Tonight's Saturday Night Cinema feature is Compulsion (1959), a gripping telling of the Leopold-Loeb murder. Orson Welles is just fantastic (as always) and gives a standout performance in the role of the Clarence Darrow-like defense lawyer.
"Compulsion is a compelling, stylish thriller, loosely based on the famous 1924 murder trial of thrill-killers Loeb and Leopold, two homosexual students who murdered a young boy to demonstrate their intellectual superiority. Artie Straus (Bradford Dillman) is a sadistic, mother-dominated bully. Judd Steiner (Dean Stockwell) is a submissive, introverted sissy. Having been raised by wealthy, arrogant families, both Artie and Judd consider themselves above conventional morality. Unfeeling and conceited, the boys, after the killing, take delight in offering to aid in finding the culprits." Linda Rasmussen, RoviThe Screen: 'Compulsion'
THE team that made "Compulsion," which came to the Rivoli Theatre yesterday, has artfully manufactured a tense, forceful and purposeful drama obviously inspired by a purposeless crime that shocked a nation wallowing in prosperity, illicit whisky and vague ideas about abnormal psychology.
In adapting Meyer Levin's popular book, which the author termed a documentary novel stemming from his personal knowledge of the Loeb-Leopold case, they have fashioned a documentary-like fiction that moves as briskly as exciting melodrama while it dramatically probes the characters of its principals. Although a viewer may not be constantly involved emotionally in the events in "Compulsion," the film has the rare attribute of gripping one's attention throughout its dark proceedings.
Its artistry lies in the outstanding performances by the leads, the crisp and natural dialogue written by Richard Murphy, who appears to have had respect for his source material, and the highly efficient direction of Richard Fleischer. They are never blatant but nearly always fascinatingly professional in their deft handling of the causes and effects of an outrageous act of violence in a civilized society.
Credit them with establishing the strange nature of their principals quickly and vividly. From the opening scene, when these odd, boon companions careen down a dark road and deliberately try to run down a wandering drunk, an observer is made increasingly aware that they are intellectual giants and emotional pygmies. As scions of rich Chicago families, college graduates at 18 and academic leaders of their law-school class, they bask in superior detachment, a superiority based on Nietzschean superman concepts and a shadowy inference of homosexuality.
It is soon evident that they also kidnapped and coldly slew a rich neighbor's young son in proof of their so-called superiority and destructive neuroticism. Rapidly, vignette on vignette reveals the extroverted Artie Straus gloating as he watches the police (whom he even "aids" with false leads) grapple with their problem, as the introverted, submissive Judd Steiner aloofly observes his revered pal in crime.
The sudden discovery of the latter's eyeglasses, which eventually link the pair to the killing; the slick questioning by the state's attorney and his careful accumulation of incriminating data, and the final trial, in which a truly impassioned and moving plea against capital punishment is made by a dedicated lawyer who could easily have been the late Clarence Darrow, pass in cumulatively sharp and striking review.
In his performance as the defense lawyer, Orson Welles contributes a comparatively short but the finest portrayal to this searching drama. Heavy-set, beetle-browed, gray hair descending in a drooping cowlick, he is the personification of a wise humanitarian who strongly projects, in one of the longest of film speeches, the need for mercy in the face of public demand for execution.
Bradford Dillman emerges as an actor of imposing stature as the bossy, over-ebullient and immature mama's boy, Artie. Dean Stockwell's delineation of the quiet, sensitive Judd is equally effective, a characterization highlighted by a searing sequence in which he breaks down as he attempts to rape a classmate. Diane Varsi is gentle and compassionate as that student who understands his desperation to prove his manhood.
Mention should be made, too, of Martin Milner's restrained depiction of her fiancé and E. G. Marshall's carefully underplayed stint as the state's attorney. They, as well as other supporting players, add strength and conviction to the fine job done by the principals. In "Compulsion" they have made a dark deed into a bright and fascinating picture.
COMPULSION; screen play by Richard Murphy; based on the novel by Meyer Levin; directed by Richard Fleischer; produced by Richard D. Zanuck; a Darryl F. Zanuck Productions, Inc., presentation released by Twentieth Century-Fox. At the Rivoli Theatre, Broadway and Forty-ninth Street. Running time: 103 minutes.
Jonathan Wilk . . . . . Orson Welles
Ruth Evans . . . . . Diane Varsi
Judd Steiner . . . . . Dean Stockwell
Artie Straus . . . . . Bradford Diliman
State's Attorney Horn . . . . . E. G. Marshall
Sid Brooks . . . . . Martin Milner
Max Steiner . . . . . Richard Anderson
Lieutenant Johnson . . . . . Robert Simon
Tom Daly . . . . . Edward Binns
Judge . . . . . Voltaire Perkins
Mr. Steiner . . . . . Wilton Graff
Mrs. Straus . . . . . Louise Lorimer
Mr. Straus . . . . . Robert Burton
Padua . . . . . Gavin MacLeod
Benson . . . . . Terry Becker
Edgar Llewellyn . . . . . Russ Bender
Emma . . . . . Gerry Lock
Detective Davis . . . . . Harry Carter
Detective Brown . . . . . Simon Scott