14 May 2014 | BigJohnPilgrim
Nice technical courtroom thriller with political drama and a sideshow of sexual tension
I couldn't put this movie down once I started watching it on TCM tonight (I missed the beginning but I assume TCM is playing it to commemorate Efrem Zimbalist's passing almost 2 weeks ago). In the first place, the star-studded cast lived up to their billing with great acting, even Angie Dickinson, who often falls flat on acting skill but always comes through with sexuality and downright feminine attractiveness. In this case, she brought appropriate sexual tension that was not over-played, and really brought on her acting chops. I thought the then-relatively unknown Carroll O'Connor really stood out in his first (albeit minor) big-screen role as a political adviser. His acting was strong, competent, and confident, in a way that portended a successful future career on both the small and large screens. Even in this minor role you could sense a strong presence from Carroll.
There are a lot of twists to this plot: a senator's wife (Angie Dickinson) who still pines for a man (Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.) she never stopped loving before marrying the senator (Don Ameche), but she had to forget about Efrem because he was married to an invalid wife at the time, although the invalid wife had subsequently passed away (without any further hints as to whether they had an affair when he was still married). And he just happens to be the judge in a trial being prosecuted by an ambitious man (Frank Kelly) against a former governor's nephew, and Frank will stop at nothing to gain his party's backing to run for governor. The powers in the political parties come into play as backing is sought, and gained, and lost, while the power players jockey for the best candidates.
Meanwhile, the senator has returned home from Washington, D.C. to run for the governorship that he feels entitled to, in order to stack the state delegation and earn his party's nomination for president. But the senator has a secret, a heart condition that may prevent him from realizing his goal of the ultimate public service to his country.
Now, toss in the fact that the judge has political aspirations of his own, and you have a lit fuse waiting to go off. Political intrigue and subterfuge play a big part in the plot. But neither the great cast and acting or these complicated twists and turns are what makes this movie so good and believable. The courtroom drama is highly technically accurate and believable, the actors are believable, the technical issues behind the objections by the lawyers, and the subsequent override or sustainment by the judge is based on real-life considerations, including the biggest twist of all, which you will have to watch to find out. This is just a valid and highly accurate and technical examples of real-life courtroom proceedings that will have you believing in the plot and its complexities.
Something that struck me about this movie was the way graphic sex was discussed so openly in the courtroom. The deceased in her brief death scene at the beginning of the movie was dressed very provocatively, and it was revealed in the coroner's testimony that she had had multiple sex partners (4, to be exact) in the 24 hours leading up to her death, leaving one's imagination to consider the gruesome and graphic details of how the coroner had determined this information. This kind of subject was still fairly taboo at the time, even on the big screen, and while it may have been an accurate courtroom detail lending credibility to the stark courtroom realities portrayed so well in the movie, it comprised a surprisingly salacious and shocking addition to the plot, especially considering that it was really irrelevant to the flow of the case and the movie. Contrast that with the fact that the viewer is left wondering whether Angie's and Efrem's characters had had an affair while he was still caring for his invalid wife, especially since their romantic interest in each other plays such a large part in the script. That coyness with their relationship just didn't match well with the brutal directness of unnecessarily portraying a nymphomaniac, which was obviously added simply for shock value and reality creds. But that was really just one of only two minor discrepancies with the script.
The other discrepancy would be the conviction of a man for a murder he didn't commit based on an elderly woman's testimony identifying him as a man she briefly saw outlined in her headlights at night from at least 50 feet away, leaving the scene of the murder. There were no fingerprints to back it up, no motive except for an unproven allegation that the husband had previously attacked her with a knife, and an unsuccessful attempt to imply he committed the murder because his mistress was pregnant (though this attempt was never completed). There was just no strong cross examination of the old woman's testimony, and anyone who has ever watched 'My Cousin Vinny' knows how easy it is to destroy weak eyewitness testimony like that, especially in a murder case where someone's life hangs in the balance, and especially since the whole case was based on circumstantial evidence. So that was the one weak point in the court case, which was otherwise brilliantly scripted, set up, and played out.
Overall, I really enjoyed this movie and the great acting that helped pull it off, the two weak points detracted very little from the overall effect. I was struck very strongly with the back-and-forth in the courtroom, and found myself thinking again and again that whoever wrote the courtroom script had real and in-depth courtroom experience and had great skill in accurately putting it together. It wasn't just realistic, it was intelligently- and well-put together. A very good movie.