In this riveting true story about the notorious 1924 Leopold-loeb murder case, Orson Wells stars as the brillant Clarence Darrow whose history-making defense against capitol punishment saved two wealthy Chicago teenagers f... more »rom a death sentence.« less
Stylish, Well Performed, But Ultimately Unsatisfying
Gary F. Taylor | Biloxi, MS USA | 05/18/2005
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb were two intellectually gifted, extremely wealthy young men of 1920s Chicago--but they were also highly neurotic. In 1924 their twisted relationship exploded into one of the most infamous crimes of the era: largely in order to demonstrate their supposed intellectual superiority, they kidnapped and murdered fourteen year old Bobby Franks. But their "perfect crime" was not quite as perfect as they had thought: it quickly unraveled, and with the celebrated Clarence Darrow appearing for the defense the court case became as legendary as the crime.
The 1959 film COMPULSION, based on the Leopold-Loeb case, had a great deal going for it. The cast was superior and included a Hollywood legend; director Richard Fleischer was a rock-solid craftsman; production values from cinematography to composer to costumer were in experienced and capable hands. But the film ran afoul of two issues: censorship codes of the day, which effectively prevented a no-holds-barred re-telling of the case, and the fact that Nathan Leopold was still very much alive.
The result was a script that transformed Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb into characters named 'Judd Steiner' and 'Artie Straus' and which renamed Clarence Darrow 'Jonathan Wilk'--and which can only imply in vaguest possible terms aspects of the case that most find particularly fascinating. With so much detail thrown out, the result is a film that divides into two rather awkwardly joined parts.
The first half of the film focuses on Steiner and Straus. The cast is indeed exceptional, with Dean Stockwell and Bradford Dillman extremely effective and receiving memorable support from the likes of Diane Varsi and Martin Milner. Still, it is more a matter of implication rather than specification, and even the crime itself is somewhat glossed over. The second half of the film brings in Orson Wells as attorney Wilk and unexpectedly shifts focus away from the killers and their crime, leaving Wells to dominate the screen with a series of powerful speeches. The ending of the film is remarkably abrupt and fails to tie the film together.
When all is said and done, COMPULSION never quite manages to live up to its potential. The memorable performances and stylish look of the film make it more than worth seeing, but any one who is familar with the Leopold-Loeb case will be disappointed--and even those who aren't will likely consider that one viewing is enough. At present the film is only available to the homemarket on video in a pan-and-scan version that doesn't help it along. Recommended--but only just.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer In Memory of Ellen R. Smith, 1920-2005 Virtuoso Pianist and Good Friend"
A fascinating, chilling film.
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Of the three high profile movies that deal with the Leopold and Loeb case, (the other two being Swoon and Rope)this one is by far the best. The two leads are frightening but believable in depicting warped, psychopathic killers. It is interesting to see how the film slyly danced around the period taboo of mentioning the duo's homosexual bond, and how Welles' Darrow character raises the issue of xenophobia/homophobia in the court room without stating the issue bluntly. Everyone in the film is first rate, with the one exception of Diane Varsi. On some viewings, she is annoying and a major weakness to the movie. Other times, her character is credible within the context of the time period and locale. In any case, the movie is first rate and ought to be seen more widely that it seems to be."
Re-enactment of a sensational murder trial
Cory D. Slipman | Rockville Centre, N.Y. | 06/10/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The brilliant Orson Welles' eloquent and compassionate soliloquy as defense attorney Jonathan Wilk during summation at the trial of two adolescent boys accused of murder is the highlight of the movie "Compulsion".
This crime and courtroon drama is based on the 1924 trial of Loeb and Leopold, two wealthy and intelligent teenaged law students who killed a young boy in a "thrill" killing. Bradford Dillman playing Artie Straus and Dean Stockwell playing Judd Steiner felt so smug and intellectually gifted that they believed they could commit and get away with the perfect crime. Dillman the cocky leader of the two goaded the shy and introverted Stockwell into carrying out the demented plot. Both boys had no real close friends and subsisted together in what had the looks of a homosexual relationship.
Straus and Steiner conjured up alibis for the time of the murder but were split up for interrogation by state attorney Harold Horn, with E.G Marshall excellently playing a typical role for him. Marshall was able to trip the boys up and soon they were standing trial and facing the death penalty.
The boys wealthy parents hired Jonathan Wilkes, played by a jowly Orson Welles who was supposed to represent the legendary Clarence Darrow to defend the boys. The superbly oratorical Welles shined brightly with his dialogue and stage presence. By withdrawing a plea of not guilty he removed the jury from the decision making process. The guilty plea with mitigating circumstances allowed psychological profiling to be admitted as testimony. He was able to appeal to the judge whose job was to pronounce sentencing to overturn the death penalty and settle for a verdict of life imprisonment.
Director Richard Fleischer did a creditable job in presenting what was a landmark case In American jurisprudence."
Somewhat dated; some of the best acting in movie history
Cory D. Slipman | 07/14/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The defense attorney Clarence Darrow (played with astonishing skill by the brilliant Orson Welles, who is today considered one of this country's finest actors ever) delivers in the last half of this movie one of the finest soliloquies Hollywood has ever offered us, equal to and probably surpassing England's Laurence Olivier in his critically praised "Hamlet" interpretation. The soliloquy by Welles is in itself worth the price of this video.The hapless prosecuting attorney is played by E.G. Marshall, who recently died but who left us with a legacy of excellence in every picture in which he appeared (especially perhaps in "Twelve Angry Men"). A wonderfully underplayed but very sensitive performance by a master of his craft in films, stage, and television.Brad Dillman and Dean Stockwell are right on in their portrayals of the villains who are apparently responsible for the compulsive and senseless murder of a young man. The entire cast creates some of the most realistic portrayals of good and evil that Hollywood has ever given us. Everyone in the cast seems to give it their all.The movie is clearly, however, a product of the neo-Victorian times in which it was produced, sparing the audience the grim realism movies are currently permitted to film today. It could be more powerful if it were re-filmed today, perhaps, but could the cast of a re-make come close to matching the performances in this film?It is worth owning this movie for its cast and direction and overall excellence...and it could be argued that the lack of the extreme violence which actually characterized the murder doesn't need to be as graphic on-screen as it probably would be if re-made today. By and large we are intelligent people and can jolly well fill in the details for ourselves.A real treat!"
Being Wealthy A Misfortune?
B. J Robbins | La Quinta, CA United States | 12/28/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
""Compulsion" is a fine film, not least of all because of its theme music. Something that has always bothered me is that the real Leopold and Loeb were 16 years old when they committed the crime, yet Dillman and Stockwell are obviously much older. This is important because the judge rules for life in prison instead of death mainly because of their ages. This is nitpicking, because they would have been hard-pressed to find 16-year-old actors, even though today's ultra-realistic films might have done so.
Wisely filmed in black and white, the film is quintessential 60's. The homosexuality is only vaguely hinted at; this is proper as such things were not talked about at the time and wes not in any case essential to the film. The boys' wealth and intelligence were, and Darrow knew that, with all their advantages, they were emotionally delayed. Welles's speech contains many passages from Darrow's original oration/plea.
The acting is first-rate, especially Dean Stockwell's performance. E.G. Marshall gets a confession out of the two boys before they even get a chance to speak to an attorney (in these pre-Miranda days) which gives you food for thought ... would the boys have confessed if Darrow was present from the start (NO!)? There is much to think about in this film, which is why it is endlessly fascinating."