While Morgenhall is waiting for his "first case," a series of crossword puzzles are shown, as "time passes." Unfortunately, the puzzles are not in numerical order --- their numbers go up and down, never continually increasing, as they should as the months and years go "passing by." See more »
Sometimes good movies fall through the cracks of the pavement. They disappear, forgotten about. 'The Dock Brief' (or 'Trial And Error', fluidity of title is another symptom) is one such film. Despite starring Peter Sellers and made in his glory period, it seldom reaches the television screens, seldom, if ever, talked about.
Watching this is nothing more than a revelation. The plot is simple, Morganhall (Sellers) a barrister, is given his first case in forty years, as he is chosen to defend Henpecked Herbert Fowle (Richard Attenbourgh), a grey, drab, bird lover, who has murdered his over-bearing, guffawing wife (Reid) because she wouldn't leave him. It is not an important case (the 'Dock Brief' of the title means that Fowle has no money for a lawyer, established barristers avoid them like the plague), but Morganhall sees this as an escape from the prison of his own life, 'Oh Fowle! The wonderful new life you've brought me!'
Morganhall and Fowle are little men, confined long before they are cell-bound (this film is full of images of confinement, prison cells, bird cages, claustrophobic houses, ) and the joy of the movie comes from their relationship, dull, grey Fowle takes wing as he falls under the spell of Morganhall's imagination. Sellers is wonderful, Morganhall is a tragic character, a defeated man, but never pathetic. In his dreams he is a great lawyer, but, naturally, his one great day in court ends in ruins, 'I had only to open my mouth and pour out words'.
Fowle is reprieved and released, due to Morganhall's incompetence and the barrister's dreams are dashed. Put like that, it is a bleak ending, yet the joy of the movie is that it ends in hope, in Morganhall's and Fowle's friendship. For the first time, as the leave prison and walk across Westminster Bridge, they are free from confinement (I love the little jig Sellers performs in long shot).
Both Sellers and Attenbourgh are on top form (though I've mostly singled out Sellers, Attenbourgh's lonely bird lover really is beautifully played) and lover's of gentle, bitter-sweet comedy, should seek out this movie. I think it's going to remain with me for the rest of my life, a truly life-affirming experience.
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