In 1924 Chicago, Artie Strauss and Judd Steiner are friends and fellow law students who both come from wealthy backgrounds. They have few true friends as they believe all their contemporaries are intellectually inferior. Within their relationship, Artie is the dominant and Judd the submissive who says he will do whatever Artie tells him. Although Judd acts intellectually arrogant to others, he also shows signs of weakness and reticence most evident to Artie. Part of their goal in life is to experience how it feels to do everything. As such, they plot to commit what they consider the perfect crime - a kidnapping and murder - not only so that they can experience the sense of killing for killing's sake, but also taunt the law with the knowledge of it and their superiority after the fact. They believe their crime is above the law. Their murder of young Paulie Kessler is not so perfect, with evidence at the scene uncovered by one of their law school colleagues, Sid Brooks, who also works ...Written by
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 »
"Compulsion" was one of the most important American films of the late 50s. Based loosely on the famous Leopold and Loeb case, the movie still packs quite an impact because of the excellent work by the three principals. As directed by Richard Fleischer, this is a disturbing look at two criminal minds who thought they were above and beyond the law because they had the perfect crime planned. The film was greatly adapted for the screen by Richard Murphy from the Meyer Levin book and stage play.
Even for those clever enough to carry on a murder, there is always a possibility that a minor mistake will give the culprit away. The two young men at the center of the story, Judd Steiner and Artie Straus are homosexual lovers. At the time, being gay in America must have been one of the worst things in a more puritanical and pious society. These two men hide their sexual preference well because of the circles they both move. Coming from upper class families, in a way, made it easier for these men to formulate a plan to satisfy their idle existences.
After committing a heinous crime, just because they thought they could get away with it, the two friends begin experiencing the guilt associated with what they have done. Judd's reaction is different from Artie's. Where Judd tries to lay low, Artie tries to help the police in a bold move that will end up badly. Judd suddenly feels abandoned by Artie when he realizes Artie might be getting too close to the people investigating the murder.
As careful as these men had been, something that apparently seems innocent, ties them to the crime. The principal investigator, Sid Brooks, turns the men against one another by playing his cards right. This is the moment that Jonathan Wilk, the famous trial lawyer enters the picture. Unfortunately, even a star lawyer can't save people that have talked too much because they thought they were above the law.
Star lawyers have always been at the center of all famous trials throughout the history. In a way, it's ironic that only one man, the great Jonathan Wilk is the only person in court to defend Steiner and Straus. Had it been today, these two men would have had a battery of expensive lawyers making the case for them. The figure of Wilke is based on the real lawyer of the Leopold and Loeb case: Clarence Darrow, a man larger than life.
Dean Stockwell and Bradford Dillman made an invaluable contribution to the success of the film. Mr. Stockwell, a child actor that grew up in front of the camera, makes a compelling Judd Steiner. Mr. Stockwell gets under Steiner's skin because he seems to know what made this young man do what he did. Mr. Dillman was a relative new face to the movies, but his performance as Artie Straus has a profound effect on the viewer. Neither man makes a likable person, but maybe that was the message the author of the play wanted to leave the viewer with.
Orson Welles made a splendid appearance as the defense lawyer, Jonathan Wilk. Mr. Welles' physical presence dominates most of the court proceedings. In fact, is a tribute to his genius that he towers over everything around him whenever he is in front of the camera. E. G. Marshall has some good moments as Sid Brooks, the investigator who unearths the truth in this case. Ed Binns, Martin Milner, Robert Simon, Richard Anderson make contributions to the film. Diane Varsi, as the Ruth Evans is the only female that has an opportunity in the film.
The film moves at a quick pace and will, no doubt, satisfy those viewers seeking intelligent entertainment.
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