Friday, June 06, 2008


Anthony Franciosa is a small-time lawyer who agrees to take the potentially explosive case of a housewife (Rita Hayworth) accused of conspiring with her lover (Gig Young) to murder her husband. The case has already made headlines, and when Hayworth's mother (Katherine Squire) comes to Franciosa, he suggests she get a high-powered attorney, but Squire has very little money, so he reluctantly takes the case. In flashback, we see the circumstances that led to the death: Hayworth's husband, a cop (Alfred Ryder), is a mean drunk and afraid of getting kicked off the force because of a hearing problem. He comes close to being abusive to Hayworth their little daughter. Hayworth becomes friendly with their widowed accountant (Young). Both of them seem battered down by life--Young lives in fear of his domineering mother (Mildred Dunnock)--and Squire actually encourages Hayworth to have an affair. The two have a sad little one-night stand, and Dunnock, who has figured out what's going on, threatens to expose them unless she gives him up. Young flies in from a business trip to talk things out with Hayworth, but Ryder overhears them talking and confronts them with a gun. The men grapple and the gun goes off accidentally, killing Ryder. Franciosa believes her story, though the D.A. (Sanford Meisner) tries to build a case that the death was premeditated because Hayworth wanted to get Ryder's insurance money. The last half of the film is set in the courtroom as Franciosa and Meisner spar back and forth, each getting the upper hand at various times, until the verdict is announced.

This movie was released the same year as ANATOMY OF A MURDER, and it seems to be an attempt to reproduce that film's success, even to using some sensational sex-related language and innuendo now and then; when Meisner notes that Squire, who lived with her daughter and son-in-law, pushed Hayworth toward adultery, he proclaims, "Madam, what kind of house were you running?" This film has problems in pacing, especially during the courtroom half, but the acting is solid. Hayworth is good in a completely non-glamorous role; Young's performance builds slowly and we gradually see him as a passive neurotic, and both come off as basically decent people stuck in sad, pathetic situations. Dunnock's fine as a monster mom (also a slow-building part), though Squire is just as good in a much less showy role. Meisner, a famous acting teacher and co-founder of the influential Group Theater, goes a bit over the top on occasion but is generally fun to watch. The Welsh actor Hugh Griffith is almost unrecognizable as the judge. But the real honors here go to Franciosa, an intense and sexy man who sets off sparks in every scene he's in. The character, about whom we learn very little, is set up as a down-on-his-luck heavy drinker, but once he gets on his feet and commits to the case, his character isn't developed any further. Frankly, I think he does Oscar-caliber work here, and the film makes me want to hunt down more of his movies. The scene in which he tears Dunnock apart on the stand is spectacular. The movie is a little long, but well worth catching, even if it all seems rather old hat nowadays when sordid trials like this can be seen every day on TV. [FMC]

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