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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.
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.
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.Read more ›
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!
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Good performance from Orson Welles , but a bit " stagey" overall.Published 3 months ago by M ANN KELLY
This old movie is very good. So many of the new movies of the 2000's are lacking, so I collect older films and this is a great one. Read morePublished 6 months ago by Jackie
The end was annoying. We might as well let every brutal cold blooded murderer live because we don't want to be cruel. Read morePublished 6 months ago by citizen1951
If we choose the death penalty to punish murderers, are we murderers, too?
The lawyer for the defense (Orson Welles) makes a brilliant, riveting argument against
the... Read more
An interesting story about two terribly twisted and wasted young lives (Leopold and Loeb), along with a great defense by Clarence Darrow that saved them from hanging. Read morePublished 13 months ago by Loyd Eskildson