3 August 1999 | Baron-19
A courtroom speech to die for !
Charles Laughton delivers one of the finest courtroom speeches that you are ever likely to see (it certainly ranks with Spencer Tracy in "Inherit the Wind", or Gregory Peck in "To Kill a Mockingbird" ). Here, though, Laughton is not pleading the case for the defense or the prosecution, he is pleading for his own life in a Nazi "show-trial".
Rather than saving his own life by following the instructions of the German authorities, Laughton chooses to use the opportunity presented by his conducting his own defense to launch a masterful indictment of the Nazi regime. His speech to the jurors and the packed, public galleries is delivered with the sincerity and authority which only an actor with Laughton's many talents, could hope to muster. Inspired by Laughton's speech, the jurors find the courage to acquit him and Laughton dashes from the court to the school where he is a teacher.
Having made such a speech, Laughton knows that he has signed his own death warrant. There is just time, before the German soldiers come to take him away, for one final speech to his beloved class of school-children. Once again, Laughton produces the goods in this very touching scene as he reads to the children articles from the Declaration of the Rights of Man.
Most of this film is typical, low-budget, World War Two propaganda but Laughton raises it above the mediocre. Maureen O'Hara is gorgeous as the fellow teacher with whom Laughton is in love. Also worth watching, as ever, is Una O'Connor as Laughton's mother.