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Friday, September 23, 2011

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956)

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956) is a film noir directed by Fritz Lang and written by Douglas Morrow. The film, considered film noir, was the last American film directed by Lang.

Austin Spencer (Sidney Blackmer), a newspaper publisher opposed to capital punishment, invites novelist Tom Garrett (Dana Andrews) to witness an execution. Later, Austin explains to Tom that he believes the District Attorney Roy Thompson (Philip Bourneuf) is using circumstantial evidence to win death sentences because he wants to be the next governor.

Austin wants to plant evidence that will point at a innocent man. Meanwhile, Tom proposes to Austin's daughter Susan (Joan Fontaine); she wants to announce the wedding date, but Tom's editor wants him finish his novel first.

Soon after, Austin reads in the newspaper that an exotic dancer, Patty Gray, has been strangled. Austin learns from a police detective that Patty's friends, Dolly Moore (Barbara Nichols) and Terry LaRue (Robin Raymond), saw her drive away with a man.

Tom meets Dolly after spilling a drink on her on purpose and offers to pay for cleaning her dress. Dolly is so thrilled to have a wealthy boyfriend that she does not notice when Tom takes her body makeup.

When Susan sees a picture of Tom and Dolly in the newspaper, she breaks off their engagement.

Tom and Austin go to the scene of the crime. Austin takes a picture of Tom leaving his cigarette case as a false clue. That night at the club, Terry worries that Tom may be Patty's killer, so she decides to call police lieutenant Kennedy to inform him about her upcoming date with Tom.

Austin, takes pictures of all his activities as proof of his innocence, Tom cleans his car of all fingerprints, applies body makeup to the car seats and leaves a stocking in his glove compartment. When Tom picks up Sally for their date, the police arrest him. The police interrogate Tom, who answers their questions truthfully. When he is indicted for murder, Susan wants Austin to intervene, and wonders why her father does not seem concerned.

Thompson is ready to try the case in court, but his assistant, Bob Hale (Arthur Franz), is in love with Susan and wants to help her prove Tom's innocence. At the trial, Thompson tells the court that Tom proposed to Susan just five days before Patty's murder, and killed the dancer to hide his affair with her.

As "evidence," he talks about a large cash withdrawal Tom made from his bank on the same day that Patty went to work with a lot of cash, as well as pipe ashes found in Tom's garbage, even though Tom does not smoke.

As the jury deliberates, Austin heads over to Thompson's to reveal their plot, but.. along the way is hit by a car and all the evidence is burned. After Austin's death, Tom tells the true story to his lawyer, Jonathan Wilson, who tells the judge, but the judge cannot stop the trial. Susan and Jonathan, search Austin's safe for the pictures, but find none. When the police go through the burned photographs, Susan is convinced of Tom's innocence, and tries to convince the newspaper editors to sway public opinion in Tom's favor.

No pardon is granted and the night before Tom's execution, Susan begs Bob to investigate further. He learns that Patty, stole money from her boyfriend who then threatened to kill her. Unfortunately, the boyfriend died years earlier. A lawyer arrives at Thompson's office, with a just-discovered note that Austin left in his safe-deposit vault, which clears him of all guilt. But.. is he really Innocent?

I thought this was a very interesting film that it gets you thinking about how someone really could be killed for something they didn't do. Beyond a Reasonable Doubt also has one of the best final twists which comes as a complete surprise.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Heiress (1949)

The Heiress (1949). Directed by William Wyler. Camera: Leo Tover. With Olivia de Havilland, Montgomery Clift, Ralph Richardson, Miriam Hopkins, Vanessa Brown, Betty Linley, Ray Collins, Mona Freeman, Selena Royle, Paul Lees, Harry Antrim, Russ Conway, David Thursby, Donald Kerr, Harry Pipe, Una Mortished, Ralph Sanford, Lester Dorr, Franklyn Farnum, Douglas Spencer, Jack Chefe.

A wealthy widowed physician Austin Sloper, does not understand why his socially awkward daughter Catherine, does not have all the wonderful qualities of her beautiful mother, even with all her schooling and training. Austin, asks his sister, Lavinia, to come stay with him to help teach his daughter social graces.

That night at a party, Austin's sister, Elizabeth and her husband Jefferson, announce the engagement of their daughter Marian to Arthur Townsend. Arthur's handsome cousin Morris, asks Catherine to dance. Although, she has two left feet, Morris does not seem to notice and asks if he could see her again. Morris, makes frequent visits to her home the following week, her father seems surprised that someone has taken any interest in his daughter.

One night, Lavinia pretends to have a headache and when she leaves Morris and Catherine alone together, he proposes. Catherine accepts, despite the fact Morris is unemployed, uneducated and squandered away his inheritance in Paris.

Catherine, who can not wait, announces her engagement to Austin, who then calls for Morris' sister, Mrs. Montgomery to come visit. She confirms Austin's suspicions, that Morris is after Catherine's substantial inheritance. Austin, convinces Catherine to travel with him to Europe for six months, and Morris promises to wait for her.

While Austin and Catherine are in Europe, Morris visits Lavinia and settles in to a luxurious life style. Austin, soon realizes that Catherine still still in love with Morris, and they return to New York. Where Austin, tells his daughter that because she is homely and dull, her only attraction is her money, and the only thing she does well is her neat embroidery work. Shocked by her father's feelings for her, Catherine plans to elope with Morris that night, and tells Morris her father's threat of disinheriting her. Catherine, is packed and ready and waiting, but, Morris never shows up. Lavinia, who agrees that Morris is a fortune-hunter, feels that he at least offered Catherine a small chance at happiness.

A week later, Austin becomes ill and Catherine learns that Morris has moved to California. Catherine, is heartbroken, and she refuses to see her father when as he lays dying.

Years later, Morris returns to see Catherine. Although she refuses to see him at first, she changes her mind when she hears his voice. Morris, then asks for her forgiveness and tells her the reason he left was so she would not loose her inheritance. Morris, proposes again, saying that he needs her love, and Catherine encourages him to elope that night. Will they now marry and live happily ever after?

Fun Fact:

Montgomery Clift learned to play the piano for the scene where he sings, "The Joys of Love" to Olivia de Havilland.

Olivia De Havilland's, performance from a naive girl to a bitter woman is perfectly believable. Montgomery Clift, performance was just right for his part as a fortune hunter. It is hard to know which side to root for.. You might agree with Dr. Sloper's thoughts about Morris and only wants to protect his daughter. Morris could be a fortune hunter, or he could be a man who could make her happy. A wonderfully told story.