Compulsion (1959)

Approved  |   |  Biography, Crime, Drama  |  4 May 1959 (Sweden)
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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


You know why we did it? Because we damn well felt like doing it! See more »


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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?


During his closing arguments speech Jonathan Wilk (Orson Welles) mentions that he has practiced law for 45-46 years. Welles, however, was only 43 years old when the movie was made. 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 »


Version of Swoon (1992) See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

At times gripping and moralizing, and always intriguing and dramatic wide screen b&w
13 January 2010 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

Compulsion (1959)

Orson Welles gets top billing but he only shows up near the end--just as he did in The Third Man--and he changes the tenor of the movie a lot. I like Welles as an actor, but he dominates the two young men who made the film click earlier. At first, it seems that the movie is about a pair of brainy (and slightly cold) college students who intellectualize their way into a nasty crime. The tension between them, the hints of doubt and the overcoming of guilt, and just about the townspeople and how they handle the crime and the investigation. It's not a perfectly smooth exploration, but it's interesting and even edgy at times, and has a great late 1950s black and white clarity to the filming that makes everything stark.

With the lawyer played by Welles we are shifted into a more conventional courtroom drama, a good one, but with some common tactics (the courtroom scene in Lady from Shanghai blows it away for originality, if you want one comparison), and with a long long long capstone speech by our man Orson. It's easy to like, very easy from start to finish with some nice visual clarity and lively soundtrack, but it does stutter enough to keep you aware of what might have been done differently.

And what about the idea of crime as a mental exercise, of a person being so superior he or she rises above culpability? Well, it's not a new idea, and Hitchcock's Rope from a decade earlier goes there in a similar way (Rope is a curious film, and Jimmy Stewart acts his heart out, but Compulsion actually has more life to it because the two young men are more interesting). Both probably owe something to the sensation 1924 Leopold and Loeb killing, and of course to other murder mysteries that go into the psychology rather than the gore (from Dostoyevsky to Highsmith). It's tantalizing stuff.

5 of 7 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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