Judge Cooke, good husband and father, is known in court as Old Man Maximum. Cooke's daughter loves defender Dave Douglas, who hates Cooke's attitude toward defendants. Cooke's life shatters when he learns his wife has terminal brain cancer; as her pain worsens, he begins to consider mercy-killing, but that would place him in the position of a defendant. Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
"Nemo me impune lacessit," the Latin phrase quoted by Judge Wilder during the dinner party, means "No one attacks me unpunished." It is the motto of the Scottish Order of the Thistle, and is also used on certain Scottish and British royal coats of arms. See more »
As Stanley Ridges says in An Act Of Murder what is hopeless today, might be curable on Wednesday such are the advances of medicine. And certainly we can treat and even cure more brain tumors today, even the type that Florence Eldridge has in this film.
But in 1948 cancer on the brain was a certain death sentence. At this time young Johnny Gunther was going through the same kind of struggle which his father would chronicle in Death Be Not Proud. Also the public remembered the premature death of George Gershwin from such an illness. Certainly Fredric March's character would also have been aware of these things, most definitely about Gershwin.
An Act Of Murder casts March and Eldrige as a small town Pennsylvania judge and his wife with Geraldine Brooks as their daughter. March is a rigid by the book judge known as Old Maximum because of the harsh sentences imposed. March has cross swords with defense attorney Edmond O'Brien in court so he's not real thrilled with Brooks going out with him, but Eldridge supports her daughter.
But when after having some dizzy spells, Eldridge goes to see their doctor Stanley Ridges, he finds out that she's got a terminal brain tumor and her suffering will increase exponentially. He's got a real crisis on his hands. Mercy killing is an option he considers and true to his rigid code, March confesses to killing her to relieve her suffering and is put on trial for it. Guess who gets to defend him?
Even with the Code parameters strictly enforced at this time, euthanasia was a daring subject to tackle in 1948. The ending which I won't reveal is a cop out, but they could have done little else at the time given the censorship restrictions.
March, Eldridge, and the rest of the cast are brilliant. An Act Of Murder raises questions still hotly contested today.
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