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Compulsion (1959) Online

Compulsion (1959) Online
Original Title :
Genre :
Movie / Biography / Crime / Drama / History / Thriller
Year :
Directror :
Richard Fleischer
Cast :
Orson Welles,Dean Stockwell,Diane Varsi
Writer :
Richard Murphy,Meyer Levin
Type :
Time :
1h 43min
Rating :

Two wealthy law-school students go on trial for murder in this version of the Leopold-Loeb case.

Compulsion (1959) Online

In Chicago in 1924, Artie Strauss and Judd Steiner are friends and fellow law students who come from wealthy backgrounds. They have few true friends as they believe all their contemporaries to be intellectually inferior. Although Judd acts arrogantly towards others his inherent weakness is understood and exploited by Artie and indeed Judd appears to relish his submissiveness to Artie. Part of their goal in life, influenced perhaps by their admiration for Nietzsche, is to experience how it feels to do anything one pleases. They thus plot to commit what they consider the perfect crime - a kidnapping and murder - not only in order to experience killing for killing's sake, but also - especially in Artie's case - to taunt the authorities after the fact. They believe themselves above the law. The actual killing of little Paulie Kessler, and the subsequent attempts to cover their tracks, are not so perfect however. Sid Brooks, a fellow student (who also works for the Globe newspaper) whom ...
Complete credited cast:
Orson Welles Orson Welles - Jonathan Wilk
Diane Varsi Diane Varsi - Ruth Evans
Dean Stockwell Dean Stockwell - Judd Steiner
Bradford Dillman Bradford Dillman - Arthur A. Straus
E.G. Marshall E.G. Marshall - District Attorney Harold Horn
Martin Milner Martin Milner - Sid Brooks
Richard Anderson Richard Anderson - Max Steiner
Robert F. Simon Robert F. Simon - Police Lt. Johnson (as Robert Simon)
Edward Binns Edward Binns - Tom Daly
Robert Burton Robert Burton - Charles Straus
Wilton Graff Wilton Graff - Mr. Steiner
Louise Lorimer Louise Lorimer - Mrs. Straus aka 'Mumsy'
Gavin MacLeod Gavin MacLeod - Padua - Horn's Assistant

Although the story was 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, nor anything false nor 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 others being Верёвка (1948), Обморок (1992), and Отсчет убийств (2002).

Because Orson Welles was having tax problems during the production, his entire salary for the movie was garnisheed several hours after principal photography was completed. This upset Welles so much, that during the subsequent looping session to rerecord improperly recorded dialogue, Welles suddenly stormed off the studio and left the country. All that was left to fix was twenty seconds of unclear dialogue in Welles' climatic courtroom speech, but Editor William Reynolds managed to fix this problem without Welles. Reynolds took words and pieces of words that Welles had spoken earlier in the movie, and pieced them one by one into those last twenty seconds.

Richard Fleischer made two more films about real-life notorious murders, The Boston Strangler (1968) and 10 Rillington Place (1971).

In his treatment of the Leopold-Loeb case, Верёвка (1948), Sir Alfred Hitchcock used his famous "ten-minute takes" and segued from one to the other with a "natural wipe" generally focusing on the back of one of the character's suit jackets. Perhaps as an homage to the Master, this film's director, Richard Fleischer, uses a "natural wipe" focusing on the front of Bradford Dillman's suit to end a scene.

Although top-billed, Orson Welles doesn't appear in the film until one hour and five minutes have passed.

During his closing arguments speech Jonathan Wilk (Orson Welles) mentions that he has practiced law for forty-five to forty-six years. Welles, however, was only forty-three-years-old when the movie was made.

Orson Welles, Dean Stockwell, and Bradford Dillman were given a special three-way acting award at the 1960 Cannes Film Festival.

Bradford Dillman, in his autobiography, said that he and Dean Stockwell never got along. Stockwell had previously played his role on-stage, and had wanted his Broadway co-star Roddy McDowall for the movie. Stockwell and Dillman worked again on the little-seen South African thriller One Away (1976) (1976).

The first film produced by Richard D. Zanuck.

The original play included what was then a modern-day sequence. This was omitted from the film. It showed several of the characters thirty years after the story took place.

According to Richard Fleischer in his biography, Orson Welles was a very difficult person to direct. He was jealous of the director rank of Fleischer and he behaved like a spoiled child, because of his tax issues with IRS and his lost stardom in the movie business.

For some reason, the appropriately gravelly voice of actor and wrestler Henry Kulky, nicknamed "Bomber", playing the part of a speakeasy waiter, was dubbed by another actor.

Released in 1959, thirty-five years after the real murder.

The film takes place in Chicago in 1924.

Average shot length and median shot length = ~eleven seconds.

During a rehearsal of the court room scene shooting starring Orson Welles and Diane Varsi, Welles humiliated a young publicity man who had made the mistake not to cancel an appointment between Welles and Hedda Hooper. Welles then ignored the poor publicity man and resumed the rehearsal, just in front a very confused Diane Varsi.

Three actors in the movie later portrayed murder victims in the television series Коломбо (1971) (1971). Martin Milner in season one, episode one, "Коломбо: Murder by the Book (1971)" - (Directed by Steven Spielberg), Bradford Dillman in season two, episode two, "Коломбо: The Greenhouse Jungle (1972)" - (murdered by "В случае убийства набирайте М (1954)" star Ray Milland, and Dean Stockwell in season two, episode three, "Коломбо: The Most Crucial Game (1972)" - (Stockwell also played a murder suspect in season four, episode four, "Коломбо: Troubled Waters (1975)"). Actually it's four! Richard Anderson in Season one, episode 5, "Коломбо: Lady in Waiting (1971)"

With Bradford Dillman's passing on January 2018, Dean Stockwell is the last member of the main cast still living.

Bradford Dillman and E.G. Marshall appeared in The Bridge at Remagen (1969) (1969).

E.G. Marshall and Edward Binns previously appeared in 12 рaзгневанных мужчин (1957).

User reviews



Watching this 1959 Richard Fleischer confirmed something I've always known. Dean Stockwell is a superb actor and an extraordinary presence on the screen. So, I think it's strange that he's not regarded as one of the greatest actors that ever lived. He started as a kid. He was Gregory Peck's son, twice. He was in musicals with Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra. He was directed by Elia Kazan. He made allegorical movies like "The Boy With Green Hair" directed by black listed Joseph Losey. He was Edmond in "Long Day's Journey Into Night" sharing the screen with Katharine Hepburn, Ralph Richardson and Jason Robards. No to mention his work in "Sons and Lovers" or the movies with Wim Wenders and David Lynch. Here, in "Compulsion" his performance is worthy of an Oscar and in fact he go the accolades at the Cannes Film Festival sharing the acting honors with Orson Welles and Bradford Dillman. But, looking at it now he is the one that comes out as the one who passed in triumph the test of time. His performance is so rich so perfectly modulated that you go straight into the human center of his sick, appalling character. "Compulsion" deserves to be rediscovered and Dean Stockwell's performance should be the main reason.


I don't know why I'm so attracted to this vulnerable weirdos. From Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates in Psycho to Colin Firth as Adrian Leduc in Apartment Zero, darkness and a fragility that is part of the unbearable suspense. Maybe I'm in need of professional attention but I don't think so. What attracts me is by the undeniable innocence behind the horror and that has a lot, if not everything, to do with the actors playing them. Look at Anthony Perkins in Psycho! 57 years ago and it still looks and feels kind of revolutionary or Colin Firth in Apartment Zero, the character is so unique and real that you can see it a thousand times and always find some new extra something, then Dean Stockwell in Compulsion. He plays a monster, a sick, pathetic prince of a man. Yes all of that. The humanity of the actor makes the monster human and we can't dismiss him, he doesn't allow us. Orson Welles has a great entrance into the film and E.G Marshall is superb as per usual, it is the rest of the cast who seem a bit dated, specially when sharing the frame with the extraordinary Dean Stockwell


Seeing "Compulsion" again after a very long time, it amazed me how well I remembered it. In fact I remembered every tiny little turn in Dean Stockwell's eyes. He is superb in the part of the young semi genius with a weakness for the shallow Bradford Dillman. The Leopold and Loeb case was the base for this thrilling Richard Fleischer film. It won acting awards for Stockwell, Dillman and Orson Welles at the Cannes Film Festival but with the benefit of hindsight, Dean Stockwell emerges as the winner against the famous test of time. Dillman seems a little bit too everything. Welles is great fun to watch and E G Marshall is terrific as the man determined to unmask the "powder poofs". Stockwell fainting at the trial, something that could have been so over the top, is in fact, shattering. The Leopold and Loeb story was also the base for Hitchcock's "Rope" and the wonderful Tom Kalin's "Swoon" Another version was rumored in 1991, directed by Martin Donovan with River Phoenix in the Stockwell part.


If "Compulsion" is still such a powerful film is, totally, Dean Stockwell's merit. What a sensational actor! I'm writing this the day after the announcement of Dennis Hopper's death and while I was looking for a Dennis Hopper movie to watch a came across "Compulsion" Not Hopper but Stockwell and I settled for that anyway. I was riveted by Stockwell's performance because everyone else (with the natural exception of Orson Wells and E G Marshall) seems so dated and acted that Dean's every moment is sheer magic. He doesn't shy away from the awfulness but makes his young monster totally human, provoking in us that element that Orson Welles's closing argument tries to bring to the forefront. If you love great acting, you can't afford to miss Dean Stockwell in "Compulsion"


Two highly intelligent, wealthy young students attempt to get away with "the perfect murder". This intriguing drama was also filmed as "Rope" (1948) and "Swoon" (1992). Loosely based on the true story of Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, this version stars Dean Stockwell (as Judd Steiner) and Bradford Dillman (as Artie Straus), with Orson Welles (as Jonathan Wilk). "Compulsion" is one of the best Hitchcock films NOT directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Oddly enough, Hitchcock did direct the inferior, albeit interesting "Rope"; the film's subject matter has Hitchcock written all over it.

Director Richard Fleischer is at his best, combining material from both Hitchcock and Alex Segal, director of the original play; still, he makes his version of "Compulsion" distinctive. If Mr. Stockwell's glaring glasses and the birds in his room seem like they could be coincidental Hitchcock touches, the dissolve during Mr. Dillman's "Mae and Edna" interrogation scene is a dead giveaway; it was Hitchcock's calling card, in "Rope". From the 1957 play, Stockwell continues as "Judd" (the "strange bird"). But, Roddy McDowell is replaced by Dillman as "Artie"; in hindsight, this may seem like a grievous error - but, thankfully, Dillman excels in the role.

Stockwell, Dillman, and Mr. Welles shared the "Best Actor" award for 1959, at the Cannes Film Festival; and, Fleischer was nominated for "Best Director". Welles' contribution, nominated on its own for a "New York Film Critics" award, was more like an extended cameo, however. Welles dominates the last act, with a grand, blustering impression of Clarence Darrow. Yet, Stockwell and Dillman deserve the "Best Actor" recognition; and, prosecutor E.G. Marshall (as Harold Horn) isn't given a comparative closing argument (the film's main flaw). Welles and Diane Varsi (as Ruth Evans) receive star-billing; but, Ms. Varsi plays an inarguably supporting role. She and Martin Milner (as Sid Brooks) are certainly good, though.

Varsi's character adds depth to the confused sexuality present in Stockwell's character. Note, Hitchcock's "Rope" portrayed "Leopold" and "Loeb" as more homo- than heterosexual. Probably, this film intentionally sought to tone down the same-gender sexual attraction; but, the effort only served to make "Compulsion" sexier, with Stockwell torn between his subservient role with the male Dillman ("You wanted me to command you") and the female Varsi, whom he aborts raping (possibly giving away his preference). The scenes with Dillman in Stockwell's bedroom are sublime; in one, he literally "comes out of the closet."

********* Compulsion (4/1/59) Richard Fleischer ~ Dean Stockwell, Bradford Dillman, Orson Welles, Diane Varsi


In 1924 Nathan Leopold and his friend/lover Richard Loeb were two wealthy young Chicagoans, from Jewish American families, who were extremely well educated. Both were believers in the theories (somewhat twisted) of Friedrich Nietzche regarding the idea of the superman. They believed that supermen could regard certain laws as being only meant for "little people", not supermen. One thing they felt they could ignore was the criminal code...and this included murder. They decided to commit a perfect crime for the thrill of it. They would kidnap and kill a child, demand a large ransom, and leave a trail of clues that would befuddle the police. To do this they did do some things that showed careful planning (like stealing a typewriter so they could send untraceable letters). Finally they kidnapped a cousin of Leopold, Bobby Franks (age 14), killed him in their car, mutilated the body with acid and knives, and hid him in a deserted park culvert. Unfortunately for these two geniuses, Leopold dropped a pair of eyeglasses at the site where Bobby was deposited. It was the eyeglasses that led the police to Leopold and then Loeb, and the two supermen were fairly fast in caving in and confessing. The criminal historian, Jonathan Goodman, once wrote that if he ever planned to commit a murder and would ask infamous criminals for advice, he would certainly choose Burke and Hare (the Edinburgh body snatchers, who were not caught until they killed 16 people) over Leopold and Loeb.

They did not hang. Their families hired America's greatest attorney, Clarence Darrow, to defend them. He pleaded guilty for them, but requested a bench trial (just a judge) for the sentencing. His theory was that a jury would never be able not to divorce the cruelty of their actions from consideration of their punishment. For Darrow, a lifelong opponent of the death penalty, was unwilling to risk losing two guilty clients to public hatred.

He gave a classic discussion of the death penalty, and how it would not do what the public wished - stop further crime as a warning, and bring back (or closure to the family of)Bobby Frank. And the Judge did decide to not order the execution of Leopold and Loeb. They were sentenced to life plus ninety nine years (the sentence was later used as the title of Leopold's autobiography). But Richard Loeb was murdered in prison in 1936 (he made a homosexual advance on a fellow prisoner who slashed him to death - and was not punished for it). Leopold was released in 1958. He married, moved to Puerto Rico where he worked as a nurse, and died in 1971.

COMPULSION is based on a novel by Meyer Levin (a best seller in the late 1950s), that was based on the case, changing the names of Leopold and Loeb to Artie Strauss and Judd Steiner. The film only goes through the crime and the trial, culminating in the performance of Orson Welles as Jonathan Wilkes (a.k.a. Clarence Darrow). Dean Stockwell plays a sympathetic, confused Leopold (an issue among criminal historians - how really weak was Leopold - was he Loeb's sex slave?) and Bradford Dillman as a more aggressive Loeb. Martin Milner plays their college friend (and Leopold's rival for a girl in the class), who also finds the eyeglasses. E.G.Marshall is District Attorney Horn (and gives a very effective performance as an intelligent adversary of the two criminals as well as Welles). Diane Varsi plays the girl both Stockwell and Milner love. For some reason her performance is considered weak - actually while not fascinating it was more than competent.

The film does show the crime in it's aftermath (unlike the other film version of the Leopold-Loeb Case - ROPE - this movie does not the actual murder). It shows the increasing nervousness of Leopold, while Loeb keeps his cool (even "helping" the police investigation by suggesting some possible suspects of pedophile leanings). It is (unlike ROPE) shot as a period film, in the 1920s, but the film is in black and white - so the period costumes and accessories are not detracting from the action.

It is a well done film, but Welles appearance is only in the last half hour, culminating in the speech before the judge and his effective parting shot at Stockwell, who feels there is no God ("Perhaps it was God who made you drop your eyeglasses."). Welles performance of the speech was so effective that it was recorded on a record and was a best seller that year. And it is beautifully done.

But the film misses one point. Darrow did not win the sentence he sought by convincing the Judge of the impracticality of the death sentence. The Judge actually dismissed this argument of Darrow's. But Leopold and Loeb were under 21. He felt they were too young to be hanged.

It has been suggested that COMPULSION and ROPE could be shown together, but it would equally be possible to view COMPULSION with INHERIT THE WIND, to compare the performances of Welles with Spencer Tracy as Darrow/Henry Drummond in the latter film. There is also a peculiar type of movie loop in COMPULSION and INHERIT THE WIND. COMPULSION has a scene where Welles, is in his hotel room, when he sees some Ku Klux Klanners light a cross outside his window. In INHERIT THE WIND Tracy answers his hotel door room to see Gene Kelly (as H.L.Mencken/E.K.Hornbeck)wearing a hood and saying "Boo" as a joke. This is a reference to Darrow's agnostic/atheistic reputation, which was disliked by many people in his day. And early in INHERIT THE WIND when Kelly announces that Dick York (as Bertram Cates - John Scopes)will be defended by Tracy, one of the townspeople says, "He just got those two child-murderers off the other day."). It is rare for two films to have such mutual references in them, when they are not sequel films.


The film deal with two young men (Bradford Dillman , Dean Stockwell) who murder a pal . They are law students and followers to Nietsche theories . They are investigated by an astute prosecutor (E.G.Marshall) . He's growing suspicion but there isn't one perfect crime . As the relentless justice to be executed and they go on trial for killing . A famous lawyer (Orson Welles) will defend them on the accusation of murderers and under death penalty . A young girl (Diane Varsi) will testify for them .

This highly interesting film is inspired on real events about Nathan Leopold-Richard Lob killing case in Chicago of the 1920s . Although the story was obviously a thinly-disguised recreation of the known murder case , the legal department of 20th Century Fox was still concerned about a possible lawsuit from the still-living Leopold . In fact , a great effort was made not to mention Leopold or Loeb in the film , press releases , and interviews . The film contains suspense , drama , tension , illicit love with intertwining triangles , emotion , courtroom trial and complex intrigue maintained throughout . Besides , superb performances by main roles (Dillman , Stockell , Varsi, Welles) and supporting casting (Martin Milner , Robert F. Simon , Gavin McLeod , among others). Special mention for Orson Welles who displays a terrific acting and explaining a significant speech into criminal court . The movie is visually magnificent with an excellent black and white cinematography by William C. Mellor . Evocative and adjusted music by Lionel Newman . The motion picture was wonderfully directed by Richard Fleischer .

This is the second of four film adaptations of the Leopold-Loeb murder case , other versions about same events are the famous ¨The rope¨ (1948) by Hithcock with John Dall (in the character of Bradford Dillman )and Farley Granger (in the role of Dean Stockwell), ¨Swoon¨ and recently ¨Murder by numbers¨ by Barbet Schroeder with Michael Pitt and Ryan Gosling . Indispensable and fundamental seeing for court genre enthusiasts and Orson Welles fans . It's one of Richard Fleisher's best. Rating : Above average .
adventure time

adventure time

In many respects, I thought this was a movie that was far ahead of its time. In some ways, it's a psychological study of why some people turn to evil without any apparent remorse. It's also an anti-capital punishment argument in a time when capital punishment was both accepted and non-controversial. It deals with subject matters that I wouldn't normally expect to see in a movie of this era, and it's a very taut psychological thriller that wouldn't bore anyone.

Dean Stockwell, in my opinion, was the clear highlight of the film. He offered an amazing portrayal of Judd Steiner, the seemingly emotionless one of the murderous duo (the other was Bradford Dillman as Arthur Strauss.) Steiner and Strauss are basically rich, spoiled kids who decide to take up killing for the fun and excitement involved. The movie revolves around the investigation into the murder of a young boy, and then the trial of the two. Stockwell and Dillman made an interesting combination. In the beginning, Strauss is portrayed as the one in charge, with Steiner uncertain and nervous. By the end, Steiner is transformed into a hard as nails and cold as ice monster. The evolution of that relationship is fascinating.

There were aspects of the story that didn't work for me. Ruth (Diane Varsi) came across as far too forgiving of Judd after her encounter with him, and frankly, the rather long-winded speech by Orson Welles (playing attorney Jonathon Wilk) to the judge at the end of the movie was too long-winded, even though I agreed with some of it. (Modern studies of capital punishment would call into question Wilk's statement that only rich kids would die for this kind of crime; in fact, it's overwhelmingly the poor who are sentenced to death.) I thought the movie also opened with a musical score and what we would call today fonts for the credits that were entirely inappropriate, and which seemed to almost set this up as some sort of comedy. It's not. It's deadly serious, and very good. 7/10


I had never even heard of this movie until today.WHERE in the world are the historians?This is on par for courtroom drama with Lionel Barrymore's great dissertation at the end of, "A Free Soul"-1931.This, also, was a fact based portrayal of Adele Rogers St.John's father's career.

I have to concur with Ms. Brown, and ask the question as to why this movie is not shown more often;i saw it on AMC. The bottom line is the line by Mr. Darrow:"You don't stop killing human beings by killing human beings".Mr. Welles was never in finer form, than when he gives this speech... i understand this speech is verbatim of the transcript of the trial.


Compulsion (1959)

Orson Welles gets top billing but he only shows up near the end--just as he did in The Third Man--and he changes the tenor of the movie a lot. I like Welles as an actor, but he dominates the two young men who made the film click earlier. At first, it seems that the movie is about a pair of brainy (and slightly cold) college students who intellectualize their way into a nasty crime. The tension between them, the hints of doubt and the overcoming of guilt, and just about the townspeople and how they handle the crime and the investigation. It's not a perfectly smooth exploration, but it's interesting and even edgy at times, and has a great late 1950s black and white clarity to the filming that makes everything stark.

With the lawyer played by Welles we are shifted into a more conventional courtroom drama, a good one, but with some common tactics (the courtroom scene in Lady from Shanghai blows it away for originality, if you want one comparison), and with a long long long capstone speech by our man Orson. It's easy to like, very easy from start to finish with some nice visual clarity and lively soundtrack, but it does stutter enough to keep you aware of what might have been done differently.

And what about the idea of crime as a mental exercise, of a person being so superior he or she rises above culpability? Well, it's not a new idea, and Hitchcock's Rope from a decade earlier goes there in a similar way (Rope is a curious film, and Jimmy Stewart acts his heart out, but Compulsion actually has more life to it because the two young men are more interesting). Both probably owe something to the sensation 1924 Leopold and Loeb killing, and of course to other murder mysteries that go into the psychology rather than the gore (from Dostoyevsky to Highsmith). It's tantalizing stuff.


As a result of his handling of this film, Director Richard Fleischer either inherited a reputation for his skill at telling stories about flawed murderous characters or he was attracted to the subject (The Boston Strangler" in '68 ~ "Ten Rillington Place" in '71) Whatever the driving forces he surely displayed a natural talent to examine, and chill, within the genre. What 'Compulsion' achieves is certainly compelling viewing.

With its basis in shocking fact this movie works on several levels.

Firstly: as a denouncement of certain teachings found within educational institutions on the writings of German post modernist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. In this instance by examining his theories that certain members of the human race are, by benefit of their advanced knowledge, and superior intellect, above the law of the 'common' people. He regarded these as the 'Superhumans'. Its even possible this philosophy and his 'will to power' could arguably be attributed to the actions of certain members of the ruling class, perhaps even forming part of the disastrous 'causes' of World War 1, etc (as a contributing force behind the philosophical reasonings of the day)

The characters that form the homosexual duo of this shocking case are representational of the 'Crime of the Century' murderers: Leopold and Loeb. Both sentenced to Life + 99 years for the senseless killing of 14yr old Bobby Francis (2nd cousin of Loeb). Their reason for the murder? the thrill of performing the 'perfect' murder based on the repugnant belief of their own 'superior' Nietzscheian intellect!

Secondly: as an argument against capital punishment. The parents of Loeb commissioned the services of renowned criminal attorney Clarence Darrow (Orson Wells) who was championing the case against the death penalty. His brilliant courtroom speech is regarded by some as one of the most important turning points in redemptive sentencing. This humanitarian reverse reasoning has proved beneficial in several cases, but how does it hold up within the framework of this modern era? Some contemporary viewers might bring into question the growing number of people who fall victims to murderous criminals - following their re-release into society as being 'CURED' - Sadly this number would appear to be larger each year. When this is considered, along with the rapidly growing number of serial murderers now held in 'corrective' services, it invites the question...if proved guilty beyond doubt, and never to be released, is this then worthy of the very large resources involved?. Difficult situation.

The performance of Dean Stockwell (as the Leopold character) is quite astounding, as are all the superb players in this stark drama. Somewhere along the way it would seem some character details, either within the screenplay or the novel, have perhaps been transposed differently from the claims of the real participants and various reports ~ but this tends to occur with many transcriptions of factual events. Oscar winning veteran director of photography: William C. Mellor: earlier known for the good looking "Reaching for the Sun" '41 ~ "Bad Day at Black Rock" '55 ~ "Giant" '56, captures all the tension in striking B/W CinemaScope.

Boston born screenplay writer Richard Murphy in the same year adapted Paul Muni's final movie: "The Last Angry Man" for the screen and is also known for, "Les Miserables" '54 ~ "Panic in the Streets" '50 ~ "Deep Waters" '48. His screenplay was based on the novel of the same name by Meyer Levin, writer and producer of "My Father's House" in '47.

Director Fleischer a few years later would give us "Barabbas" '61 and "The New Centurions" '72. He begun in the early 40's working on fast paced RKO supports like the acclaimed "Narrow Margin" '52.

My brother in law made me a present of a superbly re-mastered DVD, so for those interested in thought provoking stories based on factual crimes, this comes recommended. KenR


This was pretty interesting, thanks to Bradford Dillman who was excellent as one of the murderers, and to Orson Welles, as defense attorney "Jonathan Wilk." Wells could be such an imposing presence on screen! Interesting, too, that his character was an atheist but in the end admitted he may have been wrong about that.

E.G. Marshall also was fun to watch as the prosecutor, "Dist. Att. Harold Horn," but, of course, the screen writers had him silent in the end only showing Welles state his liberal impassioned anti-death penalty speech at the end.

Dillman and Dean Stockwell were the wise-guys, young arrogant punks who thought they were smarter than anyone else. Dillman held up under pressure but Stockwell was an annoying wimpy wuss who cracked. Diani Varsi playing the lukewarm love interest, adds very little to the film.

Overall, this re-telling of the famous Leopold-Loeb case of the 1920s was worth the watch and recommended. If this kind of story fascinates you, I recommend a similar film: "Rope" (1949).


We can add Welles to Wilde, Monroe and others who we never respected until they were gone. His pleading for the lives of those crazy boys (as Clarence Darrow did) is an eloquent plea for the ending of the death penalty. Funny, how a barometer like the death penalty tells us so much about a society's relative civility. The US had backed away from it, but is now swinging back toward even public executions (which I would much prefer, as they show all of us how barbaric we have become).

Note that the movie dwells on their 'craziness' and 'richness', not the Jewishness or the homosexual relationships that evoked the wrath of the public in the real case. Both Dillman and Dean Stockwell do an excellent job of drawing out your anger until you find yourself one of the mob yelling for blood. To stem the tide, in comes Orson Welles. Welles' phrasing and meaningful looks struck me again with what a magnificent actor he was, as well as director.

Now I have to go read 'Compulsion', the novel around which this movie was made, to determine what was left out and if it would have contributed to some of the obviously omitted details that make this movie a little choppy. This movie performs the task that great art must take on itself: to provide us insights into life and how it should be lived. That can be done either negatively or positively, by point or counter-point.

Of course, unless you had some excellent writers and actors of the stature of Welles, you wouldn't come up to the quality of this movie. Definitely, black and white contributed to the brooding quality of the film. Color would have detracted, and you'll seldom 'hear' me say this.


In 1924, in Chicago, the wealthy and psychotic nihilist law students Judd Steiner (Dean Stockwell) and Arthur Strauss (Bradford Dillman) believe that they can be above the law and commit minor infractions. Their college mate Sid Brooks (Martin Milner) that works for the Chicago Globe is assigned to go to the morgue to see a drowned boy found in Hegewisch Park. He discovers that the boy is actually Paul Kessler, the son of a millionaire that had been kidnapped for ransom. Further, Sid discovers a pair of the glasses with the boy that becomes a lead to the police since it does not fit the victim. When Judd finds that his glasses are evidence for the murder case, he prepares an alibi using his activity of ornithologist and tells that he was picking up girls with Artie driving the Stutz Bearcat of his family. However the astute District Attorney Harold Horn (E.G. Marshall) investigates the case and lures Judd getting his confession. But the Steiner and Strauss families hire the cunning defense attorney Jonathan Wilk (Orson Welles) to defend the perpetrators of the hideous crime. In the beginning of the trial, Wilk surprisingly changes his plea from "not guilty" to "guilty".

Movies of trial are usually engaging and "Compulsion" is not an exception. The dark story based on a true murder case is supported by magnificent performances, highlighting Dean Stockwell and Bradford Dillman in the roles of arrogant and psychotic millionaires that expect to commit a perfect crime and Orson Welles in the lesser but relevant role of a smart lawyer. My vote is seven.

Title (Brazil): "Estranha Compulsão" ("Strange Compulsion")


Deserved the acting awards for the three male actors that the Cannes festival bestowed. Orson Welles is amazing while delivering his lines--almost whispering and yet being heard. His performance makes Marlon Brando's famous roles look artificial and contrived.

I liked the visual play of the director with the spectacles several times in the film, each time in a different manner. Director Fleischer who impressed me with his film "Barabbas" continues to impress me here. Probably, in this film it was the final line of theism versus atheism.

Finally. this is an important example of a film that argues against the death penalty.


"Compulsion" was one of the most important American films of the late 50s. Based loosely on the famous Leopold and Loeb case, the movie still packs quite an impact because of the excellent work by the three principals. As directed by Richard Fleischer, this is a disturbing look at two criminal minds who thought they were above and beyond the law because they had the perfect crime planned. The film was greatly adapted for the screen by Richard Murphy from the Meyer Levin book and stage play.

Even for those clever enough to carry on a murder, there is always a possibility that a minor mistake will give the culprit away. The two young men at the center of the story, Judd Steiner and Artie Straus are homosexual lovers. At the time, being gay in America must have been one of the worst things in a more puritanical and pious society. These two men hide their sexual preference well because of the circles they both move. Coming from upper class families, in a way, made it easier for these men to formulate a plan to satisfy their idle existences.

After committing a heinous crime, just because they thought they could get away with it, the two friends begin experiencing the guilt associated with what they have done. Judd's reaction is different from Artie's. Where Judd tries to lay low, Artie tries to help the police in a bold move that will end up badly. Judd suddenly feels abandoned by Artie when he realizes Artie might be getting too close to the people investigating the murder.

As careful as these men had been, something that apparently seems innocent, ties them to the crime. The principal investigator, Sid Brooks, turns the men against one another by playing his cards right. This is the moment that Jonathan Wilk, the famous trial lawyer enters the picture. Unfortunately, even a star lawyer can't save people that have talked too much because they thought they were above the law.

Star lawyers have always been at the center of all famous trials throughout the history. In a way, it's ironic that only one man, the great Jonathan Wilk is the only person in court to defend Steiner and Straus. Had it been today, these two men would have had a battery of expensive lawyers making the case for them. The figure of Wilke is based on the real lawyer of the Leopold and Loeb case: Clarence Darrow, a man larger than life.

Dean Stockwell and Bradford Dillman made an invaluable contribution to the success of the film. Mr. Stockwell, a child actor that grew up in front of the camera, makes a compelling Judd Steiner. Mr. Stockwell gets under Steiner's skin because he seems to know what made this young man do what he did. Mr. Dillman was a relative new face to the movies, but his performance as Artie Straus has a profound effect on the viewer. Neither man makes a likable person, but maybe that was the message the author of the play wanted to leave the viewer with.

Orson Welles made a splendid appearance as the defense lawyer, Jonathan Wilk. Mr. Welles' physical presence dominates most of the court proceedings. In fact, is a tribute to his genius that he towers over everything around him whenever he is in front of the camera. E. G. Marshall has some good moments as Sid Brooks, the investigator who unearths the truth in this case. Ed Binns, Martin Milner, Robert Simon, Richard Anderson make contributions to the film. Diane Varsi, as the Ruth Evans is the only female that has an opportunity in the film.

The film moves at a quick pace and will, no doubt, satisfy those viewers seeking intelligent entertainment.


There are a lot of movies featuring a character who is an atheist, but movies in which the atheist is a follower of Friedrich Nietzsche are in a special category. Most such movies are based on the Loeb and Leopold murder, which shocked the nation in 1924. Two men in their late teens, geniuses who had already graduated from college and who came from wealthy families, committed a coldblooded murder of a fourteen-year-old boy. Richard Loeb was primarily interested in committing the perfect crime; Nathan Leopold wanted to prove that they were Nietzschean supermen, whose superior intellect freed them from the moral restraints that ordinary men were expected to adhere to. Now, most scholars would agree that Nietzsche would never have sanctioned such a coldblooded murder, but the fact that some people, like Loeb and Leopold, interpret Nietzsche that way is undeniable.

Occasionally, a movie will not refer to Nietzsche directly, but his influence is implied, as in the movie "Strange Cargo" (1945), where the villain is referred to as "superman." And in the movie "The Fountainhead" (1949), one almost gets the sense that each of the major characters feels compelled to announce which version of Nietzsche's philosophy of the will to power he or she represents. But mostly, movies with Nietzschean atheists are based on the Loeb and Leopold case. And of those, the best of the lot is "Compulsion."

The names were changed to allow some latitude for the sake of storytelling. Richard Loeb is Arthur "Artie" Straus (Bradford Dillman); Nathan Leopold is Judd Steiner (Dean Stockwell); and Clarence Darrow, the famous lawyer who defended them, is Jonathan Wilk (Orson Welles).

One of the great ironies of the story is the way these two geniuses planned their perfect murder for seven months, and yet they made one stupid mistake after another. One of the most damning pieces of evidence was Judd's glasses, which he accidentally dropped where they disposed of the boy's body. It had a special hinge that only three people in the area had purchased, and the other two were easily eliminated as suspects. After Artie and Judd have finally confessed to their crime, Wilk is hired as their lawyer, with much reluctance on the part of their parents, however, because he is an "atheist." Actually, the real Clarence Darrow considered himself an agnostic, as does Wilk in the movie, but one suspects that people who did not like Clarence Darrow preferred the more pejorative term "atheist," refusing to mince words on the subject.

Artie and Judd never characterize themselves as either agnostic or atheist, but it would be hard to believe that they were anything but atheists, given their admiration of Nietzsche and their willingness to commit a horrible murder just to prove that they were superior. Regardless of what the final words actually were between Darrow, on the one hand, and Loeb and Leopold, on the other, it was still necessary in 1959 for movie agnostics and atheists to make amends: the agnostic, by indicating that he still regards the existence of God as a genuine possibility; the atheist, by recognizing that he has been wrong in thinking that God does not exist.

We see both in the final scene. After the judge rules that Artie and Judd will not be executed for their crime, but will spend the rest of their lives in prison, which was the only outcome Wilk could reasonably hope for, the following dialogue takes place:

Artie: "So we sweat through three months of misery just to hear that. I wish they'd have hung us right off the bat."

Wilk: "I wasn't expecting you to fall down on your knees and thank God for deliverance."

Judd: "God? That sounds rather strange coming from you, Mr. Wilk."

Wilk: "A lifetime of doubt and questioning doesn't necessarily mean I've reached any final conclusions."

Judd: "Well, I have, and God has nothing to do with it."

Wilk: "Are you sure, Judd? In those years to come you might find yourself asking, if it wasn't the hand of God dropped those glasses. And if he didn't, who did?"

To that question, Judd hesitates, and then has a look of fear and bewilderment.

Now, it is hard to take the suggestion that it was the hand of God who dropped Judd's glasses. I mean, as long as God was going to get involved, why didn't he prevent the little boy from being murdered in the first place? But some people would say that that way of thinking is typical of an atheist like me, who just doesn't understand that God works in mysterious ways. So, even if I think Wilk's suggestion is absurd, most people watching this movie in 1959 would have found it perfectly reasonable.

Alternatively, one might go all Freudian and say that Judd had an unconscious desire to be caught. That would seem to be the significance of the last question, "And if he didn't, who did?"

Personally, I think it was just an accident. We don't need God or Freud to explain that. But the main thing is that for those in the audience who needed to see the atheist realize that there might actually be a God, Wilk's first hypothesis about the hand of God dropping the glasses would have been the preferred interpretation.


Compulsion is directed by Richard Fleischer and adapted to screenplay by Richard Murphy from the novel written by Meyer Levin. It stars Dean Stockwell, Bradford Dillman, Orson Welles and Diane Varsi. Music is by Lionel Newman and cinematography by William C. Mellor.

Based upon the real life Leopold and Loeb murder trial of the 1920s, Compulsion finds Artie Strauss (Dillman) and Judd Steiner (Stockwell) as two well to do young men attempting to commit the perfect crime - murder! But it wasn't so perfect after all and they soon find themselves on trial for their own lives. Enter famed attorney Jonathan Wilk (Welles), who fights to keep them from the death penalty.

Healthily rated in some quarters, it's a film that actually does divide opinions, which when all is considered is unsurprising given the capital punishment core of the story. The story builds superbly, brilliantly photographed and paced by cinematographer and director, and performed with imposing skills by Dillman and Stockwell. Then the crux of the film arrives in the form of Welles, who late in the play has the unenviable job of turning the piece into a soapbox anti capital punishment advertisement.

It's also a performance from Welles that has drawn major pros and cons in critical circles. Whatever your thoughts on capital punishment, Welles makes a telling acting mark. The sound mix could have been fine tuned, as Welles is prone to mumble during his speeches, but it remains gripping on court room drama terms, even if there's a little deflation - a feeling of anti-climax - after the build up had been so good. Not really capturing the notoriety of the real case, it's nonetheless a compelling piece and well worth seeking out. 7/10


In 1924 Chicago, two rich college students, Judd Steiner (Dean Stockwell) and Arthur Strauss (Bradford Dillman), decide they can commit the perfect murder and get away with. They kill a young teenager, Paulie Kessler, but through the efforts of part-time reporter and fellow student Sid Brooks, a pair of glasses left at the scene is traced to the murderers.

Being familiar with the Leopold and Loeb case, though not the novel this film is based on, I must say I am impressed with how closely they followed the events. Some modifications were made, of course, and the names were changed (though I'm not sure why when the source is so obvious). But everything from Nietzsche to the Jewish factor to the implied homosexual relationship is all here.

For whatever reason, the "definitive" Leopold and Loeb movie is generally seen as Hitchcock's "Rope". And while I do think that movie is outstanding, it really focuses more on the philosophy aspect and really ignores the plot. Combined, these films would be a double feature that would be hard to beat.


It's 1924 Chicago. Rich law students Artie Strauss (Bradford Dillman) and Judd Steiner (Dean Stockwell) steal from their fraternity. Artie orders Judd to run over a drunk in the road. He misses. Artie wants to continue with his crime spree and Judd begs to join him in a well thought out dangerous plan to gain infamy. Judd is a bitter intellectual and Artie is a brash extrovert. They commit the 'perfect' crime killing a boy but their acquaintance rookie investigative reporter Sid Brooks finds Judd's glasses at the crime scene. Artie pushes Judd to attack Ruth Evans but he stops in time. Their crime unravels with the mounting evidence and the boys talking. Their families hire famed defense attorney Jonathan Wilk (Orson Welles) to battle D.A. Horn (E.G. Marshall).

These two guys are compelling characters. At times, their obsessive relationship hints at homosexuality while other times, it is all intellectual psychopathic banter. They could have heightened the bloody violence a bit more. Orson Welles doesn't show up until after over an hour. He does an interesting performance but it is the young men that are the most fascinating.


Two wealthy, sociopath students plan and execute a 'perfect' crime to prove their infallibility, but are discovered, then convicted of the brutal murder only to face their own mortality at the hands of a public baying for their blood.

The film's success is often attributed to Welles and his one-man act to persuade the judge that capital punishment is an internecine solution, more heinous than the crime itself. While the dialogue is powerful, and Welles' delivery authentic and commanding, my most vivid memories of "Compulsion" are embodied in the performances of Dillman, Milner and Varsi. Steiner (Stockwell) is as intense as his character demands; the superior intellect towering above mere mortals, although his social ineptitude isolates him, where Straus (Dillman) is more capable of ingratiating himself and this makes him the more dangerous, and in turn Dillman's performance, the more complex and compelling.

Ruthy (Varsi) is an equally tricky characterisation, forced to endure Steiner's awkward, attempted rape then display sincere compassion for his predicament. The personal conflict expressed by Varsi is palpable and poignant; more importantly perhaps, it's against type and that's welcome. Finally, the Sid Brooks character (Milner), as the everyman journalist intern, whose affections for Ruthy are tested as she struggles to rationalise her pity for Steiner. In my opinion, Milner's character creates an important equilibrium - a central point of reference and a comfortable pitch to which the audience can relate. As the acid-test for the film's message, his sudden epiphany isn't all that well reasoned (in my opinion), but nevertheless, is fitting all the same.

Controversial subject matter aside, there's plenty of sharp dialogue and witty exchanges to pique the interest, as the great supporting cast (Marshall, Simon, MacLeod) apply the screws in the classic 'prove-it' scenario. My only serious grief with the narrative is the somewhat contrived discovery of the key piece of evidence and the subsequent hasty, off-camera confessions. The film shifts gear significantly at this point, as Dillman & Stockwell casually fade-out, and Welles occupies the frame for the third and final act. While Welles is dominant and entirely realistic, the absence of Dillman, Varsi, Milner and co is conspicuous. Still in all, a great enduring courtroom drama.


A first rate crime overview marred only by the desire to argue against the death penalty in shovel loads. This doesn't mean I'm pro capital punishment but to give Orsen Welles over nine minutes to compare anyone pro-cp to hyenas while completely ignoring the prosecution summary is cowardly, it's as if the filmmakers know they have to stack the deck to make their point. Very reminiscent of the failed scenes at the end of In Cold Blood. At least in that film the prosecutor (Will Geer) was allowed to point out the ruthlessness of the butchery of the Clutter family, in Compulsion the victim (the little boy) is nothing more than a plot device.

That aside, the performances of Stockwell, Dillman, Marshall, Macleod and even Welles are great and this is a very interesting film.


The film should be seen in conjunction with Hitchcock's experimental "Rope." Hitchcock as usual has a greater gift for character and its poetry, and a more gainful employment of women, than his opponent, but the "hack" film has certain advantages: aside from being in sharp black and white rather than 40s (cheezy, proto-colorized) color, it also has a much more appealing, commanding and charismatic leading sociopath in Bradford Dillman than Rope with oily, unctuous John Dall, and a more complex junior-sociopath in Dean Stockwell than Hitchcock's wraithlike Farley Granger. Orson Welles, lest you need be informed, is utterly compelling in everything he does.


The murder committed in the 1920s by two young men, Leopold & Loeb, has been story fodder for years. There was, of course, Hitchcock's ROPE, the independent film SWOON, and a musical, THRILL ME, which recently played at the York Theater in New York.

This version stars Dean Stockwell and Bradford Dillman as the killers who believed that they were supermen as described by Nietzsche. Though their homosexuality can only be hinted at, it's pretty apparent. Stockwell likes Dillman to order him to do things, and at the beginning, the Dillman character orders him to run someone over. He does it. They move on to kidnapping and murder next. They have no emotional attachment to their crime, no sense of morality, and no remorse. As brilliant as they believed they were, they're caught pretty quickly. Clarence Darrow is brought in to defend them. They get a life sentence instead of death by hanging. Loeb was murdered by another inmate in 1936; Leopold died in 1971. The two remained very much attached to one another.

"Compulsion" is a fictionalized version of this story. Though set in the '20s, it somehow has a modern feel to it - perhaps it was the dialogue, the demeanor of the young men, but I never bought for a single second that we were in the '20s. The cast is uniformly excellent. Bradford Dillman is sharp, cocky, energetic, and totally unlikeable as "Arthur Strauss," the brains of the operation, and Dean Stockwell is excellent as the submissive genius Judd. E.G. Marshall plays the district attorney, and Martin Milner gives a good performance as a reporter. Diane Varsi is Milner's love interest who takes pity on Judd. She is not very effective.

Orson Welles shows up as the Darrow character, renamed here as Wilk, toward the middle of the film. He gives a powerful performance and has a huge speech to the judge at the end. Apparently, Welles only cooperated up to a point. Everything was fine until the IRS took his salary. He left before the looping for the film was finished, and the director, Richard Fleischer, had to put the missing part of the speech together from other parts of the movie, using words and even syllables. Welles was probably as detached from "Compulsion" as the characters were to their crime, but he has the technical ability to be very convincing in his role.

"Compulsion" is an unsavory story, but the acting is good and the film won awards at Cannes. It's worth watching.


"Compulsion" deals with the Nathan Leopold and Dickie Loeb murder case in Chicago back in the early 1920's. Leopold and Loeb both came of wealthy Jewish families and decided to kill a little boy (Bobby Franks) just to demonstrate they were too smart for society's rules and could easily get away with their crime. It didn't work like that and they escaped death penalty just because their parents could afford Clarence Darrow a top criminal lawyer back then; they ended up in prison for life (Leopold died there during a fight with other interns and Loeb was released as an old man and died shortly after).

Richard Fleischer was a daring director that didn't hesitate in taking any genre in films, so he gave us such good different products as "The Vikings", "Soylent Green", "Tora, Tora, Tora", "The Boston Strangler", "Barabbas" or "Blind Terror".

Fleischer deals here with the Leopold and Loeb case (all names have been changed) and gets an interesting and entertaining movie. The black and white photography is adequate for the sordid atmosphere of the film, the script is acceptable -the director takes the most of it- and the actors are well directed getting of them more than they usually gave in the case of Bradford Dillman and Dean Stockwell (he nevertheless gave fine performances as an adult later).

Orson Welles plays the lawyer most convincingly and shows his undeniable talent mainly in his final statement in court (how on earth could he go into those cheap and bad Italian sort of "peplum" products as "David and Goliath" and "The Tartars" right after this one we'll never now!).

"Compulsion" is a fine film with the inevitable limitations proper of dealing with real facts and the idea of following them accurately. Give it a watch if you didn't, ypu won't regret it.