Monday, January 07, 2013


A crowd gathers to watch the police arrest a man for the murder of an elderly pawnbroker in her own shop, and in the midst of the commotion, young law student Robert passes out on the sidewalk. His friend Rafe gets him back to his apartment to recover where he is visited by his mother and his sister Debbie, who is about to marry an older man in order to get some financial help for the family. We find out that Robert is no longer in school, though he did have an article published arguing that extraordinary people should be above the law. Robert goes to the police in order to get back some items he had pawned and Lt. Porter engages him in a philosophical discussion about his article. When Porter suggests that even extraordinary people would be plagued by guilt about a crime, Robert says that their consciences wouldn't bother them because the crime would have been done for a good reason. Robert has become a suspect in the murder and Porter plays a lengthy cat-and-mouse game with him to get him to crack. Meanwhile, Fred, a man from Debbie's past, has shown up. Debbie worked for him until Fred's wife discovered they were having an affair—she fired her, leading, in Robert's mind, to Debby's sad plan to marry for money. He wants to get in touch with her, though Robert tries to stop him. In the midst of all this turmoil, Robert becomes friendly with Sally, a young woman whose alcoholic father has just died (and to whom earlier Robert had given a hand) and they sleep together. He confesses to Sally that he murdered the old lady—now it’s just a matter of conscience willing out.

This is a scrappy black-and-white B-movie adaptation of Dostoevsky's classic (which I started years ago but never finished) and it's not bad. Set in the slightly seedy environs of Santa Monica, you get a sense of lots of sun but also lots of personal darkness among the characters. We don't see the murder as we do in the 1930s adaptation and the central relationship between the killer and the cop doesn't play out as well here—their scenes together go on too long and are dramatically slack. But George Hamilton in his first movie role is good as Robert, channeling Anthony Perkins in his twitchy neurotic mode. Frank Silvera as the cop is adequate but alternates between sleepwalking and heading over-the-top. Marian Seldes (pictured above with Hamilton), who went on to a long and distinguished career in the theatre, is Debbie, and the lesser-known Mary Murphy is fine as Sally. The movie has a loud jazzy score by Herschel Burke Gilbert that works better than Duke Ellington's intrusive score for ANATOMY OF A MURDER. [TCM]

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