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Compulsion (1959) starring Orson Welles, Bradford Dillman, Dean Stockwell
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In Compulsion, two brilliant and arrogant young men commit murder – to prove their mental superiority. But when caught, can an attorney save them from their death penalty?

Compulsion (1959) starring Orson Welles, Bradford Dillman, Dean Stockwell


First off, Compulsion is a very well done movie. The acting is excellent by the entire cast. It sets the characters and their relationships with each other very well. What’s frankly strange is that Orson Welles’ character doesn’t show up until two-thirds of the way through the movie. And then, the courtroom drama turns into a diatribe against the death penalty. I frankly agree with the position, but for very different reasons.

It’s frankly hard to sympathize with the main characters. The two murderers are amoral psychopaths, who feel that their “vast intellect” justifies murdering the “unimportant” people. Although Dean Stockwell’s character is clearly led by the nose by Bradford Dillman’s, he’s still responsible for his actions. And their parent are determined to protect “their babies” from the consequences of their murders.

Product Description 

Buy from Amazon Orson Welles stars in this graphic and emotionally gripping courtroom drama, based on the novel by Meyer Levin which was inspired by the Leopold-Loeb murder case of the 1920s. Jonathan Wilk (Welles) is a Clarence Darrow-like attorney tasked with defending two well-to-do New York youths (Bradford Dillman and Dean Stockwell) on trial for a senseless killing they carried out simply to demonstrate they could pull off “the perfect crime.” With E.G. Marshall, Diane Varsi. 103 min. Widescreen; Soundtrack: English; Soundtrack: English; audio commentary; theatrical trailers.

Cast of characters

  • Orson Welles (Black Magic) … Jonathan Wilk. The defense attorney. He knows that there’s no question of his client’s guilt. His only hope is to spare them the death penalty. By trying to persuade the judge that the death penalty is barbaric.
  • Diane Varsi (Peyton Place) … Ruth Evans. The young lady who feels something for Judd. Possibly romantic feelings, possibly sympathy, possibly a mother instinct. Even after she finds out he’s a cold-blooded murder. And threatens to rape her …
  • Dean Stockwell (Max Rose; Quantum Leap) … Judd Steiner. Arthur’s friend, and puppet. “Do I need to order you?”
  • Bradford Dillman (Escape from the Planet of the Apes) … Arthur A. Straus. The ringleader of the two murderers. Very intelligent, and utterly amoral. With a massive arrogance as well.
  • E.G. Marshall (The Left Hand of God; 12 Angry Men) … District Attorney Harold Horn. A man who knows that the two are guilty, but has to prove it in court. Which takes quite some time. An excellent game of cat and mouse with the two murderers.
  • Martin Milner (13 Ghosts; Gunfight at the O.K. Corral) … Sid Brooks. The reporter, who finds the eyeglasses at the murder scene. Which unravels the murderers’ story.
  • Richard Anderson (The Night Strangler; Forbidden Planet) … Max Steiner. Judd’s father, who will spare no expense to save his son from execution for the murderer. But their relationship is politely described as strained.
  • Robert F. Simon (The Reluctant Astronaut) … Police Lt. Johnson
  • Edward Binns … Tom Daly
  • Robert Burton (The Slime People) … Charles Straus
  • Wilton Graff (Blondie’s Big Deal) … Mr. Steiner
  • Louise Lorimer … Mrs. Straus aka ‘Mumsy’
  • Gavin MacLeod (McHale’s Navy; The Love Boat) … Padua – Horn’s Assistant

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