Wednesday, June 29, 2016

When Pinky and The Brain Pleads Your Case, or Thoughts on Compulsion

 Two movies immediately come to mind when I say the phrase “the best Hitchcock movie that Hitchcock never made”; Charade (1963, with Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant, and probably my favorite Audrey Hepburn movie) and Compulsion (1959), a much darker courtroom drama directed by Richard Fleischer.   You may not have heard of Richard Fleischer, but you’ve heard of his movies: 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (1954), Fantastic Voyage (1966), Soylent Green (1973), Mandingo (1975) and Conan the Destroyer (1984).  He was a Hollywood powerhouse with a 50-year career.
Dean Stockwell and Bradford Dillman play Judd and Artie, two college boys in 1920’s Chicago from good families who are actually Nietzschean sociopaths who plan and execute the perfect murder as an intellectual exercise.  Of course they’re not as smart as they think they are and they’re caught and put on trial.  Acting powerhouse Orson Welles plays Jonathan Wilk, their defense attorney, who does his best to save them from hanging.
The second half of the film is a master class in acting as Orson Welles and EG Marshall as District Attorney Harold Horn trade verbal blows across the courtroom.  Orson’s rumpled and avuncular performance is juxtaposed against EG Marshall’s tight-laced and self-righteous DA as the two keen legal minds face off against each other.   It’s always a treat to watch Orson Welles; he’s at the top of his game in Compulsion, and his impassioned argument against the death penalty is still relevant today.
Much like Psycho (1960), Bates Motel and Orphan (2009), Compulsion explores the idea of the baby-faced killer, a common enough theme today but shocking and morally reprehensible to mid-century audiences.   Granted, this is the same society that also condoned racial segregation and considered homosexuality shocking and morally reprehensible so let’s not get too sentimental about the good old days. 
Compulsion is a fictional account of the Leopold and Loeb murder and the subsequent court case that attracted national media attention, much like the OJ trial, though on a much smaller scale.  HItchcock made a similar themed film with Rope (1948), starring Jimmy Stewart.
Dean Stockwell is one of my favorite actors, who along with Kurt Russell and Jodie Foster was able to make a successful transition from child actor to well-adjusted movie star (as opposed to say, Robert Blake, whose career had a similar trajectory before his murder trial).  With films like The Dunwich Horror (1970), Dune (1984), and Blue Velvet (1986), in addition to roles on The A-Team, Miami Vice, Quantum Leap, Star Trek: Enterprise and the Battlestar Galactica remake on TV, he has enjoyed a 70-year career and has an IMDb page with over 200 credits. 

my first novel? thanks for asking:) I wrote a 4 book supernatural martial arts series concerning the ongoing feud between a group of kung-fu killer witches in san francsico’s chinatown.