99 minutes / no bonus materials
This black-and-white 1959 movie would be riveting, even were it not based on a real case. It changes names, but no one is fooled. Along with Swoon and Hitchcock’s Rope , this follows the concoction, crime and compelling courtroom closure of the infamous 1924 Leopold-Loeb case, where two teenagers planned to execute the “perfect crime” in order to prove their intellectual superiority.
The crime was the cold-blooded murder of a fellow student, all planned to be executed without emotion as an experiment, but their callous conceit did not allow for one slip in the darkness that led to their arrest, confession and trial.
The film is, in effect, as two-parter. After an hour, Orson Welles arrives as the defence lawyer, based on Clarence Darrow, and steals the final third of the show as he takes on an impossible brief. While both Bradford Dillman as the sadistic Artie Strauss and Dean Stockwell as the arrogant, but manipulated, Judd Steiner, won Best Actor awards at the 1959 Cannes Film Festival, so did Welles. He steadily makes the case for compassion, even for such a horrific murder.
The film is an historical work and an ethical one, making the case against capital punishment. But for those who simply want a story, this one is brilliantly paced and constantly compelling. It’s not about what happens in the end as much as how they get there.
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