Compulsion - 1959
Compulsion is half crime drama and half court room drama, but it’s all Orson Welles. The story is centered around a fictionalized account of a real-life crime that took place in 1924’s Chicago. Two wealthy students kidnapped and murdered a 14-year-old as a demonstration of their intellectual superiority and how they can carry out the perfect crime. This crime was pegged as the crime of the century back then and it inspired multiple novels, plays and movies.
The opening sequence of this movie is brilliant. Honestly, I love how they set up both students and their relationships. You understand from the get-go that there is a co-dependent relationship between them. One is the leader or idol (Arthur) and the other one is the follower and the worshiper (Judd). The best moment comes right after they almost run over a drunk. Judd, panicked and scared, tells Arthur “We almost killed him”. Arthur with a smile that grows with each word, says: “Aja… and you know why I tried it Juddsie? Because I damn well felt like it. That’s why.” He starts to laugh and bam the title pops on the screen “COMPULSION”. The audience is 100% in this world and completely understands what this movie is going to be about.
The screenplay for this movie is airtight and it’s highlighted by the performances of Dean Stockwell as Judd and Bradford Dillman as Arthur. Judd comes across as a psychopathic version of Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory. He carries himself with a constant sense of superiority and always seems bored by the laymen that surround him. On the other hand, his hero Arthur is always trying to be the life of the party, drinking and recounting events that never happened to boost his ego. He gets off on knowing the truth and how nobody can ever catch him telling a lie thanks to his superior intelligence. The reason why they got caught was because Judd’s glasses fell out of his pocket and the police traced them back to him.
Like I said above, this is all Orson Welles. He comes in toward the last part of the movie and completely steals it from what I considered to be two amazing performances. He plays the lawyer hired to defend the students once they have been captured by the police. Welles gives his character an incredible depth to him just by the way he carries himself and how he stares into the camera. You could see the years and years of work accumulating behind his eye. But when needed he amps up his performance and delivers one of the best, if not the best, court room monologues in any movie, that clocks around 10 minutes. I saw the entire monologue before I realized how long it was. I was completely mesmerized by his speech and lost track of time. Side note: Along with the monologue he also closes the movie with a line that leaves Judd speechless and scared for what awaits him.
“In those years to come, you might find yourself asking if it wasn't the hand of God dropped these glasses... And if he didn't, who did?”
Compulsion is carried by its intriguing story and amazing performances. Before watching this movie I had never heard of this crime and spent probably hours reading up on it. Movies like this are windows into our past and helps us understand where we have been and where we are going as a society. That’s why I love movies.
Compulsion is currently streaming on Netflix. Feed your superior intelligence by watching it.
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