Bradford Dillman and Dean Stockwell play the two. They have some nice scenes together early in the movie with the crime planning. These scenes also contain a type of emotional depth that is a little surprising. We see a certain domination and submission role playing going on between them with Dillman playing the dominant to Stockwell's submissive.
There is a particular scene in which Stockwell's guy is going on a date with a nice girl. Dillman's character basically encourages him to rape her. These two have somehow become infected with a sort of distorted Nietzsche like "superman" philosophy and they know that they are superior to everyone else. The murder is partly to prove that. The scenes are so well done, that even in 1950s Hollywood commercial cinema, there is a strong hint of the question "Just what exactly is the relationship between these two?"
So they get caught of course, no spoiler there, we know that will happen. Another damn good actor, E.G. Marshal looking youthful with hair and eyeglasses, is brought in to prosecute.
The the great Orson Welles shows up for the defense. Legendary lawyer Clarence Darrow was the man in the real case. Welles plays it very cool at the outset mumbling his few lines to begin with as if saving it up for the big delivery at the end when he gives the final defense speech in court. This is a terrific scene and one of Welles's greatest scenes in any movie. The speech is a lucid and convincing argument against executions beautifully written and performed. I'm surprised that it hasn't shown up on FaceBook as a stand alone YouTube short like Chaplin's final speech in The Great Dictator has. It is a fine scene in an overall excellent movie very nicely presented in high contrast B&W and CinemaScope.
2) Dean Stockwell is fun to watch in an early role, and odd that it's a re-telling of the case that inspired Hitchcock's Rope as Stockwell comes off like a precursor to Norman Bates (though made to seem a little more, uh, 'sympathetic'-ish?)
The choices the cinematographer made were also great. A lot of interesting shots, particularly on the key piece of evidence that kept you in the story. They did some nice tricks with the editing as well that made the passage of time trackable. While we only had a couple hours of film it was easy to see that the characters were experiencing a much longer passage of time. I'm trying not to delve into spoilers because this is a movie I highly recommend people check out for themselves, but if you have no interest or have already seen the film continue reading. Spoilers start here: Suffice it to say the boys get caught in their crime and about halfway or even two-thirds of the way through the film it shifts into this courtroom drama. It's not a heavily detailed case, and I'm sure it's loaded with lots of innaccuracies in procedures, but it's extremely engaging. Orson Welles, unsurprisingly, just steals the movie from this point on. His tactics are brilliant, and we get a genuine feel for how exhausted and world-weary he is by the end of the film. Then he breaks into a speech, and this is one for the history books. It feels like he's going on for about 15 minutes straight without stopping. By the end he has made one of the most convincing arguments against the death penalty that I have ever heard. I have to imagine even the most cynical and hardened person would struggle to say these boys should be executed when he's done with his argument.
What I found so excellent about Compulsion is the way they structured the story. The murder of the little boy doesn't happen for us to see, in fact we never see the boy at all. This makes it so the story is all focused on the 2 boys who committed the crime. They also have an extended sequence of the boys trying to cover up their crime and avoid detection. This is different from most courtroom dramas that want to rush to the criminal case. There was very little I didn't like about this film and I hope that this review will encourage others to give Compulsion a try because I feel it was ahead of its time.
Two rich kids in law school decide to try and get away with murder. One student is more of a leader and the follower is a bit of a tool. They feed off each other through the act all the way down to the arrest and their story for the police. Can the police get one of these two law experts to confess?
"And you know why I tried it? Because I damn well felt like it."
Richard Fleischer, director of Conan the Destroyer, Red Sonja, Amityville 3-D, Mandingo, See No Evil, Mr. Majestyk, Tora! Tora! Tora!, and Doctor Dolittle, delivers Compulsion. The storyline for this picture is actually pretty interesting and caught me off guard. The transition from reckless school boys to courtroom drama was beautiful. The acting was magnificent and the cast includes Orson Welles, Dean Stockwell, Diane Varsi, Bradford Dillman, and Martin Milner.
"How many languages do you speak?"
I DVR'd this picture because it starred the great Orson Welles. I was surprised that it took so long for him to become a major part of the film, but it completely worked. The entire film comes together perfectly all the way until the final line is delivered. This is an excellent film that is interesting and definitely worth a viewing.
"That weakling. That inferior child."