Cannes 1959 -
Best Actor: Bradford Dillman, Dean Stockwell & Orson Welles
USA Today - 07/14/1995
"...The film strongly castigates capital punishment....There's good acting..."
New York Times - 05/23/2006
"COMPULSION moves with invisible elegance through three distinct point of view....Three heroes, three moral perspectives -- smoothly linked by Fleischer into a subversive whole."
Uncut - 10/01/2010 3 stars out of 5 -- "Orson Welles effectively steals the show with a ruminating, then barnstorming turn..."
Sight and Sound - 11/01/2010
"[T]he film is dominated by Dean Stockwell's rivetingly skin-crawling performance...."
Total Film - 11/01/2010 3 stars out of 5 -- "Superbly acted by Bradford Dillman and Dean Stockwell, the mid-section grips as the authorities close in."
It's Chicago and the year is 1924. Two young men are driving recklessly at night, and almost hit a drunken pedestrian. They are wealthy law students, the flamboyant Artie Straus (Bradford Dillman) constantly goading the intensely introverted Judd Steiner (Dean Stockwell) to still more outrageous escapades. Smugly feeling safe in their own superiority, the pair commit murder--just to show they can. So starts this gripping fictionalized version of the Leopold-Loeb case which shocked Americans and provoked Clarence Darrow, here fictionalized as Jonathan Wilk (Orson Welles), to make an impassioned plea that even these cold killers should not be hung.
A tough dramatization of the famous Leopold and Loeb murder case in which two college students kidnapped and killed a boy purely for kicks. Welles plays defense attorney Clarence Darrow in this adaptation of reporter Meyer Levin's novel.
The second in director Richard Fleischer's series of movies based on real life murder cases (following THE GIRL IN THE RED VELVET SWING), COMPULSION vividly recreates Chicago in the 1920s, where two wealthy psychopaths carry out a thrill killing. Fleischer draws extraordinary performances from his young leads. Bradford Dillman is dominating and dynamic as the frightening but magnetic Straus. Even more striking is Dean Stockwell; he is completely believable as the icily brilliant but withdrawn Steiner, subtly conveying initial vulnerability and growing strength. Fleischer aids both actors with his staging--flowing tracking shots to compliment Dillman's feverish movement; and subtle off-kilter camera set-ups to show the unbalanced Stockwell at home among his stuffed birds.
In spite of the brilliance of the two killers, they leave some clues, enough for district attorney Horn (E.G Marshall in a fine performance) to bring them to justice. Despite their obvious guilt, lawyer Jonathan Wilk (Orson Welles) takes on the case in order to save them from death row. Fleischer obtains a bravura performance from Welles, in one of his rare outstanding performances under a director other than himself.
Law / Lawyers |
Theatrical Release |
COMPULSION was released in 1959.
COMPULSION is one of three movies based on the Leopold-Loeb case--the others are ROPE (1948) and SWOON (1992).
While Fleischer doesn't appear to have taken anything from Alfred Hitchcock's ROPE--an earlier version of the Leopold-Loeb case, based on a play by Patrick Hamilton and noted for its experiments with 10-minute takes--there are interesting similarities between Hitchcock's PSYCHO and Fleischer's COMPULSION, which was released a year earlier: black-and-white imagery; Stockwell's edgy intensity, which rivals that of Perkins; and an obsession with stuffed birds.
In his memoir, JUST TELL ME WHEN TO CRY, Fleischer reveals that--unlike most actors who highly value eye contact when playing a scene--Orson Welles did not like to be watched by the actors he was playing to. As a result, in COMPULSION's courtroom scenes, when Welles is addressing E.G. Marshall and his assistants who are sitting in a row, and Fleischer's camera is peering at Welles over Marshall's shoulder, E.G. and the assistants were all listening intently with their eyes closed. E.G. Marshall's portrayal of District Attorney Horn lead to his long successful run in the title role of the television series MR. DISTRICT ATTORNEY.
Meyer Levin's novel COMPULSION spent 54 weeks on the best-seller list before it was made into a film. The film production followed a successful theatrical version of the novel on Broadway, which had starred Dean Stockwell.
Cinematographer William C. Mellor used a technique he called "subliminal perception." Whenever the characters of Leopold and Loeb appeared on screen, he would tilt the camera slightly or cut off part of their heads to achieve a subtle, disarming effect.
Orson Welles' climactic 15 minute speech, which needed 3 cameras and 7,000 feet of film to capture, was so popular that an audio version was released on LP.
Production on the film began in the summer of 1958.
The final production cost of the film was $1.5 million.
The Cannes Film Festival presented its Best Actor award to all three leading men: Orson Welles, Dean Stockton, and Bradford Dillman.
The film was pulled from distribution soon after its release because Nathan Leopold, who was paroled in 1958, filed a $1.5 million invasion of privacy suit against the author, his publishers, and the producers of the film. Finally, in 1968, the courts ruled against Leopold, claiming that the case was in the public domain and that the film was once again available for distribution.