Over the weekend, Tina and I watched Compulsion, a 1959 movie featuring Orson Welles.
I’ll let this description tell you about the film:
In 1924 Chicago, two rich college students, Judd Steiner and Arthur Strauss, decide they can commit the perfect murder and get away with. They kill a young teenager, Paulie Kessler, but through the efforts of part-time reporter and fellow student Sid Brooks, a pair of glasses left at the scene is traced to the murderers. For their trial, the families hire renowned defense attorney Jonathan Wilk known for his passionate arguments against the death penalty. Both men confessed to the crime but Wilk pleads them not guilty. At the trial, they change the plea to guilty and Wilk argues passionately in favor of a life sentence rather than execution.
The movie is worth a viewing, if for nothing else, the court scene when Orson Welles, who plays a lawyer, delivers the single-longest monologue in film history.
But another great reason to watch it is that Orson Welles’ character is an atheist with a penchant for great humanism. The entire movie is available on YouTube. The link is below.
I love how Welles’ character is talked about before he is ever on screen. Jump to 1:05:00.
I wanted to dictate the dialogue of the fathers of the two boys with a friend of the family who is advocating hiring Welles as a Lawyer. Here’s the exchange.
Advocate: “There’s only one man for this case. He’s the best lawyer in the country. And he’s here in Chicago.”
Father: “That atheist. I won’t have him. He’s a skeptic that makes a mockery of religion.”
Advocate: “And the best trial lawyer in the country.”
Father: “A charlatan. A lying drunken jury swinger.”
Advocate: “But a winner. And he’s fought capital punishment all his life.”
The trial scenes are nothing short of awesome. Because when all else has failed, Welles appeals to the human spirit for grace and mercy. He appeals to the minds of strength and greatness instead of toward aggression and violence.
It’s definitely worth a viewing, if only for those scenes to see how atheism was treated in a 1959 movie, about a 1924 court case.