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Compulsion (1959)

Approved | | Biography, Crime, Drama | April 1959 (USA)
2:26 | Trailer

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Two wealthy law-school students go on trial for murder in this version of the Leopold-Loeb case.


Richard Fleischer


Richard Murphy (screenplay), Meyer Levin (based on the novel by)
Nominated for 1 BAFTA Film Award. Another 1 win & 4 nominations. See more awards »





Complete credited cast:
Orson Welles ... Jonathan Wilk
Diane Varsi ... Ruth Evans
Dean Stockwell ... Judd Steiner
Bradford Dillman ... Arthur A. Straus
E.G. Marshall ... District Attorney Harold Horn
Martin Milner ... Sid Brooks
Richard Anderson ... Max Steiner
Robert F. Simon ... Police Lt. Johnson (as Robert Simon)
Edward Binns ... Tom Daly
Robert Burton ... Charles Straus
Wilton Graff ... Mr. Steiner
Louise Lorimer ... Mrs. Straus aka 'Mumsy'
Gavin MacLeod ... Padua - Horn's Assistant


In Chicago in 1924, Artie Strauss and Judd Steiner are friends and fellow law students who come from wealthy backgrounds. They have few true friends as they believe all their contemporaries to be intellectually inferior. Although Judd acts arrogantly towards others his inherent weakness is understood and exploited by Artie and indeed Judd appears to relish his submissiveness to Artie. Part of their goal in life, influenced perhaps by their admiration for Nietzsche, is to experience how it feels to do anything one pleases. They thus plot to commit what they consider the perfect crime - a kidnapping and murder - not only in order to experience killing for killing's sake, but also - especially in Artie's case - to taunt the authorities after the fact. They believe themselves above the law. The actual killing of little Paulie Kessler, and the subsequent attempts to cover their tracks, are not so perfect however. Sid Brooks, a fellow student (who also works for the Globe newspaper) whom ... Written by Huggo, edited with some additional material by Chrid

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


You know why we did it? Because we damn well felt like doing it! See more »


Approved | See all certifications »






Release Date:

April 1959 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Der Zwang zum Bösen See more »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


| (FMC Library Print)

Sound Mix:

4-Track Stereo (35 mm magnetic prints) (Westrex Recording System)| Mono (35 mm optical prints) (Westrex Recording System)

Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
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Did You Know?


During his closing arguments speech Jonathan Wilk (Orson Welles) mentions that he has practiced law for forty-five to forty-six years. Welles, however, was only forty-three-years-old when the movie was made. See more »


When D.A. Horn is interviewing Straus, Horn sits down in a chair that was meant for Straus and moves a floor lampshade back down that had been directing its light at that chair. Straus moves to stand beside the floor lamp. The light is then variably on and off as shots between the two change. See more »


[first lines]
Judd Steiner: To the perfect crime!
Arthur Straus: Crime. Oh, my wealthy fraternity brothers. 67 dollars, and a second-hand typewriter.
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Crazy Credits

Opening credits prologue: CHICAGO, 1924 See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

Dean Stockwell Gets His Judas Goat
4 July 2009 | by wes-connorsSee all my reviews

Two highly intelligent, wealthy young students attempt to get away with "the perfect murder". This intriguing drama was also filmed as "Rope" (1948) and "Swoon" (1992). Loosely based on the true story of Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, this version stars Dean Stockwell (as Judd Steiner) and Bradford Dillman (as Artie Straus), with Orson Welles (as Jonathan Wilk). "Compulsion" is one of the best Hitchcock films NOT directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Oddly enough, Hitchcock did direct the inferior, albeit interesting "Rope"; the film's subject matter has Hitchcock written all over it.

Director Richard Fleischer is at his best, combining material from both Hitchcock and Alex Segal, director of the original play; still, he makes his version of "Compulsion" distinctive. If Mr. Stockwell's glaring glasses and the birds in his room seem like they could be coincidental Hitchcock touches, the dissolve during Mr. Dillman's "Mae and Edna" interrogation scene is a dead giveaway; it was Hitchcock's calling card, in "Rope". From the 1957 play, Stockwell continues as "Judd" (the "strange bird"). But, Roddy McDowell is replaced by Dillman as "Artie"; in hindsight, this may seem like a grievous error - but, thankfully, Dillman excels in the role.

Stockwell, Dillman, and Mr. Welles shared the "Best Actor" award for 1959, at the Cannes Film Festival; and, Fleischer was nominated for "Best Director". Welles' contribution, nominated on its own for a "New York Film Critics" award, was more like an extended cameo, however. Welles dominates the last act, with a grand, blustering impression of Clarence Darrow. Yet, Stockwell and Dillman deserve the "Best Actor" recognition; and, prosecutor E.G. Marshall (as Harold Horn) isn't given a comparative closing argument (the film's main flaw). Welles and Diane Varsi (as Ruth Evans) receive star-billing; but, Ms. Varsi plays an inarguably supporting role. She and Martin Milner (as Sid Brooks) are certainly good, though.

Varsi's character adds depth to the confused sexuality present in Stockwell's character. Note, Hitchcock's "Rope" portrayed "Leopold" and "Loeb" as more homo- than heterosexual. Probably, this film intentionally sought to tone down the same-gender sexual attraction; but, the effort only served to make "Compulsion" sexier, with Stockwell torn between his subservient role with the male Dillman ("You wanted me to command you") and the female Varsi, whom he aborts raping (possibly giving away his preference). The scenes with Dillman in Stockwell's bedroom are sublime; in one, he literally "comes out of the closet."

********* Compulsion (4/1/59) Richard Fleischer ~ Dean Stockwell, Bradford Dillman, Orson Welles, Diane Varsi

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