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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


THEIRS WAS THE PERFECT CRIME they thought! They were too sure...too smart...too careful to leave a clue -- but they did! and it exploded -- The shocking story of two teenagers out for kicks...looking for thrills...and finding them! See more »


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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?


Although the story was a thinly-disguised recreation of the Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb murder case, the legal department of 20th Century Fox was still concerned about a possible lawsuit from the still-living Leopold. A great effort was made not to mention Leopold or Loeb in the movie, press releases, and interviews. However, there was apparently poor communication with the advertising department, since when the movie came out, newspaper ads stated, "based on the famous Leopold and Loeb murder case." Leopold sued the filmmakers. He did not claim libel, slander, nor anything false nor defamatory about the film. Instead, he claimed an invasion of privacy. The court rejected his claim, in part, because Leopold had already published his own autobiography "Life Plus 99 Years", publicizing essentially the same facts. 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 »


Version of Rope (1947) See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

A Fearful Look At Humanity's Dark Failings
21 April 2015 | by krocheavSee all my reviews

As a result of his handling of this film, Director Richard Fleischer either inherited a reputation for his skill at telling stories about flawed murderous characters or he was attracted to the subject (The Boston Strangler" in '68 ~ "Ten Rillington Place" in '71) Whatever the driving forces he surely displayed a natural talent to examine, and chill, within the genre. What 'Compulsion' achieves is certainly compelling viewing.

With its basis in shocking fact this movie works on several levels.

Firstly: as a denouncement of certain teachings found within educational institutions on the writings of German post modernist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. In this instance by examining his theories that certain members of the human race are, by benefit of their advanced knowledge, and superior intellect, above the law of the 'common' people. He regarded these as the 'Superhumans'. Its even possible this philosophy and his 'will to power' could arguably be attributed to the actions of certain members of the ruling class, perhaps even forming part of the disastrous 'causes' of World War 1, etc (as a contributing force behind the philosophical reasonings of the day)

The characters that form the homosexual duo of this shocking case are representational of the 'Crime of the Century' murderers: Leopold and Loeb. Both sentenced to Life + 99 years for the senseless killing of 14yr old Bobby Francis (2nd cousin of Loeb). Their reason for the murder? the thrill of performing the 'perfect' murder based on the repugnant belief of their own 'superior' Nietzscheian intellect!

Secondly: as an argument against capital punishment. The parents of Loeb commissioned the services of renowned criminal attorney Clarence Darrow (Orson Wells) who was championing the case against the death penalty. His brilliant courtroom speech is regarded by some as one of the most important turning points in redemptive sentencing. This humanitarian reverse reasoning has proved beneficial in several cases, but how does it hold up within the framework of this modern era? Some contemporary viewers might bring into question the growing number of people who fall victims to murderous criminals - following their re-release into society as being 'CURED' - Sadly this number would appear to be larger each year. When this is considered, along with the rapidly growing number of serial murderers now held in 'corrective' services, it invites the question...if proved guilty beyond doubt, and never to be released, is this then worthy of the very large resources involved?. Difficult situation.

The performance of Dean Stockwell (as the Leopold character) is quite astounding, as are all the superb players in this stark drama. Somewhere along the way it would seem some character details, either within the screenplay or the novel, have perhaps been transposed differently from the claims of the real participants and various reports ~ but this tends to occur with many transcriptions of factual events. Oscar winning veteran director of photography: William C. Mellor: earlier known for the good looking "Reaching for the Sun" '41 ~ "Bad Day at Black Rock" '55 ~ "Giant" '56, captures all the tension in striking B/W CinemaScope.

Boston born screenplay writer Richard Murphy in the same year adapted Paul Muni's final movie: "The Last Angry Man" for the screen and is also known for, "Les Miserables" '54 ~ "Panic in the Streets" '50 ~ "Deep Waters" '48. His screenplay was based on the novel of the same name by Meyer Levin, writer and producer of "My Father's House" in '47.

Director Fleischer a few years later would give us "Barabbas" '61 and "The New Centurions" '72. He begun in the early 40's working on fast paced RKO supports like the acclaimed "Narrow Margin" '52.

My brother in law made me a present of a superbly re-mastered DVD, so for those interested in thought provoking stories based on factual crimes, this comes recommended. KenR

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