and the children.
The parents of the two children watched from the river bank as one of them was decapitated and the other crushed under the aircraft. Morrow also was decapitated.
The charges against the “Twilight Zone” five, unprecedented in movie history, allege that the defendants acted in such a reckless and negligent manner that they caused the deaths of the victims.