Presumed Innocent (film)

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Presumed Innocent
Presumed Innocent.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Alan J. Pakula
Produced by
Screenplay by
Based on Presumed Innocent
by Scott Turow
Music by
Cinematography Gordon Willis
Edited by Evan A. Lottman
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release dates
  • July 27, 1990 (1990-07-27)
Running time
127 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $221.3 million[1]

Presumed Innocent is a 1990 American legal drama 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, one that focused on the character Sandy Stern.


Rozat "Rusty" Sabich is a prosecutor and the right-hand man of district attorney Raymond Horgan. When his colleague, Carolyn Polhemus, is found raped and murdered in her apartment, Raymond insists that Rusty takes charge of the investigation. The election for District Attorney is approaching and Tommy Molto, the acting head of the homicide division, has left to join the rival campaign of Nico Della Guardia.

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, Carolyn abruptly dumped him. He has since made up with his wife, Barbara, but is still obsessed with Carolyn.

Detective Greer is initially in charge of the case, but Rusty has him replaced with his friend Detective Dan Lipranzer, 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. Raymond is furious with Rusty's handling of the case, and it turns out he, too, had been romantically involved with Carolyn at one time.

Rusty calls on "Sandy" Stern, 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 Lyttle 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 Judge Lyttle.

During the cross-examination of the coroner, 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 had 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 with blood and hair on it; he realizes that they are Carolyn's. As he washes the tool, his wife admits that she did it. Referring to herself in the third person, Barbara relates how she committed the crime and that her motive had been Rusty's adulterous affair with Carolyn. Barbara had left enough evidence so that Rusty would know that it had been her, but she assumed that it would be filed under unsolved cases, not anticipating he would be charged with the murder.

In a 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 not leave his child without a mother even if she could be tried. Rusty regrets that it was his own lust that caused his wife to commit murder.


Presumed Innocent was the first major Hollywood movie role for both John Spencer and Bradley Whitford.


Before the original novel was released in August 1987, director Sydney Pollack bought the film rights for $1 million.[2] The film was shot on locations in New York, New Jersey and Detroit, and at Kaufman Astoria Studios in New York City.[3] A home in Allendale, New Jersey, was used for the interior and exterior settings for the Sabich home.[3]


The film received a positive response from critics. On the film review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes, Presumed Innocent received an 86% approval rating, based on 49 reviews, with an average rating of 7.4/10. The site's critical consensus reads: "Thanks to an outstanding script, focused direction by Alan Pakula, and a riveting performance from Harrison Ford, Presumed Innocent is the kind of effective courtroom thriller most others aspire to be."[4]

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in this list:

Box office[edit]

The movie debuted at No. 1.[6] 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; as well as Warner Bros.' highest-grossing film of the year.[7]


External links[edit]