Category Archives: Court Drama

…and justice for all. (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Lawyer fights the system.

Arthur (Al Pacino) is a defense attorney who becomes increasingly more frustrated and disillusioned with the court system. He’s fighting to get one of his clients, Jeff (Thomas Waites), out of jail as he’s been sitting behind bars for over a year simply because he was mistaken for somebody else while also being forced to defend Judge Fleming (John Forsythe), a man that he vehemently hates, from a rape allegation.

The script by the husband and wife team of Barry Levinson and Valerie Curtain is chockfull of great insights into the American legal system and how messed up and prone to corruption it can sometimes be. Defense lawyers have in the past been glamourized in TV-shows like ‘Perry Mason’, but here the viewer gets a more stark assessment of their profession as they watch them being forced to defend those that they know are actually guilty. Yet it also balances this by showing how public defenders can also be the lone voice to those who are truly innocent and have no one else to speak up for them.

The film has a weird comedy/drama mix that doesn’t work and ends up getting in the way. When I first saw this many decades back I liked the humorous undertones as it gave production a surreal, satirical edge, but upon second viewing I didn’t find it to be as amusing. The script makes good hard-hitting points and adding in the humor only diminishes this message and takes away from the seriousness of the subject matter.

The side-story dealing with the suicidal judge, played by Jack Warden, should’ve been excised. I’ll admit the images of him eating lunch while sitting out on a ledge of a tall building, or trying to kill himself with a rifle are memorable, but pointless and by coupling this judge character with Forsythe’s crooked one seems to imply that all judges are either bad or crazy, which isn’t fair.

The storyline dealing with Arthur visiting his senile grandfather, played by Lee Strasberg, should’ve been cut out as well as it has nothing to do with the main plot. It also brings up many unanswered questions like why is Arthur close to his grandfather and not to his own parents and why did his parents apparently ‘abandon’ him? This backstory never gets sufficiently addressed and seems like material for a whole different movie altogether.

Spoiler Alert!

The storyline involving Judge Fleming is the most intriguing and should’ve been made the film’s primary focus, but I was disappointed with the way the judge glibly admits to his crime, which takes away the mystery angle and I would’ve preferred the truth coming out in a more dramatic manner. The film also has a very old-fashioned take to his situation by saying that just because the character is involved with BDSM activities that somehow makes him ‘deviant’ and more prone to committing rape, which has been proven untrue as there are plenty of people who can enjoy kinky activities with consenting partners and still remain ethical.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Overall the film is worth catching and has many interesting moments including Pacino’s final speech that he gives to a packed courtroom, which is a gem. This also marks the film debuts of Christine Lahti and Jeffery Tambor as Pacino’s lawyer friend who slowly goes crazy.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 16, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 59Minutes

Director: Norman Jewison

Rated R

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Star Chamber (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review:  Judges form vigilante group.

Idealistic young judge Steven Hardin (Michael Douglas) is sickened by the fact that so many known criminals are able to avoid jail time through legal technicalities. His friend and fellow judge Ben (Hal Holbrook) tells him of a secret underground group consisting of nine judges who have a hit-man sent out to kill the criminals who were otherwise able to get off through legal loopholes by the regular courts. Steven initially likes the idea and even sits in as one of the judges, but then he tries to stop a hit when it is later determined that the criminals set for vigilante execution were actually innocent, but finds to his horror that once the ball is set in motion there is no way it can be stopped.

The film is nicely directed by Peter Hyams who makes great use of mood lighting particularly in the scenes showing the nine judge tribunal as well as Steven’s visit to an abandoned warehouse. There is also a terrific foot chase at the beginning that is as exciting and intense as any car chase out there and it reminded me of a similar foot chase done in Busting, which was also helmed by Hyams.

The story by Roderick Taylor is an intriguing one, but it takes too long to get to the second act. The whole first hour is spent dwelling on Steven’s quandary of letting known criminals off-the-hook, which becomes quite derivative and could’ve easily been addressed in only 5 minutes. The story would’ve worked better had it started with Steven already involved in the underground organization and then through a brief flashback shown how he came to be there.

The scenes involving the vigilante tribunal are good, but I ended up having a lot of questions that never got answered or even touched on. For instance only one assassin (Keith Buckley) carries out all of the hits, but who is this guy and how did he come to work for them? Who’s the middle-man who gives him the assignments and how much does he know about the organization and what happens if he gets caught and starts talking to the police? How widespread is this movement and does it cover cases from the entire nation or only a certain area and are there other organizations like this one in other parts of the country and around the world?

I liked the wrinkle that gets thrown in, in which two criminals (Don Calfa, Joe Regalbuto) who Steven thinks are deserving of punishment, but later found to be innocent. Too many times Hollywood films dealing with this theme portray it in too much of a one-dimensional way that fails to bring out how vigilantism can sometimes be just as dangerous as the criminals it hopes to punish. Unfortunately the film fails to tackle the full complexity of the issue and instead just barely touches the surface.

The film also avoids making any clear statement or taking any position, which makes the whole thing come off as quite transparent when it’s over. The ending has no conclusion and leaves everything wide-open, which is a real cop-out. The concept is a good, but it needs to be redone by people who are willing to delve deeper as the effort here is too shallow to be considered satisfying.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: August 5, 1983

Runtime: 1Hour 49Minutes

Rated R

Director: Peter Hyams

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Casualties of War (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: He witnesses a rape.

Based on an actual incident that occurred on November 19, 1966 the story centers around five members of an American squadron during the Vietnam War where the pressures and ugliness of battle send their leader, Sergeant Tony Meserve (Sean Penn) over-the-edge. When his squad gets denied leave he decides to have his men kidnap a Vietnamese girl named Oanh (Thuy Thu Le) who is then raped by the four of them while one, Eriksson (Michael J. Fox) refuses.  The young woman is eventually killed and her lifeless body left in a field. When the men return to their base Eriksson tries to report the crime, but finds stiff resistance.

This same incident was used as the basis for another film called The Visitors, which came out 17 years earlier. That movie took a different approach as it hypothesized what would’ve happened once the men returned from doing prison time and came for a ‘visit’ to the man’s home who had turned them in. That film suffered from a lack of a budget, but still managed to have a little more tension and impact than this one. This version takes way too long to play itself out. The audience knows where it’s headed right from the start and thus makes it almost excruciating to have to sit through.

The film would’ve worked better had the story been told in a fragmented style. The horror of the situation gets lost by the plodding narrative that overplays the story’s shock element and seems to take an almost sick delight in dragging out the whole kidnap/rape sequence until it gets agonizing and even tedious.

The idea that Eriksson would mentally be going back through this whole situation while he dreams it during a nap on a bus isn’t believable. The story is supposedly told as a flashback, but people dream in a more surreal, nonlinear way that wouldn’t painstakingly go back through every detail that had occurred to them in real-life. Also, people tend to repress unpleasant experiences that they’ve had. At times certain bits and pieces of it may come to the surface, but most of it would be locked away in the person’s subconscious, which is why the fragmented approach would’ve made more sense because we would’ve seen things in the exact same way that they were being played out in Eriksson’s head.

Fox is miscast and looks more like Marty McFly stuck in a time warp and involved in a situation he has no business being in. His character’s upbeat disposition makes him seem like he’s in some sort of invisible bubble that allows him not to be affected by the horrors of war even though it has clearly taken its toll on everyone else around him.  The character is also a bit too passive and does little to prevent the rape from occurring, which will make some viewers feel that he is cowardly.

Although his character is a bit over-the-top Penn gives a strong and effective performance and the main reason if any to watch the film. John Leguizamo is also good as a shy, quiet type that initially refrains from wanting to take part in the crime only to ultimately cave to peer pressure.

The on-location shooting done in Thailand is good and I liked the way director Brian De Palma uses the point-of-view effect particularly when the men go around the sleeping village looking for a victim to choose, but ultimately the film fails to elicit much of an emotional effect. The quasi, tacked-on ‘uplifting’ ending in which a stranger tells Eriksson to simply ‘let go’ of his horrible memories and in essence ‘move on’ from it is terribly contrived as there are certain experiences one can’t simply leave behind, which only helps to solidify how shallow this potentially penetrating drama really is.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: August 18, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 59Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Rated R

Director: Brian De Palma

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Good Mother (1988)

good-mother

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: She losses her daughter.

Anna (Diane Keaton) is a frigid woman who divorces her husband Brian (James Naughton) of many years and gets joint custody of their 6-year-old daughter Molly (Asia Vieira). After spending some time being single she meets up with an artist named Leo (Liam Neeson) who opens her up to a whole new sexual awakening. Her new liberated lifestyle affects her daughter as well. When Molly catches Leo getting out of the shower naked she inquires if she can touch his penis, which he allows and then later she crawls into bed with the couple as they make love. When Brian hears about this he demands full custody, which pits Anna against Leo as she fights the system to keep her daughter.

Keaton’s performance is the best thing as she plays the mother role for the third time in a decade and the exact reverse predicament of the character that she portrayed just before doing this one where she got stuck with a child that she didn’t want while here she loses one. I enjoyed Neeson’s Irish accent and Vieira is cute while it’s great seeing old-timers Ralph Bellamy and Teresa Wright in supporting roles.

Leonard Nimoy’s direction is solid for the most part. He was just coming off tremendous success with his earlier hit 3 Men and a Baby, so it was nice to see him take a creative challenge by tackling a different genre.  The story’s sensitive subject matter  is handled well including most importantly the scene showing the girl in bed with the two adults although the various other moments showing Anna’s and Leo’s intimacy is a little uncomfortable, but still captured tastefully without ever feeling that it is being overtly erotic.

The film’s biggest failing is the story itself. Although based on the best-selling novel by Sue Miller it doesn’t have enough twists to be compelling or enough of a visual quality to be cinematic. Too much time is spent at the beginning dealing with Anna’s childhood experiences with her cousin Babe (Tracy Griffith) that only has a thin connection to the rest of the plot and could’ve easily been cut and simply alluded to instead. The courtroom scenes lack impact and offer no new interesting revelations. The film also doesn’t bother to show two of the story’s most dramatic moments, which is when Molly tells her father about her experiences with Leo, or when Anna confronts Leo about it later, which to me should’ve been a must.

The ending leaves little impact making me wonder what point the filmmakers where trying to convey, or why a viewer should sit through it especially since it’s not based on a true story and meanders too long just for it to come to a very vague resolution.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: November 4, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 43Minutes

Rated R

Director: Leonard Nimoy

Studio: Touchstone Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

The Last Wave (1977)

last wave 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Suffering from strange premonitions.

David Burton (Richard Chamberlain) is a lawyer working in Sydney, Australia who is hired to defend some aborigines that have been accused of murder. David’s specialty is taxation law and he feels overwhelmed in this new role, but still takes it on with an earnest dedication, but in the process begins to experience strange dreams and even sees one of his clients, Chris (David Gulpilil), in them. This coincides with weird weather events that begin occurring all over the continent including the phenomena of black rain. David can’t help but feel that somehow this is all connected and after doing extensive research finds that tribal aborigines have a belief system involving what they call dreamtime in which spirits from another world communicate with us through our dreams and David has been the chosen recipient due to his lifelong ability to dream of events in his sleep that eventually occur later in real-life.

The film, which is directed by the gifted Peter Weir, has terrific imagery that almost makes-up for its other shortcomings. There have been a lot of movies that have tried to create creepy nightmare segments, but the ones here work much better than most and gave this viewer an effectively spooking feeling. The silhouette of the aborigines in the pouring rain, the shots of a large seismic wave and use of tribal music all get used to ultimate effect. Even the rain storms become fascinating to watch. None of them were actual ones, but instead large firehoses were employed along with giant fans to create a sort-of surreal stormy effect that actually looked better than the real thing.

The story though borders on being convoluted and would’ve worked better had the movie been given a longer runtime. The first hour is spent with the viewer seeing a lot of strange events that make no sense and are given no explanation. It is only after about an hour in that some expert, who’s given no formal distinction to what their line of study is or degree, explains to David the importance that dreams have to the aborigine culture, which helps tie things together, but this should’ve occurred earlier as some viewers will probably find it too confusing and off-putting otherwise.

Chamberlain is his usual bland self, but okay in this type of role as it doesn’t demand anyone who is colorful. The character though is supposed to be this very pragmatic individual, but he seemed to buy into the mystical qualities of the aborigine belief system much too quickly. A person with a practical approach to life would most likely be quite cynical to the events as they first occurred and even reluctant to base any value on his own nightmares, at least initially.

The ending is a major letdown. For one thing we have the main character inside an ancient sacred site beneath a sewer system where he suddenly has to start ‘thinking out loud’ by explaining what he is seeing on the drawings along the wall even though the viewer could’ve figured this out for themselves without the ‘narration’. The ambiguous conclusion is frustrating and makes sitting through the rest of it feel like a big waste of time.

last wave 1

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: November 13, 1977

Runtime: 1Hour 45Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Peter Weir

Studio: Cinema International Corporation

Available: DVD (Criterion), Blu-ray (Reg. B), Amazon Instant Video

One Way Pendulum (1965)

one way pendulum 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: An absurd little movie.

The Groomkirby family is one really absurd bunch. The father (Eric Sykes) wants to build a replica of the Old Baily courtroom in his living room and then have a trial, involving his son Kirby (Jonathan Miller) as the accused, reenacted. His daughter Sylvia (Julia Foster) wishes that she were an ape so that her arms would be longer and discusses this at length with her mother (Alison Leggatt). Kirby steals weight machines, which voices the person’s body weight, off the city streets and brings them back to the family’s attic were he then converts them into machines that sing. There’s also Aunt Mildred (Mona Washbourne) who thinks she’s waiting for a train that never comes as well as Mrs. Gantry (Peggy Mount) who’s paid to come over and eat the family’s unwanted leftovers.

The film is based on the stage play of the same name written by N.F. Simpson and was labeled as being ‘A farce in a new dimension’. John Cleese is purportedly a big fan of the movie and credits it as inspiring many of the absurd ideas that they used in their later Monty Python sketches. It was also directed by Peter Yates who went on to direct such quintessential hits as Bullitt, Breaking Away, and Year of the Comet.

The film certainly does have its share of funny and highly original moments. One of my favorite scenes is where the father carts the props that he needs to build his courtroom down a busy street of London using nothing but a wheel barrow and holding up traffic while he does it. Kirby’s ability to make the weight machines sing and sound like a genuine chorus is fun also as well as the climactic courtroom segment in which a myriad of comically absurd arguments, testimony, motions and reasoning is used until it becomes almost mind bending.

Unfortunately it all gets just a little too weird. Normally I’m a fan of the offbeat, but there still needs to be something to anchor it down and this film lacks it. The dialogue, characters and storyline are so progressively strange that it becomes downright nonsensical. The court case loses its edge as well because the father is somehow able to recreate it and the people in it in some magical way using a machine where kidnapping a magistrate and lawyers and forcing them perform in their makeshift court of law would’ve been funnier.

The movie will certainly satisfy those with inkling for the offbeat and the film seems intent to push the absurdity as far as it possibly can with a cast primed to pull it off, but it ends up being too weird for its own good and parts of it are confusing and hard to get into.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: March 2, 1965

Runtime: 1Hour 20Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Peter Yates

Studio: United Artists

Available: None at this time

Jagged Edge (1985)

jagged edge

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: An old Corona typewriter.

Rich socialite Paige Forrester (Maria Mayenzet) is brutally murdered in her own home the victim of wounds done by the jagged edge of an unusually curved hunting knife. Her husband Jack (Jeff Bridges) claims he was knocked unconscious and didn’t come to until after she was killed and the assailant gone, but when evidence points to his head wound being self-inflicted he gets arrested for the crime. Teddy Barnes (Glenn Close) becomes his reluctant public defender. She is initially not convinced of his innocence, but the more she gets to know him the more she believes it while also allowing herself to become romantically involved with him. As the court case progresses there are many twists and turns including mysterious, anonymous notes typed with the use of an old typewriter and sent to Teddy, which reveal intriguing clues about her client.

The film, written by Joe Eszterhas, has all the trappings of a great court drama. Lots of clues that go either way making the viewer unsure if the defendant is really guilty or not and working very much like real trials do. I felt for the most part the trial procedures were well research and believable including all the meticulous investigating that Barnes does on her own before the trial even begins. The only thing in this area that could’ve been done better was trying to string out the suspense a bit more by prolonging the length of the jury deliberation. In real-life this can go on for several days, even weeks, but this film made it seem like it was only a few short hours.

Close gives an outstanding performance in a part that was originally intended for Jane Fonda. I love the way she can show such a wide range of emotions and the simple, but effective way that her character’s eyes well up with tears as she listens to the testimony of a rape victim is one the ingredients that makes all of her performances impactful and endearing. Veteran actors Robert Loggia, as a gruff, foul-mouthed detective, and John Dehner as a stern, hard-lined judge are also terrific. I also liked the way Teddy’s children are portrayed as being much more savvy to the world and not just there to say cute and precocious things.

Spoiler Alert!!!

The film’s biggest downfall tough is with its twist ending as Teddy ends up finding the typewriter that had written all those mysterious notes inside Jack’s closet and convincing her that he had actually been guilty all along despite getting off as innocent. She then takes the typewriter with her back to her house and then a few hours later Jack breaks into her place and in an effort to ‘silence her’ tries to kill her, which is all quite ridiculous.

For one thing I didn’t understand why Jack would hide the typewriter in a closet that is only a few feet from where he and Teddy slept. The guy lives in a gigantic mansion, so why not place it where it would be hard-to-find and not where she could easily come upon it. Also, he doesn’t need to kill her at all, he simply needs to retrieve the typewriter, which she leaves sitting on the staircase and he walks right past it. Without the typewriter there is no evidence. He takes it back and destroys it and she has nothing on him. Trying to kill her like the character here proceeds to do is the dumbest thing possible because he would be killing her in the exact same manner that he did in his wife, which would immediately make him the prime suspect and quickly arrested. The Jack character had been so smart otherwise that I’m sure he would’ve thought of this, which makes the wrap-up quite weak and unfortunately hurts what is otherwise a slick and entertaining production.

End of Spoiler Alert!!!

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 4, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 48Minutes

Rated R

Director: Richard Marquand

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Suspect (1987)

suspect 3

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Juror helps solve case.

Kathleen Riley (Cher) is a public defender who suddenly finds herself embroiled in what initially seems like an open-and-shut case. She’s been hired to defend Carl (Liam Neeson) a Vietnam Veteran who through illness is now both deaf and mute and living on the city streets as a homeless vagrant. He was caught near the body of a former file clerk to the justice department whose corpse was found floating near the Potomac River. As the case progresses Kathleen finds an unusual ally in Eddie (Dennis Quaid) who is one of the jurors on the case and who does some investigating of his own only to dig up evidence that points to the murder being connected to a top ranking political figure (Phillip Bosco).

The film starts out well and has all the ingredients of being a crafty court battle wrapped around an intricate mystery, but unlike most other courtroom dramas this one is not based on a novel written by an author with a legal background. Instead the story was penned directly for the screen by Eric Roth, who’s had plenty of success in his own right, but no expertise in legal proceedings, which would explain why this would-be drama ultimately becomes implausible and over-the-top.

The biggest problem I had was trying to understand why a juror would go so out of his way to investigate a case on his own. Nothing about the character’s background revealed a personality trait that would make him want to do this and if anything working as a lobbyist seemed to make him more of an opportunist than a truth seeker. The character was initially reluctant to even fulfill his jury duty requirement, so why does he suddenly make a 180 degree turn and spend his free time going into dangerous areas of the city simply to help solve a case that he has no emotional attachment to whatsoever? The concept makes no sense and is also illegal. The story would’ve been more believable had the character been a young member of Riley’s legal team and in an effort to prove himself went out of his way to find clues that would help solve the case.

The fact that the victim’s car remains impounded in the lot where she last parked it and never towed away even well after she had been murdered seems equally implausible as does the fact that Riley nor the police don’t think to search it until the case is almost over. There is also another scene where Eddie, in an effort to get out of the hotel room after the jury has been sequestered, puts a flame to a fire alarm to make it go off and thus create enough diversion to allow him to leave the building undetected, which he does, but it never shows how he is able to get back into his room undetected, which most likely could prove just as dicey.

Yet despite all these other issues, it is actually the theatrical, Hollywood-like court room showdown at the end that is the most absurd and relies too much on extreme circumstance and coincidence for it to be even remotely believable. Katherine’s foot chase through the darkened corridors of the court building by a shadowy figure is equally out-of-place and better suited for a thriller.

Cher is okay in a role that seemed to be stretching her acting range, but the fact that a juror feeds her all the clues and does almost all the investigative legwork that either her or her legal team should’ve done initially makes her character look lazy, sloppy and incompetent.

John Mahoney is effective as the stern, grim-faced judge and Liam Neeson does well cast in role that has no speaking lines, but his character doesn’t get shown enough and there are long stretches where he isn’t seen and the viewer almost forgets all about him. The segment though where Riley asks him if he committed the murder as he is sitting on the stand and his face goes from pale white to beet red in a matter of seconds is probably the film’s best moment.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: October 23, 1987

Runtime: 2Hours 1Minute

Rated R

Director: Peter Yates

Studio: TriStar Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

The Pursuit of Happiness (1971)

 

pursuit of happiness 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Justice isn’t always fair.

Everything seems to be going William Popper’s (Michael Sarrazin) way. He is a young college student with a great looking girlfriend (Barbara Hershey) and from a rich family. One night he takes a trip to the grocery store. It is raining and he accidently hits and kills a woman who walks out onto the street between two parked cars. Since William has several unpaid traffic tickets, is part of the anti-establishment movement and seems to have a generally belligerent manner he gets arrested for her death. His rich father (Arthur Hill) hires a successful lawyer (E.G. Marshall), but William is a major idealist who doesn’t want to compromise on anything and the more he fights for his ideals the deeper it gets him into trouble.

The film, which is based on a novel by Thomas Rogers, certainly makes some great points about our modern day American justice system where everything seems more based on the image that the defendant tries to present than the actual facts. Unfortunately most viewers today are already quite jaded by this and the message comes off as old and redundant.

The biggest problem is with Sarrazin. He has always had a bit of a transparent quality and I’ve defended him in some of his other roles, but here he helps to bring the whole thing down. He conveys no anger or emotion of any kind even though it’s supposedly his passion for the truth that causes him to behave the way he does. His comes off as limp and lifeless making me wonder how such a bland guy could attract a girlfriend at all let alone a really beautiful one. His character is also a bit too stubborn and strangely naïve to the point that the viewer isn’t completely empathetic with his cause as it becomes painfully obvious that he is only hurting himself by refusing to back down at all while most rational people would’ve likely buckled under just enough to get themselves out of the jam.

The script unfortunately is more intent on making a statement than telling a story as we are given no conclusion to the character’s plight. He escapes from jail and takes a flight to Mexico, but then it just ends leaving open a wide array of unanswered questions and making the viewer feel like they’ve seen only half a movie.

Ruth White, in her last film appearance, gives a strong performance as Walter’s Archie Bunker-like grandmother. It’s also great to see Marshall playing a more hard-lined version of the defense attorney role that he was famous for from ‘The Defenders’ TV-show. Robert Klein is engaging as Walter ‘60s radical college friend and David Doyle is good as Walter’s cellmate. Charles Durning, Ralph Waite and Rue McClanahan can be seen in small roles and this also marks William Devane’s film debut.

pursuit of happiness 3

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: February 23, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Robert Mulligan

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

10 Rillington Place (1971)

10 rillington place 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: He enjoys strangling women.

This film depicts the true life account of John Christie, played here by Sir Richard Attenborough, who strangled eight women, had sex with their corpses and then hide their bodies in his London flat at 10 Rillington Place. The story begins with Christie having already murdered several women when Timothy and his wife Beryl (John Hurt, Judy Geeson) arrive looking for a place to stay and decide to rent a room from Christie who immediately takes a fancy to Beryl. When she confides in him that she is pregnant and looking for an abortion he uses it to his advantage by pretending to be a former Dr. who can secretly perform the procedure. He then strangles her after giving her some anesthesia and tells Timothy that it occurred during the abortion and threatens him not to go to the police since it was an illegal operation at the time and Timothy was aware that she wanted it done, which would have made him an accessory. However, after moving out his suspicions continue to nag him and he eventually goes to the police, which culminate in a dramatic trial with both men accusing the other of being a liar.

The film comes off as being quite authentic to the actual events with the dialogue taken straight off of the court transcripts. The exteriors were filmed at the actual flat were the murders occurred while the interiors scenes where shot at an apartment house that was just three doors down from Christie’s real life one. Richard Fleischer’s direction is low-key with emphasis put on keeping things real almost like a documentary instead of trying to sensationalize it. The music is used sparingly and has a certain quite tone of loneliness and detachment to it almost like it is representing the feelings and mood from Christie himself.

Attenborough and Hurt give strong performances and the diametrically divergent personalities of the two characters are what drive the film. Attenborough accepted the role without even having read the script. He wore a skin-like skull cap for the part, which gives him a very pronounced bald head and a creepy alien-like quality. I also really liked the scene where he looks at himself in the mirror just before he commits the murder with his eyes conveying a frightened and ashamed look like even he himself is horrified at the murderous out-of-control obsession that drives him. Geeson does well as the sympathetic victim and Pat Heywood is memorable in an understated role as Christie’s wife Ethel who initially believes her husband to be innocent, but then slowly becomes aware of what a monster he really is.

The film would have been stronger and a more multi-faceted had it shown even in brief flashback more of Christie’s background including the fact that he was dominated by his mother and older sisters and raised by a father who showed no emotion for him as well his lifelong struggles with impotence, which all could’ve helped explain why he became the way he did. It also might have allowed for more tension had the story started with the court case and leaving it a mystery to the viewer at the beginning as to which of the men was telling the truth instead of having the narrative done in a very matter-of-fact, by-the-numbers way. In either case the film is still quite strong and great example of how a true-life crime story should be done.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: February 10, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 51Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Richard Fleischer

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD-R, Amazon Instant Video