Death of a Soldier (1986)

R  |   |  Crime, Drama, War  |  16 May 1986 (USA)
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Based on a true story, James Coburn portrays a military lawyer assigned to defend a confessed psychotic killer. Set in the context of WWII and the uneasy US-Australian military alliance. ... See full summary »



(screenplay) (as William Nagle) , (story) (as William Nagle)
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2 nominations. See more awards »
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Cast overview, first billed only:
Maurie Fields ...
Det. Sgt. Martin (as Maurice Fields)
Max Fairchild ...
Maj. William Fricks
Belinda Davey ...
Margot Saunders
Pvt. Anthony Gallo
Jon Sidney ...
Nell Johnson ...
Pippa Wilson ...
Singer in Boomerang Bar
Kim Rushworth ...
Band in bar
John McTiernan ...
Col. Williams
Earl Francis ...
Police Doctor
Ron Pinnell ...
Mr. Harmon


Based on a true story, James Coburn portrays a military lawyer assigned to defend a confessed psychotic killer. Set in the context of WWII and the uneasy US-Australian military alliance. The accused killer claims to have killed 3 women in order to possess their voices. Despite the defense lawyer's concerns that the killer is not fit to stand trial, the US military presses forward with the case and its desire to have the killer executed in order to strengthen the shaky alliance. Written by Fryingham

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


The obscenity of war. The brutality of murder. The travesty of justice.


Crime | Drama | War


R | See all certifications »




Release Date:

16 May 1986 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Dein Lied - Dein Tod  »

Filming Locations:


Company Credits

Production Co:

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


(Eastmancolor)| (archive footage)| (archive footage)

Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
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Did You Know?


Controversy in the Australian Actors Equity circles arose over the proposed casting of three American actors for the three major American roles in this movie. The result of discussions between Actors' Equity and the production apparently allegedly reduced the number of these roles from three to two: James Coburn and Reb Brown were cast as Maj. Dannenberg and Pvt. Edward Leonski, respectively, but the other part of Pvt. Anthony Gallo, originally intended to be cast with an American actor, was cast with an American actor anyway. Australian actor Michael Pate plays American Maj. Gen. Sutherland, while other minor American roles were played by Australians. Interestingly, it was apparently once considered that some Australian actors would be sent to the US for six weeks to learn how to "act American". See more »


Featured in The Spoony Experiment: Death of a Soldier (2011) See more »

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User Reviews

Background on Coburn's character, Ira C. Rothgerber, Jr.
28 August 2004 | by (Minneapolis, MN) – See all my reviews

Although James Coburn's character is called Major Donnenberg in the movie, the person who actually defended Leonski was Ira C. Rothgerber, Jr. He died in 1993 and was one of the greatest Colorado lawyers of the 20th Century.

With the outbreak of World War II, Ira joined the Army and rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Stationed in the South Pacific and Australia, he served in combat areas and won a Bronze Star. In Australia, he served with another young lawyer from New Jersey, Colonel Bill Powers, whom he convinced to return with him to Denver and join the firm at the end of the war. The firm then became known as Rothgerber, Appel & Powers.

During his service in Australia, Ira was appointed as co-counsel to represent a young, uneducated private accused of the rape and murder of several Sydney women. General MacArthur's command was determined to show the Australians that U.S. soldiers in their country would be held to a strict code of conduct, and the prosecution sought the death penalty. The soldier, William Leonski, was by all accounts mentally deranged and likely insane. Nevertheless, he was found competent to stand trial, and his mental impairment defense-then unprecedented in military courts-was swiftly rejected.

His client summarily tried, convicted, and sentenced to hang, Ira sought an appeal through the military high command. Denied review, Ira dictated by long-distance telephone a petition for stay and certiorari to Denver for transmission to the U.S. Supreme Court. However, before the Court could consider the petition, Leonski was hanged

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