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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.


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