Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956 film)

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Beyond a Reasonable Doubt
Beyond a Reasonable Doubt movie poster.jpg
Theatrical film poster
Directed by Fritz Lang
Produced by Bert E. Friedlob
Screenplay by Douglas Morrow
Starring Dana Andrews
Joan Fontaine
Music by Herschel Burke Gilbert
Cinematography William Snyder
Edited by Gene Fowler, Jr.
Production
  company
Bert E. Friedlob Productions
Distributed by RKO Pictures
Release date(s)
  • September 13, 1956 (1956-09-13) (US)[1]
Running time 80 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $1.1 million (US rentals)[2]

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt is a 1956 film noir directed by Fritz Lang and written by Douglas Morrow. The film stars Dana Andrews, Joan Fontaine, Sidney Blackmer, and Arthur Franz, and was the last American film directed by Lang.[3][4]

Plot[edit]

Austin Spencer (Sidney Blackmer), a newspaper publisher, wants to prove a point about the inadequacy of circumstantial evidence. He talks his son-in-law, Tom Garrett (Dana Andrews), into participating in a hoax, in an attempt to expose the ineptitude of the city's hard-line district attorney. The plan is for Tom to plant clues which will lead to his arrest for the murder of a female nightclub dancer, Patty Gray. Once Tom is found guilty, Spencer is to reveal the setup and humiliate the District Attorney.

Tom agrees to the plan, not knowing that unforeseen events will put a snag in the scheme. Spencer dies in a car accident before he can testify, and photographic evidence intended to clear Tom at his trial is burned to an unrecognizable state. Tom is found guilty and placed on death row in prison. A written testimony by the dead man is found in time to prove the two men's intentions, and Tom is to be pardoned.

However, a slip about the late woman's real name to his fiancee Susan (Joan Fontaine), leads him to confess. Patty Gray, the murder victim, is actually Emma Blucher, Tom Garrett's estranged wife, who had reneged on her promise to divorce him in Mexico. As this was preventing Garrett from marrying Susan he murdered Emma. Garrett's pardon is cancelled in time to prevent the double jeopardy rule coming into effect, and the film closes with him being led back to his cell. We are given to assume that his execution goes ahead as scheduled.

Cast[edit]

Reception[edit]

Critical response[edit]

Dennis L. White describes Beyond a Reasonable Doubt as having "considerable impact, due not so much to visual style, as to the narrative structure and mood and to the expertly devised plot, in which the turnabout is both surprising and convincing."[5]

Film critic Dennis Schwartz wrote a mixed review, but appreciated Lang's efforts, "Cheerlessly written with many plot holes, implausible contrivances and legal absurdities by law school graduate Douglas Morrow, though ably directed by film noir maven Fritz Lang (M/While the City Sleeps/Scarlet Street). Lang's last American film is a low-budget twisty courtroom drama about the dangers of capital punishment that ends up being about something more intangible--the unpredictability of fate ... But in this subversive film a perverse atmosphere of subliminal uncertainty prevails over the established surface reality, and the surprise ending comes as more of an emotional shock than as a real surprise--allowing the filmmaker to pass on his cynicism and disillusionment over the human condition. The stark, alluring and unconventional film is worth seeing for the ingenuous way it resolves the brain-teasing dilemma it raised."[6]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Beyond a Reasonable Doubt : Detail View". American Film Institute. Retrieved June 2, 2014. 
  2. ^ 'The Top Box-Office Hits of 1956', Variety Weekly, January 2, 1957.
  3. ^ Beyond a Reasonable Doubt at the American Film Institute Catalog.
  4. ^ Fritz Lang at the Internet Movie Database.
  5. ^ White, Dennis L. Beyond a Reasonable Doubt article/entry, in Film Noir An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style, eds. Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward (Woodstock, N.Y.: Overlook Press, 1992), p 21–22. ISBN 0-87951-479-5.
  6. ^ Schwartz, Dennis. Ozus' World Movie Reviews, film review, February 2, 2007. Accessed: August 6, 2013.

External links[edit]