I caught this film yesterday and it’s stayed with me and not for the right reasons. Originally recorded for viewing because I thought it would be interesting to see both Orson Welles and Dean Stockwell who I’ve recently discovered when I wrote a film talk on Sons and Lovers (1960) at the start of the year. During the time I couldn’t shake his pent-up performance from my mind. Also the fact I was editing clips which he was heavily involved in. Coming to Compulsion (1959) on the off-chance to see what he was like outside of Jack Cardiff’s direction. Also it was a chance to see Orson Welles again, in what could easily have been a two-scene cameo which he was practically reduced to towards the end of his career.
Now I tend to write 1000+ in my reviews now, I’m not so sure I have enough to go that far today, but I need to express my frustration with this film that could have been so much better than it was. Based on the 1924 Leopold-Loeb case, two students in Chicago who were tried for the sadistic, motive-less murder of another student. This thinly guised film (attempted to avoid a lawsuit) fails to actually depict the murder or even suggest with great effect that these two young men – Judd Steiner (Dean Stockwell) and Artie A.Straus (Bradford Dillman) who were followers of the Nietzsche theories, which produced to narcissistic individuals with superiority complexes. Not your average cocky student who feels the can take on the world and disprove the established. Carrying with them a philosophy that placed them above their contemporaries who were enjoying the student life of the 1920’s. Even with these personalities, not the most likeable of characters, you wanted to understand who they were.
First meeting them on a late night drive after robbing a house, Artie dares Judd to run over a man walking home, just for the thrill of it, setting the tone of the film. These are young men who have no regarding for general morality that we all live by. When they fail to kill the man in the street – Judd can’t carry out Artie’s order, something is holding him back. No matter they find their kicks off-screen, the murder as we learn of the murder and kidnap of Paulie Kessler, the victim in their “perfect crime”. It’s only when another student discovers the body (working for the local paper) in the morg do we learn somethings not quite right. At this point its a slow burner until Judd realises that he hasn’t got his glasses, they’re on the dead body. It’s only now we start to realise what might have happened.
The investigation soon gets underway, lead by District Attorney Harold Horn (E.G. Marshall) whose building up a case, but is waiting for the two boys to see who cracks first. The cockiness continues, even when they are found out and the stories they made up start to crack under scrutiny. What I don’t understand is why a District Attorney would be leading a criminal investigation, shouldn’t that be the police who build up a case before its even goes to court, landing on the D.A.’s desk?
By this point we haven’t even Welles’s character, a successful lawyer who never lost a capital case in his long career, a perfect role for the only “hero” of the film Jonathan Wilk who is only known by his reputation, building up his first appearance on screen. From the moment he arrives the film is his, bring with him all the experience of his past roles, able to play the older man with 40 odd years of experience. I’m reminded of Inherit the Wind (1960) released the following year a purely court-room affair, set in the same era. The scenes are more fairly split between the two lawyers – Henry Drummond (Spencer Tracy) and Matthew Harrison Brady (Fredric March). However in the earlier film, there’s not half as much a war of words, sure they are a few disagreements and objections, but there’s not enough passion from both sides. I think partly due to the editing of the film. Made in favor of Wilk who practically given the rest of the film, with the two men on trial. Horn is left with little to do, not even his closing speech to the judge, which would have made for a longer and more impassioned film. To see why these two men should have hung. Aimed as s pro-life film, without any real counterargument for balance, letting down the film and the Marshall who had little to do in the court room besides shout.
Was the murder filmed of Kessler even filmedm or just suggested before we find the body? Given the tone of the film it could have been done in shadow at least for dramatic effect. However Anatomy of a Murder (1959) the murder is not seen on camera, we only learn of it on the arrest of the violent husband Lt. Frederick Manion (Ben Gazzara), was it censorship that got in the way of making a good film even better in the case of Compulsion? Leaving us with a film that has the potential to be so much, along with the script (cut or otherwise) this film could have been longer, darker and ultimately stronger.
One of a new wave of films that go behind the scenes of classic films recently, not all successful either. My Week With Marilyn (2011) is probably one of the earlier releases, focusing on a much forgotten (Marilyn) Monroe film The Prince and the Showgirl (1957) when one lucky third assistant director Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) who spends a week in the blonde bombshells company. It sounds better than it really is for him. A dream come true for anyone in the film industry, as I read in Jack Cardiff‘s autobiography Magic Hour: A Life in Movies who spent many a night with Marilyn and Arthur Miller during their time in the U.K. whilst filming the much forgotten film (unless you are a Monroe or (Laurence) Olivier fan) we do get an insight into the fragile life that Monroe lived.
The backdrop of the film is immaterial with the brief romance (of sorts) between Colin and Marilyn who gave her the confidence to stay and work on the production. Plagued by her fears and rocky marriage, it was Colin who was able to comfort her. And for him a dream come true as we find out. Of course the grand history doesn’t take him into account really, just a brief footnote. Whilst an exciting part of our film history. To see it on the big screen seems a right move to make. Moving onto the film itself which is brief, as the encounter between the Colin and Marilyn. It’s filled with well known faces from British cinema, filling the roles that we know so much about. Only Michelle Williams from across the pound filling the all important title role. A hard job to pull off really, rising to the challenge, moving beyond impression to giving a suggestion of her during that time. Taking on such a legendary figure will never be easy to do as we have discovered with Alfred Hitchcock in both his incarnations.
Whilst there is less pressure on the other roles (with exception to Kenneth Branagh‘s Olivier). It’s a gentle trip down into nostalgia really. With everyone you want to meet surrounding that era. Even the obscure figures that you wouldn’t think would be in the film.
Rightly so the films point of view is Colin’s, that without we would have no story, in practically every scene, any other way wouldn’t seem right really. With a clear focus and love for Monroe who once again shines on the screen, a rare chance t see a fragile woman who is filled with pills and Paula Strasberg (Zoë Wanamaker) who controlled the actress, and was half the problem for the director Monroe worked with. I can’t help thinking about how Billy Wilder dealt with her whilst making film her and “the bat”.
It’s an interesting insight into a little know story, made all the more attractive with the allure of Monroe who may not be exactly the same. It seems as less and less original films are being made today, that mini-biopics of classic Hollywood is a decent alternative, harking back to a time when there was more originality and star power that created legends and history that is now wrapped in myth.
- My Week with Marilyn: A Portrait of Mental Illness (www.psychologytoday.com)
- “My Week With Marilyn” Delights with Light-Hearted Comedy (maryatthemovies.wordpress.com)
- Movie Review: My Week With Marilyn (samanthahoffman.blogspot.co.uk)
- My Week with Marilyn (musicalsoldmovie.blogspot.com)