Robert Redford was originally involved with this film. After writer David Mamet delivered his draft, Redford was uncomfortable with the main character and hired another writer to do another draft, and so on until Redford decided he didn't want to do the film. He was uncomfortable because he did not want to play an alcoholic. Sidney Lumet was offered the project. He read all the drafts and identified the original Mamet version as the one to make. At that point, Paul Newman agreed to star.
Though entitled "The Verdict", the original final draft of David Mamet's screenplay had no verdict in it. Producer Richard D. Zanuck commented that the title would require a question mark on advertising materials making it "The Verdict?". It was director Sidney Lumet who convinced Mamet to add in a verdict so the film could have a third act denouement.
After the verdict was announced in the film, director Sidney Lumet filmed two versions of the ending. In one version, the final shots we see are of Newman's character walking away from the courtroom in a series of long shots, never seeing what happens after he leaves the courthouse. In the version that was used, we see a sequence after he leaves the courthouse.
As this legal drama features a woman in a permanent vegetative state, the picture was made and released hot on the heels of the 1970s Karen Ann Quinlan legal case, which was fresh in the minds of the public consciousness and had recently been the subject of the 1977 tele-movie In the Matter of Karen Ann Quinlan (1977).
James Mason was anxious to work with Sidney Lumet again, and although the actor was offered the part eventually played by Jack Warden, Lumet didn't believe he wanted to do it. At the prompting of his wife, Mason called the director and, fortuitously, Burt Lancaster, who was set to play Concannon, dropped out, and that opened up the role for Mason.
The main movie poster for the film featured a long text preamble that read: "Frank Galvin Has One Last Chance At A Big Case. The doctors want to settle, the Church wants to settle, their lawyers want to settle, and even his own clients are desperate to settle. But Galvin is determined to defy them all. He will try the case".
Star Paul Newman once said of this movie whilst publicizing the picture: "I'd rather have the freedom to do the kind of pictures like The Verdict (1982) . . . I enjoyed kicking the beejeezus out of the press in Absence of Malice (1981)".
Sidney Lumet said that if anyone had ever sent him the book to read before he decided to direct the movie, he would have told them that there was no way that the material in the book could ever be adapted to film.
Producers Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown picked up the original option on the film's source, Barry Reed's novel "The Verdict", for US $150,000. Zanuck and Brown had read the book one week before it had been first published in 1980.
As recommended to the producers by Robert Redford, writer-director James Bridges was going to write the film's screenplay, and even direct the film at one point, and ended up writing several drafts of the screenplay. Reportedly, Bridges left the project when Robert Redford didn't like any of his scripts.
The film was made and released about two years after its source novel of the same name by Barry Reed was first published in 1980. The book was the first novel of Reed and has been translated into a dozen languages.
Deborah Ann Kaye was admitted to St. Catherine Labouré Hospital on May 12, 1976. This was the 28th birthday of cast member Lindsay Crouse (Kaitlin Costello Price), the then wife of the screenwriter David Mamet.
[June 2003] The Frank Galvin character (played by Paul Newman) was one of the 400 characters nominated for the American Film Institute's "100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains" lists of 50 heroes and villains.
Arthur Hiller was originally attached to direct. Hiller was a mainstay at the 20th Century Fox studio around the time that the film was made. In 1982, the year that The Verdict (1982) first launched, Hiller had two films out that he had directed at Fox, these were Making Love (1982) and Author! Author! (1982). Reportedly, Hiller left The Verdict (1982) because he did not like David Mamet's script.
In the opening scene and several scenes afterward, Frank Galvin is playing a "Saturday Night Fever" pinball machine in a bar. Julie Bovasso, who plays the nurse Maureen Rooney, appeared as John Travolta's mother in Saturday Night Fever (1977).
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
The last sequence was not in the script. Sidney Lumet devised the scene with Paul Newman and Charlotte Rampling, wanting to show that Laura was drinking while Frank was not. Newman confirmed that Frank was drinking coffee at the end. This is meant to show that Frank has escaped from his personal Hell while Laura has brought herself into one. Frank's refusal to answer Laura's phone call is his refusal to give in to his old vices.
Both lawyers, Galvin and Concannon, engage in unethical conduct for which both would have been subject to disbarment. Galvin received a settlement offer from the Archdiocese, and yet he never told his clients about the offer or asked them if they wanted to accept it. That is unethical and prohibited conduct on the part of a lawyer. His clients reveal that his opponent, Concannon, told them about the settlement offer. When a lawyer knows that a party is represented by counsel, the lawyer is prohibited from speaking directly with that party in the absence of their attorney. Concannon also engages in unethical conduct when he pays Laura to get close to Frank and learn his trial strategy and secrets, which she does. That conduct is also expressly prohibited by the lawyers' Code of Professional Responsibility.