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Compulsion (1959)

Orson Welles , Dean Stockwell , Richard Fleischer  |  NR |  DVD
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)

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Product Details

  • Actors: Orson Welles, Dean Stockwell, Diane Varsi, Bradford Dillman, E.G. Marshall
  • Directors: Richard Fleischer
  • Writers: Meyer Levin, Richard Murphy
  • Producers: Richard D. Zanuck
  • Format: Multiple Formats, NTSC, Black & White
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 4.0), French (Dolby Digital 1.0), Spanish (Dolby Digital 1.0)
  • Subtitles: English, Spanish
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: 20th Century Fox
  • DVD Release Date: May 23, 2006
  • Run Time: 103 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #27,408 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Compulsion" on IMDb

Special Features


Editorial Reviews

In this riveting true story about the notorious 1924 Leopold-loeb murder case, Orson Wells stars as the brillant Clarence Darrow whose history-making defense against capitol punishment saved two wealthy Chicago teenagers from a death sentence.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
47 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating, chilling film. August 2, 1999
By A Customer
Format:VHS Tape
Of the three high profile movies that deal with the Leopold and Loeb case, (the other two being Swoon and Rope)this one is by far the best. The two leads are frightening but believable in depicting warped, psychopathic killers. It is interesting to see how the film slyly danced around the period taboo of mentioning the duo's homosexual bond, and how Welles' Darrow character raises the issue of xenophobia/homophobia in the court room without stating the issue bluntly.
Everyone in the film is first rate, with the one exception of Diane Varsi. On some viewings, she is annoying and a major weakness to the movie. Other times, her character is credible within the context of the time period and locale. In any case, the movie is first rate and ought to be seen more widely that it seems to be.
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Re-enactment of a sensational murder trial June 9, 2005
Format:VHS Tape
The brilliant Orson Welles' eloquent and compassionate soliloquy as defense attorney Jonathan Wilk during summation at the trial of two adolescent boys accused of murder is the highlight of the movie "Compulsion".

This crime and courtroon drama is based on the 1924 trial of Loeb and Leopold, two wealthy and intelligent teenaged law students who killed a young boy in a "thrill" killing. Bradford Dillman playing Artie Straus and Dean Stockwell playing Judd Steiner felt so smug and intellectually gifted that they believed they could commit and get away with the perfect crime. Dillman the cocky leader of the two goaded the shy and introverted Stockwell into carrying out the demented plot. Both boys had no real close friends and subsisted together in what had the looks of a homosexual relationship.

Straus and Steiner conjured up alibis for the time of the murder but were split up for interrogation by state attorney Harold Horn, with E.G Marshall excellently playing a typical role for him. Marshall was able to trip the boys up and soon they were standing trial and facing the death penalty.

The boys wealthy parents hired Jonathan Wilkes, played by a jowly Orson Welles who was supposed to represent the legendary Clarence Darrow to defend the boys. The superbly oratorical Welles shined brightly with his dialogue and stage presence. By withdrawing a plea of not guilty he removed the jury from the decision making process. The guilty plea with mitigating circumstances allowed psychological profiling to be admitted as testimony. He was able to appeal to the judge whose job was to pronounce sentencing to overturn the death penalty and settle for a verdict of life imprisonment.

Director Richard Fleischer did a creditable job in presenting what was a landmark case In American jurisprudence.
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37 of 41 people found the following review helpful
Format:VHS Tape
Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb were two intellectually gifted, extremely wealthy young men of 1920s Chicago--but they were also highly neurotic. In 1924 their twisted relationship exploded into one of the most infamous crimes of the era: largely in order to demonstrate their supposed intellectual superiority, they kidnapped and murdered fourteen year old Bobby Franks. But their "perfect crime" was not quite as perfect as they had thought: it quickly unraveled, and with the celebrated Clarence Darrow appearing for the defense the court case became as legendary as the crime.

The 1959 film COMPULSION, based on the Leopold-Loeb case, had a great deal going for it. The cast was superior and included a Hollywood legend; director Richard Fleischer was a rock-solid craftsman; production values from cinematography to composer to costumer were in experienced and capable hands. But the film ran afoul of two issues: censorship codes of the day, which effectively prevented a no-holds-barred re-telling of the case, and the fact that Nathan Leopold was still very much alive.

The result was a script that transformed Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb into characters named 'Judd Steiner' and 'Artie Straus' and which renamed Clarence Darrow 'Jonathan Wilk'--and which can only imply in vaguest possible terms aspects of the case that most find particularly fascinating. With so much detail thrown out, the result is a film that divides into two rather awkwardly joined parts.

The first half of the film focuses on Steiner and Straus. The cast is indeed exceptional, with Dean Stockwell and Bradford Dillman extremely effective and receiving memorable support from the likes of Diane Varsi and Martin Milner.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:VHS Tape
The defense attorney Clarence Darrow (played with astonishing skill by the brilliant Orson Welles, who is today considered one of this country's finest actors ever) delivers in the last half of this movie one of the finest soliloquies Hollywood has ever offered us, equal to and probably surpassing England's Laurence Olivier in his critically praised "Hamlet" interpretation. The soliloquy by Welles is in itself worth the price of this video.
The hapless prosecuting attorney is played by E.G. Marshall, who recently died but who left us with a legacy of excellence in every picture in which he appeared (especially perhaps in "Twelve Angry Men"). A wonderfully underplayed but very sensitive performance by a master of his craft in films, stage, and television.
Brad Dillman and Dean Stockwell are right on in their portrayals of the villains who are apparently responsible for the compulsive and senseless murder of a young man. The entire cast creates some of the most realistic portrayals of good and evil that Hollywood has ever given us. Everyone in the cast seems to give it their all.
The movie is clearly, however, a product of the neo-Victorian times in which it was produced, sparing the audience the grim realism movies are currently permitted to film today. It could be more powerful if it were re-filmed today, perhaps, but could the cast of a re-make come close to matching the performances in this film?
It is worth owning this movie for its cast and direction and overall excellence...and it could be argued that the lack of the extreme violence which actually characterized the murder doesn't need to be as graphic on-screen as it probably would be if re-made today. By and large we are intelligent people and can jolly well fill in the details for ourselves.
A real treat!
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Movie not as great as expected.
Published 16 days ago by Deborah McDonald
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Superbly written, directed, and acted, and historically quite accurate.
Published 17 days ago by Dan Lindsay
4.0 out of 5 stars Must See
Scary true story with great acting.
Published 2 months ago by Janet Mittleman
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Excellent movie
Published 3 months ago by Sheila Flynn
5.0 out of 5 stars Orson Welles was a master!
Brilliance by all actors in this one, but especially Mr. Welles, who stole the show! I highly recommend this one.
Published 5 months ago by Ward Abel
4.0 out of 5 stars Good but
I enjoyed the movie but would have liked it better if it had been updated to a more current time. Since Welles is dead, someone should remake it.
Published 5 months ago by Suz
5.0 out of 5 stars Leopold and Loeb and Orson Wells
True story of two lawyers who thought they could plan a perfect murder. Rocked Cicago and the Sears family. Movie is great.
Published 6 months ago by Bonnie K H
5.0 out of 5 stars What a great movie
For my students who have never heard of the Leopold and Loeb case, this movie is a godsend. Orson Welles is at the top of his game.
Published 7 months ago by Vanissa Thurman
5.0 out of 5 stars A Classic
Dean Stockwell, Orson Wells...need I say anything else? There is a word minimum, so I'll continue. The closing speech at the end of the trial is one of the best scenes in cinema.
Published 9 months ago by martin nelson
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding drama
Based on the case of Leopold and Leobe, the film recounts the the case that stunned the nation. Who murdered a young child? Read more
Published 10 months ago by Dr.L.
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Topic From this Discussion
Yes, the DVD is in the correct anamorphic format.
Oct 11, 2007 by Sevisan |  See all 2 posts
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