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An Act of Murder (1948)

Approved | | Crime, Drama, Film-Noir | 18 December 1948 (Sweden)
A hard-line judge is tempted toward mercy-killing by his wife's terminal cancer.



(novel), (screenplay) | 1 more credit »
1 nomination. See more awards »


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Complete credited cast:
David Douglas
Catherine Cooke
Ellie Cooke
Doctor Walter Morrison
Judge Ogden
Frederic Tozere ...
Charles Dayton
Judge Jim Wilder
Virginia Brissac ...
Mrs. Russell
Mr. Russell
Mary Servoss ...
Mr. Pope


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 <puffinus@u.washington.edu>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


MERCY or MURDER? Can you condemn this man?


Crime | Drama | Film-Noir


Approved | See all certifications »




Release Date:

18 December 1948 (Sweden)  »

Also Known As:

Live Today for Tomorrow  »

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(Western Electric Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Florence Eldridge, who portrays Fredric March's wife, also portrayed his wife twelve years later in 'Inherit the Wind'. The two actors were married in real life. See more »


Neither the city nor county where the courthouse is said to be located and the majority of the movie take place, are actual places in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. See more »


Doctor Walter Morrison: What is incurable today is curable next Wednesday.
See more »


Featured in Movies Are Adventure (1948) See more »

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User Reviews

One of my favorite Fredric March performances, and an unfairly forgotten film
31 May 2015 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

Here Fredric March plays criminal court judge Calvin Cooke who has a reputation as a sort of "hanging judge" so that he has earned the nickname of "old man Maximum". Edmond O'Brien plays a defense attorney arguing a case before the judge. While O'Brien's character looks at the spirit of the law, Judge Cooke looks only at the letter of it and it is obvious from the opening court scene that the two do not like each other. What do they have in common? They both love the judge's only daughter, Ellie.

Now this doesn't mean that the judge is a bad guy. He likes his community, adores his wife of twenty years (Florence Eldridge as Catherine Cooke), and loves his daughter.

But more trouble is afoot than just a suitor for his daughter's hand that the judge dislikes. His wife Catherine has been having headaches, dizziness, and has been dropping things due to numbness in her hands. She confides in a friend who also happens to be a doctor that she has "a friend" with these symptoms, and the doctor sees through her ruse and says that she should come to his Philadelphia office the next day for a check-up. She does that, but lies to Calvin and says she is going shopping.

This is where I do some head scratching. The news is bad - Catherine has a type of inoperable brain tumor that means a certain and painful death. The doctor tells Catherine that everything is fine. Who does he call? After sticking a cancer stick in his mouth to relieve the stress (????) the good doctor calls Calvin, her husband and tells HIM the truth. They both decide to not tell Catherine, the ACTUAL patient, the truth. Later when Catherine finds out, she decides not to talk about it either, even though by the way she found out she must know that her husband knows. Why isn't anybody talking to anybody about this woman's illness? Everybody just goes on pretending. Maybe this is the way it was 60 years ago, and that is one reason I love classic film - it gives you real insight into a bygone era about how people handled life, in this case illness, the fact that doctors routinely smoked, that grown daughters lived at home and pretty much went from the custody of their fathers to their husbands, and that it was acceptable for a policeman to shoot a dog that had been run over by a car in plain view of the general public - a mercy killing. This last incident happens as the judge is walking down the street to get pain medicine for his wife that just isn't doing the job. The implication is that mercy killing is on the mind of "old man Maximum" too. How will all of this work out? Watch and find out.

Even though all of the characters in this film are basically "good people" with good intentions, you could almost classify this one as a noir, because there are no easy answers, no possible way to a happy ending. I've seen a restored version of this film on Turner Classic Movies in the last year, so I wish Universal would find some way to get it out to the public. The questions the film raises are still relevant today. Highly recommended.

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