Sunday 1 January 2023

Movie Review: Compulsion (1959)

Genre: Crime and Courtroom Drama
Director: Richard Fleischer
Starring: Dean Stockwell, Bradford Dillman, E.G. Marshall, Orson Welles
Running Time: 103 minutes

Synopsis: In Chicago of 1924, wealthy college law students Judd (Dean Stockwell) and Artie (Bradford Dillman) bludgeon fellow classmate Paulie Kessler to death and dump his body in a ditch. Judd believes his superior intellect will help him get away with murder, and yet he is emotionally dependent on the more playful Artie. Judd starts to develop emotions towards Ruth (Diane Varsi), while her boyfriend Sid (Martin Milner), a budding journalist, uncovers evidence linking Judd to the crime scene. District Attorney Horn (E.G. Marshall) investigates, while Judd's family hires celebrated veteran lawyer Jonathan Wilk (Orson Welles) to mount a defence.

What Works: Director Fleischer and writer Richard Murphy adapt Meyer Levin's book, a fictionalized account of the Leopold and Loeb murder case, as a chilling exploration of evil lurking within privilege. Guilt is never in question, just the bewildering, conniving, and wrecked emotional state of two murderers brought to life by Bradford Dillman and Dean Stockwell in complex performances. A frumpled Orson Welles arrives in the final third and proceeds to dominate a gripping courtroom drama where mental state and justice-as-bloodlust are the central questions. Fleischer and cinematographer William C. Mellor are alway seeking interesting perspectives, including excellent use of mirrors and eyeglasses, and emphasis on the grandiosity of elite internal spaces.

What Does Not Work As Well: Welles' prolonged final monologue to the packed courtroom goes on well after he makes his key points.

Conclusion: A stinging journey into the maze of damaged psyches and societal consequences.

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