|'Dillman challenges Stockwell to one-upmanship acting, the former outstanding as the sneering Artie'|
A film of two halves if ever there was one, Compulsion begins by showing us the evil ways of college-kid killers Judd Steiner (Dean Stockwell) and Artie Straus (Bradford Dillman) before shifting tone and location completely to a court room where legendary lawyer Jonathan Wilk (Orson Welles) must soliloquy the judge to death in order to get them off their murder wrap.
Directed with impeccable taste by Richard Fleischer, the film is technically brilliant, Fleischer preferring still shots from imposing angles as opposed to slow, tension-sapping, zooms. Cinematographer William Mellor shoots every scene like it was the courtroom, forcing characters uncomfortably close together in 12 Angry Men style physical standoffs.
As Artie pushes Judd along the road to the hangman's noose, so Dillman challenges Stockwell to one-upmanship acting, the former outstanding as the sneering Artie, who seems less involved in the murder plot for intellectual fulfillment and more there to reveal his inner brilliance to the outer world. Fleischer examines this to an extent but his need to cram several weeks worth of events in to a couple of hours means none of the characters quite get the focus they deserve and newspaperman Sid (Martin Milner) is particularly harshly treated and all the more flimsy a character for it.
Welles, who is present for around a third of the running time, turns in a typically charismatic cameo as the virtuoso lawyer whose musings on justice, youth and fairness stun the courtroom, the viewer and the soundtrack into silence. On repeat viewings, this change from tense police procedural-like character experiment to amazing play-like soliloquy may grate more, but on first assault it's a wonderful moment of juggernaut-like screen presence and purified acting talent. A remarkable finale to a thoroughly enjoyable thriller.
Compulsion is released on DVD for the first time in the UK on Monday 20th September.
'Welles dominates the film as Clarence Darrow, the great liberal attorney who defended them, his flowery 12-hour speech reduced to 10 minutes' - The Guardian