6.4/10
321
11 user 4 critic

Trial and Error (1962)

The Dock Brief (original title)
An incompetent barrister is assigned to defend a wife murderer.

Director:

Writers:

(play), (screenplay)
Reviews
Nominated for 1 BAFTA Film Award. See more awards »
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Cast

Complete credited cast:
...
...
...
Doris Fowle, Herbert Fowle's late wife
David Lodge ...
Frank Bateson, the Lodger
Frank Pettingell ...
Tuppy Morgan, Solicitor
Tristram Jellinek ...
Mr. Perkins, the Prosecutor
Audrey Nicholson ...
Morgenhall's Girl (in flashback)
Eric Woodburn ...
Judge Tommy Banter
John Waite ...
Clerk of the Court
Patrick Newell ...
First Warder
Henry Kay ...
Second Warder
...
Photographer at Fowle Wedding
Eric Dodson ...
Examiner
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Storyline

An incompetent barrister is assigned to defend a wife murderer.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

This is NOT the Birdman of Alcatraz!..It's only Peter Sellers with his sly, sneaky style of humor that creeps up on you and the leaves you wanting more.

Genres:

Comedy | Drama

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Release Date:

5 August 1963 (Sweden)  »

Also Known As:

Trial and Error  »

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Did You Know?

Goofs

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 »

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User Reviews

An amusing, sometimes touching comedy about two losers who need each other.
16 August 2002 | by (New York City) – See all my reviews

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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