Runtime: 2 Hours
and 40 Minutes
Just knowing that this movie is out there probably keeps John Grisham
awake at night in a cold sweat. It would me if I were him. Because,
even though he slaves in the lawyer-story field, he will likely never
craft a yarn as thoroughly gripping as this one.
Best as I can see, this film sets the high water mark for all other
courtroom flicks. It begins with Jimmy Stewart (who was the D.A. of
his small, Michigan town until being voted out) returning from a fishing
trip to receive a call from a frantic woman who asks if he will represent
her husband in court. He finds this strange since he has never met
this woman and, aside from that, he is not a defense attorney. But
his alcoholic friend insists that he take the case, although he knows
nothing about it, and so he does.
It soon turns out that he is representing a soldier (Ben Gazzara)
who has killed the man who raped and battered his wife. Jimmy asks
the man some questions and, yes, the man did indeed commit the crime.
But can he be held responsible for his feelings of rage? Was the murder
justified? After all, the man did rape his wife. Wouldn't any man
want to put a few slugs into such a man?
These are the questions that Jimmy will have to wrestle with during
the course of the trial. He knows that his client commited the murder,
but was he in his right mind when he did so? That is the big question.
Soon another question springs up: considering the wife's flirtatious
attitude, can he be entirely sure that it was even rape?
There are a lot of questions to this case, which seems at first to
be so clear-cut, but soon gets a lot more complicated. The complications
seem natural, though, and I was not surprised to find that this is
based on a couple of actual cases from the Michigan state files. The
actors do a good job with their characters. Lee Remick is very good
as the flirty wife, and George C. Scott performs an early miracle
with the character of the prosecuting attorney: a man who can badger
a witness so effortlessly that it almost becomes an art form. But
Jimmy Stewart is the one who really steals the show. Does he believe
his client? You are never quite sure, and this isn't conveyed through
any dialogue. Instead, he sells this point through the discreet use
of facial expressions. He conveys everything you need to know about
this man through tone of voice, facial expression, posture, and it
is a great performance. And the way he can play a jury? If I ever
get caught shooting the guy who shtupped my wife, I want Jimmy as
my lawyer. He has the jury eating out of his hand, and he pokes tiny
imperceptible holes in the prosecution's arguments every step of the
way. It's very smoothly done.
All in all, this is a vastly entertaining, often powerful, and thought-provoking
film. Otto Preminger directs with a remarkable assurance and attention
to detail. This film is 160 minutes long, but I assure you that you
won't notice it. The movie races along and you are at the finish before
you know it.
Like any excellent movie, this one leaves you wanting more rather
than less. That is always a great achievement. Outstanding work all
around. In fact, I don't think people have heard enough about this
movie. Before it called to me from the racks of Best Buy's DVD section,
I know that I had barely heard of it. That, more than anything, is
the true crime here.