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Compulsion (1959)

Approved  |   |  Biography, Crime, Drama  |  4 May 1959 (Sweden)
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Ratings: 7.5/10 from 3,551 users  
Reviews: 60 user | 40 critic

Two wealthy law-school students go on trial for murder in this version of the Leopold-Loeb case.



(screenplay), (based on the novel by)
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Nominated for 1 BAFTA Film Award. Another 1 win & 4 nominations. See more awards »



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Complete credited cast:
Ruth Evans
Arthur A. Straus
District Attorney Harold Horn
Sid Brooks
Max Steiner
Robert F. Simon ...
Police Lt. Johnson (as Robert Simon)
Tom Daly
Robert Burton ...
Charles Straus
Wilton Graff ...
Mr. Steiner
Louise Lorimer ...
Mrs. Straus aka 'Mumsy'
Padua - Horn's Assistant


In 1924 Chicago, Artie Strauss and Judd Steiner are friends and fellow law students who both come from wealthy backgrounds. They have few true friends as they believe all their contemporaries are intellectually inferior. Within their relationship, Artie is the dominant and Judd the submissive who says he will do whatever Artie tells him. Although Judd acts intellectually arrogant to others, he also shows signs of weakness and reticence most evident to Artie. Part of their goal in life is to experience how it feels to do everything. As such, they plot to commit what they consider the perfect crime - a kidnapping and murder - not only so that they can experience the sense of killing for killing's sake, but also taunt the law with the knowledge of it and their superiority after the fact. They believe their crime is above the law. Their murder of young Paulie Kessler is not so perfect, with evidence at the scene uncovered by one of their law school colleagues, Sid Brooks, who also works ... Written by Huggo

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Sometimes murder is just a way to pass the time. See more »


Approved | See all certifications »




Release Date:

4 May 1959 (Sweden)  »

Also Known As:

Der Zwang zum Bösen  »

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


| (FMC Library Print)

Sound Mix:

(35 mm magnetic prints) (Westrex Recording System)| (35 mm optical prints) (Westrex Recording System)

Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


The original play included what was then a modern-day sequence. This was omitted from the film. It showed several of the characters thirty years after the story took place. See more »


When D.A. Horn is interviewing Straus, Horn sits down in a chair that was meant for Straus and moves a floor lampshade back down that had been directing its light at that chair. Straus moves to stand beside the floor lamp. The light is then variably on and off as shots between the two change. See more »


[first lines]
Judd Steiner: To the perfect crime!
Arthur Straus: Crime. Oh, my wealthy fraternity brothers. 67 dollars, and a second-hand typewriter.
See more »


Referenced in Apartment Zero (1988) See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

See more (Spoiler Alert!) »

User Reviews

Orson Welles, We Did You Wrong
21 October 1999 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

We can add Welles to Wilde, Monroe and others who we never respected until they were gone. His pleading for the lives of those crazy boys (as Clarence Darrow did) is an eloquent plea for the ending of the death penalty. Funny, how a barometer like the death penalty tells us so much about a society's relative civility. The US had backed away from it, but is now swinging back toward even public executions (which I would much prefer, as they show all of us how barbaric we have become).

Note that the movie dwells on their 'craziness' and 'richness', not the Jewishness or the homosexual relationships that evoked the wrath of the public in the real case. Both Dillman and Dean Stockwell do an excellent job of drawing out your anger until you find yourself one of the mob yelling for blood. To stem the tide, in comes Orson Welles. Welles' phrasing and meaningful looks struck me again with what a magnificent actor he was, as well as director.

Now I have to go read 'Compulsion', the novel around which this movie was made, to determine what was left out and if it would have contributed to some of the obviously omitted details that make this movie a little choppy. This movie performs the task that great art must take on itself: to provide us insights into life and how it should be lived. That can be done either negatively or positively, by point or counter-point.

Of course, unless you had some excellent writers and actors of the stature of Welles, you wouldn't come up to the quality of this movie. Definitely, black and white contributed to the brooding quality of the film. Color would have detracted, and you'll seldom 'hear' me say this.

22 of 36 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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