THE LONG Walk Home'' dramatizes an early chapter in the civil rights war, and, despite the familiarity of the material, it engages the audience. This may be history we know, but it has all been done with great dignity.
The cast has much to do with this. Sissy Spacek and Whoopi Goldberg star. Spacek is a Montgomery, Ala., matron, and Goldberg is the woman who serves as her maid. It is 1955, and Rosa Parks has already sparked the rebellion by refusing to sit in the back of the bus. The Montgomery blacks, resentful of having to enter the front of the bus, drop coins, then get off and enter the rear door, stage a boycott of the bus lines.
Odessa (Goldberg) joins the boycott, knowing that she will have to walk nine miles, each day, to the home of her employer. Miriam (Spacek), meanwhile, does what she can. Without telling her husband, she picks Odessa up twice a week, saving her that much wear on her shoes and herself.
When Miriam husband's hears about this, he is enraged enough to move into another part of the house. Miriam is distressed, but she knows that something is wrong with the Montgomery social system. In time, she joins a group of white women who have arranged car pools to help the black women get to work.
Goldberg, who did the role only on condition that she be allowed to play it with pride, does so, and Spacek, as her employer, is equally convincing.
There is a lot of name calling. The film may include more of this than necessary, but John Cork, who did the script (he was born in 1961), wants to make his points and does.
Ving Rhames is Herbert Cotter, husband to Odessa, Dwight Shultz is Norman Thompson, husband to Miriam, and Erika Alexander is Selma Cotter, daughter to Odessa and Herbert, who is menaced and mistreated when she attempts to ride a bus in a demonstration of bravery.
Richard Pearce (''Country'') directed the film almost as though it were a documentary. It is difficult not to be touched by it.
''The Long Walk Home'' opens here today.
''The Long Walk Home''
** A black woman, living in 1955 Montgomery, Ala., joins the bus boycott.
CAST: Sissy Spacek, Whoopi Goldberg, Dwight Schultz, Ving Rhames
DIRECTOR: Richard Pearce
RATING: PG (language)
RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes