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Monday, January 12, 2015

A 50's Courtroom Explosion!


Trial (1956) Combats Lynch Rule and Commie Mischief

It struck me about a third of the way into this that William Holden would have made a far better Trial lead than Glenn Ford. The two had been friends, began as two sides of a callow coin, then achieved popularity as spokesmen for outraged decency, the 50's a peak decade for both. Holden was world-wearier, cynicism having been instilled by work with Wilder, while Ford kept busy as men who'd be pushed but so far. What he missed was association with a great director who could define him for subsequent work with others (Fritz Lang came a closest, had they teamed on more as good as The Big Heat). Still, there'd be a string of hits through the decade, Blackboard Jungle a standout, and from that came momentum for more at MGM, hit after hit until Cimarron broke the string. Trial's Ford is a law professor who'll be let go for lack of courtroom experience, a policy that would pretty well clear the deck at most schools. He's given the summer to participate in a start-to-finish murder trial, a nutty premise as those are customarily way longer getting to real-life resolve.


Object of courtroom exercise is a Mexican teen charged with rape/strangle; his name being "Angel" with requisite baby face and sweet temper removes any/all doubt as to innocence, just like stacked deck that would be Twelve Angry Men a couple of years later. The premise was besides a familiar one thanks to The Lawless, which had kept houses empty for Paramount in 1950. We at least dispose of time-honored lynch mobbing in a first act, being pages ahead of Don Mankiewicz's script (based on his novel), and for that slow haul, it looks like Trial will be another of earnest pleas re justice/tolerance, but then off comes mask of lead attorney Arthur Kennedy at a rally he organizes to whip up minority support. They're all Communists! And Trial doesn't chicken out by having them misunderstood or witch-hunted. Here, then, is where the show cranks up, Ford trying to save his client from a conviction Kennedy orchestrates in order to raise cash for himself and the Party. And GF's love interest is a fellow traveler (Dorothy McGuire) fresh from Kennedy's bed, an idea I'll bet Ernest Lehman and Hitchcock borrowed to develop "Eve Kendall" for North By Northwest.


That rally is centerpiece and big wow of Trial, being (accurate?) depiction of crowds whipped up for causes near or far away, fiery speakers like Kennedy manipulating his mob and raking off thousands garnered off donation. You figure from watching that homefront Reds operated on large scale and could/did affect outcome of high profile cases. But then Trial, perhaps in interest of balancing scales (and to please MGM chief Dore Schary?), aims barb at offscreen demagoguery of HUAC-like investigators putting squeeze on Ford after he's spotted at the Red rally. Overall chips consequently fall in accord with whatever stance appeals to an individual viewer, Leo being the clever lion by giving no one the decision. A happy end is further dry clean, accuracy of courtroom procedure a most egregious crime on view. Trial is dated, sure, but reflective of concerns and attitude folks had then, and there is good performing amidst welcome support (John Hoyt, Elisha Cook, Katy Jurado, many more). Best of these is majestic Juano Hernandez as judge, or better put, ringmaster, of this circussy Trial. He should have got Oscar-nominated for work done here. Mark Robson directs --- we await proper appreciation of him (his great The Harder They Fall out a same year). Warner Archive has Trial on DVD.

1 Comments:

Blogger Caftan Woman said...

A very important film in my life. I first saw it at the age of 12 its influence looms large in my cynical attitude toward politics and groups of any kind. I owe Mankiewicz a debt.

2:26 PM  

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