Compulsion (1959)

Compulsion (1959), directed by Richard Fleischer.

Like Hitchcock's Rope (1948), this is a fictionalization of the Leopold and Loeb case, going all the way to the trial, where the "Clarence Darrow" lawyer -- played by Orson Welles -- admits their guilt but makes an impassioned plea against the death penalty. Which, in history, worked: the men were not executed. One was killed in prison and the other eventually paroled.

Dean Stockwell and Bradford Dillman are expertly detestable as arrogantly immoral intellectuals (and, we suppose, lovers) who kill one of their friends for the thrill of it. It's possible their affair is unconsummated; it is their fear and frustration that drives them to violence.

It plays into the "amoral youth out of control" paranoia of the 1950s. Often in these films you have an unwilling sympathy for the criminal, hoping they'll get away with it. I didn't feel that so much this time, but still: you can't help squirming when the authorities close in on them.

Orson Welles is a natural at this sort of role: he has the gravity and seriousness, but also the weariness of a showman who has seen too much human evil, but will give one last performance against capital punishment.

I first read of this movie in Douglas Brode's Lost Films of the Fifties.

Photographed by William C. Mellor.

A Blu-ray appeared from Kino in 2017: "new 4K restoration" and audio commentary. My thumbnails are from the DVD.