Drama, Crime | 103 Mins. | Released: 1959
Director: Richard Fleischer
Starring: Dean Stockwell, Orson Welles, Diane Varsi, Bradford Dillman, E. G. Marshall, Martin Milner, Richard Anderson
Our Rating: 8
Black & White
In Compulsion, close friends Judd Steiner (based on Nathan Leopold and played by Dean Stockwell) and Artie Strauss (based on Richard Loeb and played by Bradford Dillman) kill a boy on his way home from school in order to commit the “perfect crime”. Strauss tries to cover it up, but they are caught when police find a key piece of evidence — Steiner’s glasses, which he inadvertently leaves at the scene of the crime. Famed attorney Jonathan Wilk (based on Clarence Darrow and played by Orson Welles) takes their case, saving them from hanging by making an impassioned closing argument against capital punishment.
Although Compulsion was obviously a thinly-disguised recreation of the Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb murder case, the legal department of 20th Century Fox was still concerned about a possible lawsuit from the still-living Leopold. A great effort was made not to mention Leopold or Loeb in the movie, press releases, and interviews. However, there was apparently poor communication with the advertising department, since when the movie came out, newspaper ads stated, “Based on the famous Leopold and Loeb murder case.” Leopold sued the filmmakers. He did not claim libel, slander or anything false or defamatory about the film. Instead, he claimed an invasion of privacy. The court rejected his claim in part because Leopold had already published his own autobiography “Life Plus 99 Years”, publicizing essentially the same facts.
This is the second of four Hollywood film adaptations of the Leopold-Loeb murder case. The first was Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope (1948), the third Tom Kalin’s Swoon (1992) and the fourth Barbet Schroeder’s Murder by Numbers (2002).
Bradford Dillman in his autobiography says that he and Dean Stockwell never got on Stockwell had previously played his role on stage, and had wanted his Broadway co-star Roddy Mcdowall for the movie. Stockwell and Dillman would work again sixteen years later on the little -seen South African thriller ” One Away”.
Three actors in the movie later portrayed murder victims in the TV series, “Columbo.” Martin Milner in “Murder by the Book” – (Directed by Steven Spielberg) Bradford Dillman in “The Greenhouse Jungle” – (murdered by “Dial M for Murder” star Ray Milland) Dean Stockwell in “The Most Crucial Game” – (Stockwell also played a murder suspect in “Troubled Waters”)
Orson Welles, Dean Stockwell and Bradford Dillman were given a special three -way acting award at the 1960 Cannes Film Festival.