Release dateFebruary, 1986 WriterNorman Katkov (teleplay), Norman Katkov (novel)
Blood & Orchids is a 1986 made-for-TV crime-drama film. Written for the screen by Norman Katkov, it was an adaptation of Katkov's own novel which, in turn, was inspired by the 1932 Massie Trial in Honolulu, Hawaii. It was typical of many crime dramas produced during the period.
In 1937 Hawaii, four native Hawaiian men find a white woman, beaten nearly to death, and take her to a hospital—only to be charged later with her rape and assault. During their trial, the woman's husband, a lieutenant in the US Navy, fatally shoots one of them and later stands trial himself. The trial brings into stark relief the racial tensions that tear at the social fabric of Territorial Hawaii in the years prior to World War II.
Socialite Hester Ashley Murdoch (Madeleine Stowe) leaves an officers' dinner party at the US Naval base in Honolulu in the company of a man who is not her husband (Lieutenant Lloyd Murdoch, played by William Russ), but rather Lt. Murdoch's best friend. The friend coldly announces that he is terminating their relationship, though Hester is carrying his child. Outraged, she announces that she will tell her husband and the commanding admiral on the station. In retaliation, the friend beats her savagely and leaves her bloodied and battered where she lies.
Four young Hawaiian men find her and take her to a hospital, although they fear being blamed for the condition she is in because she is haole (white) and they are native Hawaiian. At the hospital, Hester's mother Doris (Jane Alexander) assumes that the Hawaiians are to blame, but Hester says, "It's nobody's fault; I was the pregnant one!" The shocked Doris tells her daughter that she must collaborate in Doris' campaign to blame the Hawaiians, saying that Hester must think of Doris' "position" in high society. Accordingly, the four are charged with rape and assault, although the only sexual intercourse that Hester had was consensual and not with any of the four.
Most of the law-enforcement officers involved, including the Honolulu Police Department and the Navy Shore Patrol, assume that the Hawaiians are guilty, but Detective Captain Curt Maddox (Kris Kristofferson) is unconvinced. Meanwhile, the Hawaiians get a court-appointed attorney who strives valiantly to show that the four must be innocent of the crime, because of time-line conflicts with the best estimate of when the beating took place. The trial of the four ends abruptly and tragically, though, when Lieutenant Murdoch, at the height of an at-the-bench discussion between the judge and the two opposing counsels, abruptly draws his service automatic and shoots the lead defendant twice in the head, killing him.
Now Murdoch must stand trial (in a civilian court) for murder in the first degree. Doris sends a wire to famed criminal attorney Walter Bergmann (Jose Ferrer), who agrees to defend Lieutenant Murdoch against the murder charge. The pretrial investigation is complicated by an affair between Detective Maddox and Mr. Bergmann's wife Leonore (Sean Young).
The case is further complicated when a number of Navy petty officers, all friends of Murdoch, kidnap the three remaining Hawaiians, tie them in spread-eagle fashion to an improvised rack, and beat them to get them to confess to the original alleged rape and assault. In the course of that particular atrocity, the Navy men repeatedly use the expression "bilge", which (at least according to the film) is common Navy slang for useless information or known falsehood. The lawyer for the Hawaiians interviews the three, after they are brought to a hospital and unable to lie on their backs because of the severe beatings they have received. There, they finally blurt out, "They said, 'Bilge!'" This gives the lawyer the vital clues he needs. Maddox follows up the clues and has the three arrested.
Murdoch's trial climaxes with Attorney Bergmann trying to sum up by saying that Murdoch's action was excusable. "Those animals beat her!" he cries; then Hester, plagued by her conscience, blurts out, "They're innocent! They're innocent!" Although Bergmann roughly escorts her from the courtroom, the damage is done: Murdoch is convicted.
Subsequently, Doris engages in a behavior called "brazening it out". She hires an interior decorator to redecorate her home. In the middle of her interview with the decorator, Detective Maddox arrives with a warrant for the arrests of Doris and Hester. Hester, crushed, rushes to her bathroom and hangs herself from the shower head. Doris discovers Hester's dead body and cries out in anguish, although whether that anguish is truly for losing her daughter or because this is the final shameful and devastating blow to her social position, the film leaves unresolved, perhaps deliberately so.
Kris Kristofferson as Detective Captain Curtis "Curt" Maddox, HPD
Jane Alexander as Doris Ashley
Sean Young as Leonore Bergmann (Walter Bergmann's wife)
Jose Ferrer as Walter Bergmann, counsellor-at-law
Susan Blakely as Marie Farrell
David Clennon as Philip Murray
George Coe as Dr. Lansing (who examines Hester)
Richard Dysart as Harvey Koster
Elizabeth Lindsey as Sarah
Haunani Minne as Princess Luahine (presumably a member of the deposed royal house of Hawaii, she breaks her self-imposed isolation to take up the cause of the four Hawaiians who are so ill-used by the haole community)
William Russ as Lieutenant Lloyd Murdoch USN
James Saito as Halehone (the Hawaiian lawyer who represents the accused men)
Matt Salinger as Bryce Parker
Madeleine Stowe as Hester Ashley Murdoch (Lloyd's wife)
Arthur Rosenberg as Sergeant Jack Keller
Sandy McPeak as Rear Admiral Glenn Langon, USN, (the 14th Naval District commandant)
Allusions to actual history
This film is based loosely on the trial of Lieutenant Thomas Massie USN, the real-life person that forms the basis of Lieutenant Murdoch. Names of real-life persons have been changed, as follows:
Captain Curt Maddox = Detective Sergeant John Jardine
Lloyd Murdoch = Thomas Massie
Doris Ashley = Grace Fortescue
Hester Ashley Murdoch = Thalia Fortescue Massie
Walter Bergmann = Clarence Darrow
Halehone = Lawyer William Heen
Princess Luahine = Princess Abigail Kawananakoa
Glenn Langdon = Rear Admiral Yates Stirling, Jr. USN
In addition, new characters are added that have no verifiable real-life counterpart, or who performed actions for which there is no real-life counterpart. For example, though John Jardine was probably the most prominent HPD detective involved in the investigation, he was not a captain, but an only a sergeant, and there is no evidence that he or any other HPD officer ever had a romantic liaison with Clarence Darrow's wife.
This teleplay departs from historical events in many ways, as one can see by comparing the plot summary to the main article on the Massie Trial. For example:
In the teleplay, the four original defendants get into trouble because they took the stricken woman to the hospital. Actually, Massie was found by a passing car, driven by Eustace Bellinger, wandering along Ala Moana Road at 1:00 am. Mrs. Bellinger wanted to take Thalia directly to the hospital and call the police but she insisted they take her home instead. Later Thalia's husband called the police over her objections when he found she had a broken jaw. Horace Ida, Joseph Kahahawai, and their three friends were arrested earlier that night after assaulting a Hawaiian couple during a road rage incident, during which Joseph Kahahawai, a prizefighter, admitted punching the woman, Agnes Peeples.
The teleplay makes no mention of what the five were actually doing that night—namely, getting into an altercation with Homer and Agnes Peeples, a Hawaiian couple after they and the couple missed each other by inches in their respective automobiles at King and Liliha Streets at about 12:30 Sunday morning.
The Honolulu Police Department and the Honolulu County Sheriff's Office are spoken of as two separate, distinct agencies. In fact, the HPD did, and still does, have Island-wide (which is to say county-wide) jurisdiction, and, at the time of the Massie case, HPD's top-ranking officer was an elected sheriff. It was partly as a consequence of the Massie case that HPD was reorganized in 1932 so that the head of the force became an appointed Chief of Police.
The role of Princess Luahine is quite different from that of the historical Princess Abigail Kawananakoa. Far from being a recluse, Kawananakoa was in fact a member of the Republican National Committee at the time. It was she who encouraged a local lawyer, William Heen, to represent the five original defendants, at great personal risk to himself. But she did not turn the case into a cause célèbre.
No firm historical or forensic evidence exists for Thalia Fortescue Massie having been raped, much less for the identity of her actual assailant. Rumor held that she was seen with a white man before she arrived home. Unsubstantiated gossip at the time suggested that the man was one of Lieutenant Massie's shipmates, and even that Lieutenant Massie himself had dealt the vicious blows that landed his wife in the hospital. (For further versions of the alleged assault, see the main article on the Massie Trial.)
Lieutenant Massie did not shoot Joseph Kahahawai in hot-blooded passion in open court with his service automatic before courtroom spectators, as is depicted in this film. Rather, he, his mother-in-law, and two other Navy men kidnapped Kahahawei and tortured him to confess to the rape--after the five original defendants were released following a mistrial in their case. Kahahawai never confessed, and one of his four kidnappers shot him.
Lieutenant Massie did not stand trial alone. His mother-in-law and two Navy accomplices stood trial with him.
Thalia Massie never admitted the possibility that she had misidentified her assailants. She certainly never blurted out, "They're innocent!" in open court.
Nor did Thalia commit suicide following the conviction of her mother, her husband, and her husband's friends. Instead, the four defendants, originally sentenced to serve ten years in prison, had the sentence commuted to serve one hour—in the Territorial Governor's office. But Thalia was always mentally unstable, and in the end died in Palm Beach, Florida, of an overdose of barbiturates—in 1963, fully thirty-one years after the trial.
Rear Admiral Stirling did make a number of unprofessional and irresponsible statements to the press during the first trial, including a suggestion that he would take it kindly if some Naval personnel were to hunt down the five alleged assailants of Mrs. Massie and "string them up"—which is to say, to lynch them. In fact, a number of never-identified Navy men kidnapped and beat Horace Ida with belt buckles, trying to extract a confession that he never gave. No evidence exists for the same or similar thing happening to any of Joseph Kahahawai's other three co-defendants. (Which is not to say that they escaped unscathed. They never lived down the trial, and to their dying days they had to deal with people who believed them guilty of a crime that, in all likelihood, they did not commit.)
This film was nominated for two awards, including one Emmy Award for costuming and an Artios Award for casting.