Presumed Innocent (film)

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Presumed Innocent
Presumed Innocent.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Alan J. Pakula
Produced by Sydney Pollack
Mark Rosenberg
Screenplay by Frank Pierson
Alan J. Pakula
Based on Presumed Innocent 
by Scott Turow
Starring Harrison Ford
Brian Dennehy
Raúl Juliá
Bonnie Bedelia
Paul Winfield
Greta Scacchi
Music by John Williams
Richard Wolf
Cinematography Gordon Willis
Edited by Evan A. Lottman
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release dates
  • July 27, 1990 (1990-07-27)
Running time
127 min.
Language English
Box office $221,303,188[1]

Presumed Innocent is a 1990 legal drama. It is a film adaptation of the best-selling novel of the same name by Scott Turow, which tells the story of a prosecutor charged with the murder of his female colleague and mistress.

Directed by Alan J. Pakula, the film stars Harrison Ford, Brian Dennehy, Raúl Juliá, Bonnie Bedelia, Paul Winfield, and Greta Scacchi. It was the eighth highest grossing film of 1990, grossing $221 million worldwide.

A sequel, Innocent, was a made-for-TV movie aired as part of TNT's Mystery Movie Night series in December 2011. It featured Bill Pullman in the Ford role, with no one from the original cast. The Burden of Proof was another sequel to Presumed Innocent, but which focused on the character Sandy Stern.


Rozat "Rusty" Sabich (Ford) is a prosecutor and the right-hand man of Prosecuting Attorney Raymond Horgan (Dennehy). When his colleague, Carolyn Polhemus (Scacchi), is found raped and murdered in her apartment, Raymond insists that Rusty take charge of the investigation. The election for County Prosecuting Attorney (PA) is approaching and Tommy Molto (Joe Grifasi), the acting head of Homicide, has left to join the rival campaign of Nico Della Guardia (Tom Mardirosian).

Rusty, a married man, faces a conflict of interest since he had an affair with Carolyn. When he had shown little ambition, and would have therefore been of little use in advancing her career, she had dumped him. He has since made up with his wife, Barbara (Bedelia), but is still obsessed with Carolyn.

Detective Greer (Tucker Smallwood) is initially in charge of the case, but Rusty has him replaced with his friend Detective Dan Lipranzer (John Spencer), whom he persuades to narrow the inquiry so that his relationship with Carolyn is left out. Rusty soon realizes that Tommy Molto is making his own inquiries. Aspects of the crime suggest that the killer knew police evidence-gathering procedures and covered up clues accordingly. Semen found in the victim's body contains only dead sperm. The killer's blood is Type A -- the same as Rusty's.

When Nico wins the election, he and Tommy accuse Rusty of the crime and push to get evidence against him. They have Rusty's fingerprints on a beer glass from Carolyn's apartment, and fibers from his carpet at home match those found on her body. Lipranzer is removed from the case and Greer's inquiries uncover the affair.

Rusty calls on "Sandy" Stern (Juliá), a top defense attorney, who agrees to take the case. At trial, it is revealed that the beer glass is missing. This was a crucial piece of the prosecution's case and Sandy persuades Judge Larren Lyttle (Winfield) to keep this from the jury. Raymond testifies and perjures himself, claiming that Rusty insisted on handling the investigation, thus confirming the defense's claim of a frame-up.

Rusty discovers that Carolyn had acquired a file for a bribery case involving a man called Leon who paid a bribe to get his case thrown out of court. The probation officer who set the whole thing up was Carolyn and the deputy prosecutor in charge of the case was Tommy Molto. The thrust of Sandy's defense is that Tommy and Nico have set Rusty up as part of a cover-up of the bribery case. Lipranzer tracks down Leon and he reveals that the official who took the bribe was in fact Larren Lyttle, the judge handling Rusty's trial.

During the cross-examination of the coroner Dr. Kumagai (Sab Shimono), it is revealed that Carolyn had undergone a tubal ligation, making it impossible for her to become pregnant. She would have no reason to use the spermicidal contraceptive which was found on her. Sandy asserts that the only explanation for this discrepancy is that the fluid sample was not actually taken from Carolyn's body.

Based on the disappearance of the beer glass, the lack of motive, and the fact that the fluid sample was rendered meaningless, there is no direct evidence to tie Rusty to the murder. Judge Lyttle dismisses the charges.

Rusty confronts his attorney for bringing up the bribery file in the case, as Sandy most likely knew that it exposed Judge Lyttle. Sandy admits that he and Raymond knew Lyttle was taking bribes, and Carolyn was his courier. Lyttle offered his resignation, but Raymond believed that he was a brilliant judge and should be given another chance. Lipranzer reveals to Rusty that he has the beer glass, which he never returned to the evidence room. Molto signed it as "returned to evidence" when it was still at the lab and, by the time it was returned to Lipranzer, he'd been removed from the case. Lipranzer decided to keep it in his desk drawer until someone asked for it, except nobody ever did. Rusty throws the beer glass into the river.

Some time later at home, Rusty comes across a small hatchet/crowbar with blood and hair on it; he realizes that they are Carolyn's. He washes the tool and confronts his wife. Referring to herself in the third person, Barbara relates how she committed the crime and the reason behind it being Rusty cheating on her. She'd left enough evidence so Rusty would know it had been her, but she assumed it would be filed under unsolved cases, not anticipating he would be charged with the murder.

In a final voice-over, Rusty says that the murder of Carolyn has been written off as unsolved, since trying two people for the same crime is "a practical impossibility" and he can't leave his child without a mother even if she could be tried. Rusty then resents that it was his lust that caused Barbara to murder Carolyn.


Presumed Innocent was the first major Hollywood movie role for both John Spencer and Bradley Whitford. Though they never shared a scene in the movie together, they both joined the regular cast of the television series West Wing (1999-2006) for six seasons.


Before the original novel was released in August 1987, director Sydney Pollack bought the film rights for $1 million.[2] The courtroom in the film was built on a back lot.[3] A home in Allendale, New Jersey, was used for the interior and exterior settings for the Sabich's home.[3]


The film received a positive response from critics. On the film review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes, Presumed Innocent received an 85% approval rating, based on 48 reviews, with an average rating of 7.4/10.[4]

Box Office[edit]

The movie debuted at No. 1.[5] The film went on to gross $86 million in North America and a total of $221 million worldwide, making it the eighth highest grossing film of 1990.[6]


External links[edit]