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An amusing, sometimes touching comedy about two losers who need each other.
Peter Sellers plays the worst barrister in the Old Bailey, hanging around court day after day hoping for a "dock brief" - a public-defender case assigned, and paid for, by the government - as his only hope of getting any work at all. After years of waiting, he is escorted to the cells to meet his very first client - who at first takes Sellers for a fellow-prisoner, then informs him there is no need for a defense as he is in fact guilty and everyone knows it. Sellers, undaunted, spins fantasies of brilliant defenses, which his client helps him act out in imaginary courtroom scenes. Each fantasy falters on the simple fact that the client really is guilty, but the client cheerfully plays along, sensing that the lawyer needs a victory even more than he does. The emptiness and disappointments of each man's life are revealed in flashback scenes in which, together, they visit one another's lives in times past. When the real trial begins, the lawyer's fantasies ring hollow, but he saves the day with legal maneuvering that only he is qualified to pull off. In the bittersweet final scene, the two walk off together, each understanding how much the other needs him.
The story, by John Mortimer, is a slightly darker version of his familiar "Rumpole of the Bailey" tales. The script, also by Mortimer, is very funny, but the combination of dry British humor and Sellers's almost somnolently underplayed role let most of the humor go by unnoticed. This is the funniest movie I never once laughed at. Attenborough is an understated genius as the mordant bird lover who murders his wife because she *wouldn't* run away with her boyfriend, and then apologizes to his lawyer for being guilty.
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