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 John Williams
Cinematography Gordon Willis
Edited by Evan A. Lottman
Mirage Productions
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date
  • July 25, 1990 (1990-07-25) (Los Angeles)
  • July 27, 1990 (1990-07-27) (North America)
Running time
127 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $20 million[1][2][3]
Box office $221.3 million[4]

Presumed Innocent is a 1990 American legal drama film and adaptation of Scott Turow's 1987 novel of the same name. Directed by Alan J. Pakula, and written by Pakula and Frank Pierson, the film stars Harrison Ford, Brian Dennehy, Raúl Juliá, Bonnie Bedelia, Paul Winfield and Greta Scacchi. The story follows Rusty Sabich (Ford), a prosecutor who is charged with the murder of his colleague and mistress Carolyn Polhemus (Scacchi).

Before publication of the novel, the film rights became the subject of a bidding war among a host of established film studios and producers. Sydney Pollack and Mark Rosenberg acquired the rights in December 1986 and hired Pierson to write the script. The project continued development at Warner Bros., and Pakula was brought in to rewrite the script with Pierson before signing on as the film's director in January 1989. On a budget of $20 million, the film's principal photography commenced in May 1989 and concluded in October of that year. Filming took place on locations in Detroit, Windsor, Ontario, and New Jersey, and on soundstages at Kaufman Astoria Studios in New York.

Presumed Innocent held its premiere at the Fox Bruin Theater in Los Angeles, California on July 25, 1990 before being released in North America on July 27, 1990. The film has an approval rating of 86% at Rotten Tomatoes, which praised its directing, acting and writing. Presumed Innocent grossed $221 million worldwide and became the eighth-highest-grossing film of 1990. The film was followed by a television miniseries, The Burden of Proof (1992), and a television film sequel, Innocent (2011).


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 take charge of the investigation. With the election for District Attorney approaching, 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 reconciled with his wife Barbara, but is still obsessed with Carolyn.

Detective Harold Greer is initially in charge of the murder investigation, 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 discovers that 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 Della Guardia wins the election, he and Molto accuse Rusty of the murder and push to get evidence against him. Rusty's fingerprints are found 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 grows furious with Rusty's handling of the case, but expresses that he had also been romantically involved with Carolyn at one time. Rusty calls on Sandy Stern, a top defense attorney. At trial, it is revealed that the beer glass is missing, and Stern persuades Judge Larren 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 named Leon Wells. Upon being confronted by Rusty and Lipranzer, Wells confesses that he paid Carolyn to have criminal charges against him dropped, and that the money went to Judge Lyttle.

The thrust of Stern's defense is that Della Guardia and Molto have framed Rusty in order to cover up the bribery case. 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. Stern 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 Stern for bringing up the bribery file in the case. Stern admits that he and Raymond knew that Lyttle was taking bribes. Although Lyttle had offered his resignation, Raymond felt that he was a brilliant judge and deserved another chance. Lipranzer reveals the beer glass to Rusty, explaining that it was never returned it to the evidence room after the case was turned over to Molto and Della Guardia. Rusty throws the glass into the river.

At his home, Rusty discovers a small hatchet covered with Carolyn's blood and hair on it. As he washes the tool, Barbara admits that she murdered Carolyn, her motive being Rusty's adulterous affair. She expresses that she had left enough evidence for Rusty to know that she committed the crime, but did not anticipate him being charged with the murder. In a voice-over, Rusty explains that Carolyn's murder has been written off as unsolved, since trying two people for the same crime is "a practical impossibility" and he cannot leave his son without a mother even if she could be tried. Rusty regrets that it was his own lust that caused his wife to commit murder.




From left to right: Sydney Pollack, producer of Presumed Innocent, and Alan J. Pakula, who directed the film and co-wrote the screenplay.

Scott Turow's novel had first attracted film producers in 1986 before the book was published. The film rights became the subject of a bidding war among a host of established studios and producers.[3] David Brown and Richard D. Zanuck made the first bid of $75,000. Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer initially offered $300,000, financed by Paramount Pictures, but backed down when bids climbed to $750,000. Peter Guber and Jon Peters,[3] and Sydney Pollack and Mark Rosenberg of Mirage Productions made $1 million bids of their own money.[3][5] Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Irwin Winkler at United Artists also made bids, while Universal Pictures passed on the project.[3] After Pollack and Rosenberg acquired the rights in December 1986,[6] United Artists negotiated with the producers to finance and distribute the film. In May 1987, Pollack hired Frank Pierson to write the script. Shortly thereafter, United Artists backed out as a distributor, and the project moved to Warner Bros. in July 1988.[2]

Pollack and Rosenberg sent the script to Alan J. Pakula,[2][7] who felt that the script needed improvement and spent a year rewriting it.[8] Regarding the screenwriting process, Turow said, "There were three large narrative problems to solve. Point of view; getting around the first person narrative; time sequence; it's all flashback and Hollywood doesn't like that; and then just an awful lot of plot."[9] Pierson originally envisioned the film adaptation as being "a movie full of sex and blood".[8] However, Pakula felt that the concept of justice was more central to the story. He also wanted to present the film in a visual style that echoed the novel's narrative. "[Turow] dealt with the most grotesque, lurid material — infidelity, kinky sex, murder," he said, "and he conveyed it in this disciplined, rational, one might say lawyerly way. I felt it was the tension between the cold, controlled prose and the heat of the events that made the book such a success."[8] In making various changes from the novel, Pakula and Pierson added new dialogue and rewrote the ending.[2] Pakula signed on to direct the film in January 1989.[10]


Harrison Ford, who plays Rusty Sabich in the film.

Several established actors were considered for the leading role of Rusty Sabich. Kevin Costner turned down the role, and Robert Redford was vetoed by Pollack due to his age.[11][12] When he was hired to direct the film, Pakula only offered the role to Harrison Ford after personally visiting the actor.[3] He explained, "[Ford] was my first choice. I wanted someone who had an Everyman quality. He had to be someone who could be the man down the block. There also had to be a terrific ambiguity. He had to be a deep and passionate moralist; that was his life in the law. But there also be the dark passages, capable of obsession, capable of the murder he's accused of."[9]

Ford's casting was confirmed in March 1989.[2] He received a $7 million salary for the role.[12] Turow was initially uncertain of Ford portraying Rusty but relented after seeing a few of the actor's films.[9] Ford said, "Friends warned me this was a tough role because Rusty is such a passive, interior character. Though Rusty's in every scene, all the action takes place around him. Things happen to him." Upon being cast, Ford read the novel to avoid arguments over events and details that were left out in the book.[10] He prepared for the role by observing murder trials with Pakula at the Recorder's Court in Detroit and viewing training footage from the Michigan Prosecutors' Association.[10] Ford also suggested to Pakula that Rusty have a buzz cut. He explained, "There are many things I found I could express with that short haircut. Simplest of all, I wanted to tell the audience to leave their baggage at home — not to expect the Harrison Ford they've seen before."[13]

Greta Scacchi, who plays Carolyn Pohlemus, spent time observing Linda Fairstein, the head of the Manhattan District Attorney's sex crimes unit.[2][3] She said, "[There] was a luxury of resources, accommodation and everything, and we were given access to lawyers. There was a group of lawyers who were employed full time just to advise the actors. I've never since worked on something where the actor is given free reign to do authentic research with any amount of budget and support from whoever in high places."[14] Raúl Juliá, who plays Sandy Stern, researched his role by speaking with criminal lawyer Michael Kennedy.[3][15] Paul Winfield lobbied for the role of Judge Larren Lyttle upon reading the novel and learning that the adaptation was to be directed by Pakula.[16] Winfield met with New York Supreme Court judge Bruce M. Wright, who insisted that he wear a judiciary robe and observe several cases.[10]


Pakula spent three weeks rehearsing with the actors before principal photography commenced on July 31, 1989.[2][10] Warner Bros. provided a budget of $20 million.[1][2][3] The filmmakers retained the novel's setting in fictional Kindle County, but chose to leave it ambiguous in the film. Executive producer Susan Solt said, "Kindle County, USA, had certain requirements. It was on a waterway so we needed a ferry, appropriate federal buildings, a city smaller than Chicago with suburban neighborhoods, somewhat blighted urban settings... we had to come up with locations and designs that were real to the book and also truthful to the experience of living in this prototype community without saying where it was."[17]

Filming began in Detroit, where the production first filmed exterior scenes. Locations included the Renaissance Center's Westin Hotel, Philip A. Hart Plaza, the Woodbridge Tavern, Eastern Market, Jackie's Bar and Restaurant, St. Aubin Marina, and the International Plaza garage rooftop. On August 3, 1989, the production moved to Reaume Park in Windsor, Ontario for a 13-hour shoot.[17] After filming in Detroit ended on August 9, 1989, the production moved to Kaufman Astoria Studios in Queens, New York. Sets included a courtroom modeled after one in Cleveland, Ohio that was unavailable for filming.[2][3] The production then moved to Newark. For two days, the North Reformed Church was used to depict the funeral of Carolyn Pohlemus. From August 14 to August 15, the filmmakers shot scenes at Newark City Hall. The Essex County Courthouse was used for a brief courtroom sequence, and Newark's city morgue was used to depict the medical office of Dr. Kumagai. A housing project scheduled for demolition was used for a scene depicting Rusty and Detective Lipranzer's interrogation of a suspect.[17]

In late August, the crew relocated to Allendale, New Jersey. A suburban house on East Orchard Street was used to film exterior and interior scenes set in the Sabich family home. The house's cellar was used to film a scene involving Rusty and his wife.[18] The cast and crew then returned to Kaufman Astoria Studios to film the trial scenes.[2] Principal photography concluded on October 24, 1989.[19]


Presumed Innocent held its world premiere at the Fox Bruin Theater in Los Angeles, California on July 25, 1990, with an afterparty held at Chasen's restaurant.[20] The film was released on July 27, 1990, distributed by Warner Bros.[2] A motion picture soundtrack album featuring the score by John Williams was released by the record label Varèse Sarabande.[21]

Box office[edit]

Released to a total of 1,349 theaters in the United States and Canada, Presumed Innocent grossed $11,718,981 on its first weekend, securing the number one position at the box office.[22] The film saw a significant drop in attendance during its second weekend of release. It earned an additional $10,176,663—a 13.2% overall decrease from the previous weekend—[22] and moved to second place behind Ghost.[23] In its third weekend, Presumed Innocent grossed an additional $7,901,866, for an overall domestic gross of $42,012,238. It grossed an additional $6,101,374 on its fourth weekend. The film returned to fourth place on its fifth week, grossing an additional $4,646,004, and returned to third place for the following two weeks.[22]

Presumed Innocent grossed $86,303,188 during its North American theatrical run. Coupled with its international take of $135 million, the film accumulated $221,303,188 in worldwide box office totals.[4] In North America, it was the twelfth highest-grossing film of 1990,[24] and the fourth highest-grossing R-rated film released that year.[25] Worldwide, it was the eighth highest-grossing film of 1990,[26] as well as Warner Bros.' highest-grossing film that year.[27]

Home media[edit]

Presumed Innocent was released on VHS and LaserDisc on March 27, 1991 by Warner Home Video.[28] The film was released on DVD on December 17, 1997.[29] On February 23, 2010, the film was released on Blu-ray disc, but as a "Thriller Double Feature" alongside Frantic (1988).[30]


Critical response[edit]

The review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes sampled 49 reviews and gave the film a score of 86%; the average score is 7.4 out of 10. The website'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."[31]

Warner Bros. requested in press releases that critics not discuss the film's ending.[2][3] However, Richard Schickel of Time magazine disregarded the request and acknowledged Rusty's innocence in his review. Schickel, who gave the film a negative review, wrote, "Carolyn's murderer has an excellent motive both for killing her... But it is hard to accept the possibility that the real perpetrator would leave his escape from the trap entirely to chance."[32] Jay Boyar of the Orlando Sentinel surmised, "It's not that Warner Bros. is actually concerned that reviewers will tip the solution to the murder mystery. It's that the studio wants to further the impression that the movie is full of surprises."[33] Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times stated, "Even if you think you know what the solution is, the performances are so clever and the screenplay – by Frank Pierson and director Alan J. Pakula – is so subtle that it could well turn out that your expectations are wrong."[34]

Sheila Benson, writing for the Los Angeles Times, stated, "Intelligent, complex and enthralling, Presumed Innocent ... is one of those rare films where all the players seem to be in a state of grace, where the working of the machinery never shows and after it's over, one runs and reruns its intricacies with a profound sense of satisfaction."[35] Peter Travers, writing for Rolling Stone, called the film "a smart, passionate, steadily engrossing thriller".[36] Janet Maslin of The New York Times praised Pakula's direction, writing, "Pakula has directed an intense, enveloping, gratifyingly thorough screen adaptation of Mr. Turow's story."[37] Film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum wrote that film was "a top-notch courtroom drama that will keep you guessing if you haven't read the book; even if you have, it is still a very well crafted story."[38] Variety magazine praised the performances, writing, "Ford, in a very mature, subtle, lowkey performance, pulls off the difficult feat of making it impossible to be sure. Bedelia is wondrously controlled, and Scacchi, sans any hint of a European accent, is convincing and seductive."[39] Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune praised the supporting cast, writing, "Raul Julia is excellent as Ford's sinister defense attorney. John Spencer, Joe Grifasi, Tom Mardirosian and Sab Shimono are each compelling as investigator, political lackey, prosecutor and coroner."[40]

Owen Gleiberman, writing for Entertainment Weekly, criticized Pakula's direction, stating, "Pakula is good at laying out an intricate, almost mathematical series of events (his best film remains All the President's Men), but he's not big on atmosphere. The movie could have used some of the bowels-of-the-city grit Sidney Lumet brought to Q&A."[40] Dave Kehr, also writing for the Chicago Tribune, stated, "Though it's a handsome film, carefully staged and courageously low-key, the transition to the screen only exaggerates the disposable nature of the material while depriving it of the novel's one stylistic strength, its unreliable narrator."[41]


Presumed Innocent received several nominations, with particular recognition for its screenplay by Alan J. Pakula and Frank Pierson. The film received an Edgar Allan Poe Awards nomination for Best Motion Picture,[42] and a USC Scripter Award nomination for Pakula, Pierson and the novel by Turow.[43]

List of accolades
Award Date or Year of ceremony Category Recipient(s) and nominee(s) Result
Edgar Allan Poe Awards 1990 Best Motion Picture Alan J. Pakula, Frank Pierson Nominated[42]
USC Scripter Awards 1991 USC Scripter Award Alan J. Pakula, Frank Pierson (screenplay)
Scott Turow (novel)

Television spin-off and sequel[edit]

Presumed Innocent was followed by a two-part television miniseries, The Burden of Proof (1992). Based on Turow's 1990 novel, the miniseries focused on defense attorney Sandy Stern (played by Héctor Elizondo), who investigates his wife's past following her apparent suicide. Presumed Innocent co-star Brian Dennehy returned in a separate role as Stern's brother-in-law.[44] Part one of the miniseries aired on the ABC network on February 9, 1992, with part two airing the following night on February 10.[45]

A television sequel, Innocent (2011), was based on Turow's 2010 sequel novel to Presumed Innocent. Set twenty years after the events of the 1990 film, the story follows Rusty Sabich (Bill Pullman), who is charged with the murder of his wife Barbara (Marcia Gay Harden). Innocent aired on TNT on November 30, 2011 as part of the network's "Mystery Movie Night", a collection of six made-for-television films based on best-selling novels.[46]


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  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "Detail view of Movies Page". American Film Institute. Retrieved December 9, 2016. 
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  4. ^ a b "Presumed Innocent". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved December 9, 2016. 
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  6. ^ Kasindorf, Jeanie (December 1, 1986). "Pollack captures a hot novel". New York. Retrieved December 9, 2016. 
  7. ^ Van Gelder, Lawrence (February 2, 1989). "'Innocent' Enthusiasm". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved December 9, 2016. 
  8. ^ a b c Appelo, Tim (August 10, 1990). ""Presumed Innocent"'s Alan Pakula". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved December 9, 2016. 
  9. ^ a b c Champlin, Charles (July 22, 1990). "Harrison Ford: More Than Slam-Bang : With 'Presumed Innocent,' he continues to evade the type-casting trap set by the mega hits 'Star Wars' and 'Indiana Jones'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 9, 2016. 
  10. ^ a b c d e Duke 2005, p. 162
  11. ^ Mell 2005, p. 191
  12. ^ a b Duke 2005, p. 161
  13. ^ Duke 2005, p. 163
  14. ^ "Scacchi had crush on Ford in film". Belfast Telegraph. September 26, 2014. Retrieved October 7, 2016. 
  15. ^ Hoban, Phoebe (November 25, 1991). "Meeting Raul". New York. p. 56. ISSN 0028-7369. 
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  18. ^ Duke 2005, p. 165
  19. ^ "Presumed Innocent (1990) - Misc Notes". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved December 9, 2016. 
  20. ^ Stein, Jeannine (July 27, 1990). "A Full House for 'Presumed Innocent'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 9, 2016. 
  21. ^ "Presumed Innocent". Soundtrack Collector. Retrieved December 9, 2016. 
  22. ^ a b c "Presumed Innocent (1990) - Weekend Box Office Results". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved December 9, 2016. 
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  29. ^ "DVD: Presumed Innocent (DVD) with Harrison Ford, Brian Dennehy, Bonnie Bedelia, Raul Julia, Greta Scacchi". Tower Records. Retrieved December 9, 2016. 
  30. ^ Tooze, Gary W. "Frantic Presumed Innocent Blu-ray - Harrison Ford". Retrieved December 9, 2016. 
  31. ^ "Presumed Innocent". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved December 9, 2016. 
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  33. ^ Boyar, Jay (July 27, 1990). "Not Surprisingly, 'Presumed Innocent' Is A Good Movie". Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved December 9, 2016. 
  34. ^ Ebert, Roger (July 27, 1990). "Presumed Innocent Movie Review". Retrieved December 9, 2016. 
  35. ^ Benson, Sheila (July 27, 1990). "MOVIE REVIEW : A Solid Case : Film: 'Presumed Innocent' brilliantly captures the novel's essence, and features a tour de force performance from Harrison Ford.". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 9, 2016. 
  36. ^ Travers, Peter (July 27, 1990). "Presumed Innocent". Rolling Stone. Retrieved December 9, 2016. 
  37. ^ Maslin, Janet (July 27, 1990). "Review/Film - Who Killed a Prosecutor? Her Lover? Or Another?". The New York Times. Retrieved December 9, 2016. 
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  41. ^ Kehr, Dave (July 27, 1990). "'Innocent' Attraction". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved December 9, 2016. 
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  43. ^ a b "Scripters 1-5 (1988-1993) - Scripter Films in Leavey Library (DVDs)". University of Southern California. Retrieved January 3, 2017. 
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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]