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Reversal of Fortune (1990)

Wealthy Sunny von Bülow lies brain-dead, husband Claus guilty of attempted murder; but he says he's innocent and hires Alan Dershowitz for his appeal.

Director:

Writers:

(book) (as Alan Dershowitz), (screenplay)

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Won 1 Oscar. Another 11 wins & 15 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
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Maria
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Jack Gilpin ...
Peter MacIntosh
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Andrea Reynolds
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Ellen
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Minnie
Mano Singh ...
Raj
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Nancy
Keith Reddin ...
Dobbs
Alan Pottinger ...
Chuck
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Storyline

Alan Dershowitz a brilliant professor of law is hired by wealthy socialite Claus von Bulow to attempt to overturn his two convictions for attempted murder of his extremely wealthy wife. Based on a true story the film concentrates not on the trial like other legal thrillers, but on the preparatory work that Dershowitz and his students put in as they attempt to disprove the prosecution's case and achieve the Reversal of Fortune of the title. Written by Mark Thompson <mrt@oasis.icl.co.uk>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

The Case of Claus Von Bulow. An American Saga of Money and Mystery.


Certificate:

R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

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Details

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Language:

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Release Date:

9 November 1990 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

El misterio Von Bulow  »

Filming Locations:

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Box Office

Gross:

$15,445,131 (USA)
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Company Credits

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Technical Specs

Runtime:

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Color:

(Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

The 27th April 1982 edition of 'The New York Times' announced that Claus von Bülow, one of the financial investors in the Broadway stage production of 'Deathtrap' by Ira Levin, estimated at being US $44,000 for the theatrical play, with von Bülow as well this also investing finance in its movie adaptation Deathtrap (1982), had been found guilty himself of murdering his wife. A movie about these circumstances called Reversal of Fortune (1990) and starring Jeremy Irons was later made. Irons won the Best Actor Academy Award (Oscar) for portraying von Bülow in this film. See more »

Goofs

In the opening shot flying over the estates in Newport, visitors are at some of the mansions. In 1983, some mansions, like The Breakers and Marble House, were open to the public. See more »

Quotes

Alan Dershowitz: We've got two big problems here. The case against him is very strong but more importantly is the absolute certainty that Claus is guilty, finding grounds for reversal won't be enough here. Judges on the Rhode Island Supreme Court will have to go home to their wives and explain to them why they reversed. To do that we have to totally obliterate the States case so that they have no other reason to affirm. Total victory or we are dead in the water. Now, I assumed you've all had a chance to go over...
[...]
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Connections

Features The Crimson Pirate (1952) See more »

Soundtracks

QUARTET, OPUS 64, NO. 5, MINUET
Written by Joseph Haydn
Arranged by Charlotte Georg (as Les Peel)
Courtesy of Ole Georg/Group Pro, Inc.
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User Reviews

 
Fascinating character studies
23 July 2003 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

Striking, if sometimes creepy, performances by Glenn Close and Jeremy Irons highlight this unevenly directed take on the Claus Von Bulow story of the degenerate rich adapted from the book by Harvard Law School Professor Alan Dershowitz. Dershowitz, who loves being in the limelight almost as much as he loves the law, took on the task of saving Claus Von Bulow from prison for the attempted murder of his rich wife initially as a means of raising money to help him in his pro bono cases. The rather heavy-handed manner in which we are advised of this should not detract from Dershowitz's work. The irony is that as the case developed Dershowitz became persuaded that Claus was innocent.

Whether Dershowitz convinced himself of Von Bulow's innocence to assuage a possibly guilty conscience is a good question. Remember Dershowitz is the guy who said after the O.J. Simpson trial (he was one of Simpson's lawyers) that he didn't know whether Simpson was guilty or not. While that may be a good stance for a defense attorney, it is an insincere one for the public figure that Dershowitz has become.

Starring as Dershowitz is Ron Silver in an uneven performance that at times made me think of Gabe Kaplan doing a young and uncomedic Groucho Marx. I wonder if Dershowitz was entirely flattered.

Director Barbet Schroeder (Barfly 1987; Single White Female 1992) uses several points of view to tell the story, including a voice-over from Glenn Close's Sunny Von Bulow as she lies comatose, but also from recollections by Jeremy Irons' Claus Von Bulow. We see some scenes twice, colored by the differing points of view. This technique is entirely appropriate since what really happened is far from clear to this day. It is Claus Von Bulow's fortune that was reversed. Whether the first two juries or the third were right is something Schroeder leaves for the audience to determine.

But make no mistake about it: the heart of the movie is Jeremy Irons' Oscar-winning performance. His subtle artistry based on a deep conception (true to life or not) of the aristocratic and Germanic Claus allowed him to create a persona that is cold and aloft, yet somehow sympathetic. The contrast with Silver's Brooklyn-born hyper-energetic Dershowitz made for some good cinematic chemistry, although sometimes it came across like nice Jewish boy defends a vampire.

Glenn Close's flawless rendition of the idle, drug-befouled Sunny reminds us once again that she is a great actress. Unfortunately I don't think Schroeder spent as much time and energy as he should have with the people who played Dershowitz's law students. They seemed amateurish and unconvincing in just about every scene. And there were too many of them--law students, that is. Some distillation of intent, and more directorial guidance might have helped.

Nicholas Kazan's script has a number of good lines in it, not the least of which is this: Dershowitz: "You are a very strange man." Claus Von Bulow: "You have no idea." Also nice was Von Bulow's observation after they are seated in the restaurant and after the waiter has called him "Doctor" Von Bulow: "When I was married to Sunny, we never got this table. Now, two injections of insulin and I'm a doctor." Indeed it is partly Kazan's snappy, comedic and self-revelatory lines that humanize Claus Von Bulow's character and persuade us that he could very well be innocent.

While I like Dershowitz's self-serving style and his confidence, what I admire most about the man is his realistic conception of the defense attorney's role in our society and his idea of what makes a good lawyer; that is, a good lawyer is one who recognizes not only that every person deserves the best defense their resources allow, but that he himself deserves to defend those with the best resources.

(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it at Amazon!)


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