Sep 14, 2009

That’s a young (23) Dean Stockwell with Bradford Dillman in the film Compulsion. This is based on the Leopold-Loeb murder case, in which two young men kidnapped and murdered a boy. They were defended by Clarence Darrow, who pled them guilty, thereby foregoing a jury trial, and who argued for their lives. The movie sets up the following correspondence:

Leopold=Judd Steiner (Dean Stockwell)
Loeb= Artie Straus (Brad Dillman)
Darrow=Jonathan Wilk (Orson Welles)

Based on the Wikipedia entries it appears that both the movie, and the Meyer Levin novel on which it is based, followed the actual case fairly closely. This includes the CSI type detail of the glasses left at the scene that have a peculiar hinge that was used in only three prescriptions in the Chicago area.

Leopold and Loeb were lovers. The movie could not be explicit about that in 1959, but there is an implication that they were more than friends.

Orson Welles is convincing in the Darrow role. His words are taken for the most part from Darrow’s actual argument before the judge. If the film stirs your interest in Darrow, a good book to read, which contains not only his speech in defense of Leopold and Loeb, but also his cross of Bryan during the Scopes trial, is Attorney for the Damned. The Amazon link is over there on the right. I bought a copy over 40 years ago, and the book is still in my library. I don’t know if Darrow will make you oppose capital punishment, or if he’ll make you into an agnostic, but he does afford hours of oratorical pleasure. He also, unlike modern politicians who rely on speechwriters and tele-prompters, and who are lost without these props, despite reputations for eloquence, actually wrote this himself.