British author John Mortimer is best known to television audiences as the creator of Rumpole of the Bailey, the British comedy-drama popular with PBS viewers and starring Leo McKern as an aging barrister fighting the goo... more »d fight in court but henpecked at home. This 1962 film, Trial and Error, is also based on a Mortimer story and also deals with the decidedly unglamorous lives of people shackled to an imperfect legal system. Richard Attenborough plays an ordinary, quiet fellow who kills his wife after years of listening to her gaudy laughter. He freely admits he did the deed, but the defense counsel assigned to him (Peter Sellers), desperate to be part of a significant trial, tries fruitlessly to mount a compelling case for his innocence. Sellers and Attenborough, perhaps never better than in this film by James Hill (Born Free), brilliantly portray the subtle shift of authority and sympathy between their characters, the way the accused slowly comes to the emotional rescue of his own, depressed advocate. So joined are these two by a common, seemingly pointless destiny that they even pay supernatural visits to one another's pasts--much like Scrooge and his Christmas spirits. Fine stuff, very funny, and ultimately poignant. Also known as The Dock Brief. --Tom Keogh« less
John R. Bridell | Minneapolis, MN USA | 06/17/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I hate lawyer movies. They always get it all wrong. THE DOCK BRIEF won me over. It take more than a bit of ingrained hatred to pass up a Seller's film. The Mortimer story of Rumpole is about a lawyer who should come in from the legal wars and hang up his wig. Mortimer's story of Barrister Sellers is about an absolutely unsuccessful lawyer who should have put his used wig for sale before facing his first legal battle. It doesn't turn out that way when Sellers, woefully inadequate, is chosen to defend a murderer. It is his first case. Rather that carry on with this story any longer, this is how I casually reviewed the movie with a Sussex friend of mine on email. "By the way, I've just seen a Peter Sellers vintage movie entitled The Dock Brief. It has a different title in the USA because only one American living in Minnesota knows what a dock brief is. Well, the film was great because the dialogue was upscale genius. Mortimer wrote the original story. In this case he chose to cast a Rumpole character [Barrister Sellers] as a totally inept legal moron, cf. quick witted, knife-like insighted, issue grasping Rumpole. The character therein was the story's crux. I've never heard of a legal crux, but Seller's character is as close as you might come I'm afraid.""
Amusing and touching
LGwriter | Astoria, N.Y. United States | 11/24/2002
(3 out of 5 stars)
"This 1962 British film is both funny and sad--funny in the deft comic touches that portray the contrast of a quiet lonely man married to a loud garish woman who laughs at everything, and sad in the strained efforts of a lowly barrister (lawyer) trying to make something of himself in his first serious case: defending the quiet man's murder of his wife.The quiet man (Fowle) is played by Richard Attenborough and the barrister (Morganhall) by Peter Sellers. Both give great performances, as does Beryl Reid as Mrs. Fowle, shrieking with laughter at the dumbest jokes on the radio (the two cannot afford a 'telly'). In flashbacks that deliberately recall A Christmas Carol, each man shows the other the past circumstances that brought him to his meeting of the other man. For Morganhall, it's the years of study and many more years of waiting for a case to arrive at his doorstep. For Fowle, it's the years of living with his raucous wife, during which time he retreats to the quiet life that raising budgies (parakeets) offers him.This is not a great film, or a major one, but it is well made and written, and very intelligent. It certainly recalls the famous statement, Most men lead lives of quiet desperation. In this film, the two major characters are both quiet and desperate. The smart humor that graces the film gives it a unique tone that serves the story well."
SUPERBLY, ABSURDLY, VIDEO POETRY!
Charles Bowman | Elmer, LA. United States | 07/18/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"There should be a warning label on the cover of this dvd telling the buyer to beware that they will be changed by watching this film. I certainly was. The first time I watched it, I absolutely abhorred it and swore never to make that mistake again. I did wait long enough to totally forget it before I watched it again. Now I know that it is certainly the most intelligent movie that I have ever seen!Like the Budda who knew the drink was poisoned but drank it anyhow to keep from hurting his hosts feelings, you need to drink this brew every time you think that you are losing your sanity. After watching the antics of Peter Sellers and Richard Attenborough you will realize that questioning your sanity is the first sane thing that you have ever done.Black and white is truly the only color medium for this darkest of messages. We are confronted by dark choices in this world-between buying into the world like Morganhall and Mrs. Fowle or retreating into parakeeting. Fowle the wifemurderer is the hero of this fine movie and when Morgenhall(Peter Sellers) asks if he will marry again in the hope that he will kill his second wife and thus give him his second serious case, while rolling on the floor in laughter,we cannot but see into our own dark hearts.Mr. Mortimer has given us one of the finest movies ever made.He dazzles us gradually with the truth as Emily Dickenson admonished us to do in "The Belle of Amherst."We are not blinded by this revelation but supremely entertained.The scenes where Morganhall and Fowle prepare the various defense scenarios are some of the most precious in movie history. Here the murderer plays the murderer, his own judge, and his own jury.He has already become his own executioner when he closed his eyes and chose Sellers to become his advocate. To the tantalizing music of "tradition" they test the possible defense scenarios. Our world is an imagined world, and this movie is more about the imprisoning imagination than about the liberator by the same name.I am reminded of another movie called "Rhinocerous" where Gene Wilder plays the only human left in a world of people all turned Rhinocerous.When confronted with this bewildering choice between Rhinocerocity and humanity he is afloat in the same existential dilemna as Fowle. The question remains: To whom will they turn the next time they need a defender? Hopefully, not to Morgenhall the lawyer!"
Humor in the first degree
Peter Reeve | Thousand Oaks, CA USA | 03/28/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Not to be confused with the later, Michael Richards movie of the same name, this is a low-key British legal satire, with a very stage-bound feel to it. The humor is dry, sometimes rather black and often very sharp. The performances are uniformly brilliant. If you enjoy John Mortimer's stories and appreciate subtle, intelligent acting then you must see this movie. Devotees of Sellers will want to see it, as an example of his early work. Other audiences may be impatient with its slow and gradual pace. It stands as evidence of the extraordinary wealth of comedic acting talent in British cinema."
london_office | London, UK | 01/30/2002
(3 out of 5 stars)
"This comedy will probably appeal to both aspiring and practising barristers. Fortunately this film has not been `coloured' and therefore retains the feel it has always had. The story follows a failed barrister who, having sacrificed forty years of his after learning the law life in chambers without much work, finally gets a crown court trial. It's a murder case, it's the big case he's been waiting for, it's his break into the `big time'. The incompetent barrister Morgenhall (Peter Sellers), so desperate to win this case, conjures up facts and scenarios to win regardless of what his client (Richard Attenborough) discloses. Comical as it may sound, it's good for learning what not to do in relation to professional conduct and advocacy. Given the films setting, it has a certain amount of information that can be classed as legal historical content. A film that is more likely to be enjoyed by members of the Bar."