The Star Chamber
|The Star Chamber|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Peter Hyams|
|Produced by||Frank Yablans|
|Story by||Roderick Taylor|
|Music by||Michael Small|
|Edited by||James Mitchell|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Box office||$5.6 million|
The Star Chamber is a 1983 American crime–drama/mystery–thriller film starring Michael Douglas, Hal Holbrook,1 Yaphet Kotto, Sharon Gless, James B. Sikking, and Joe Regalbuto. The film was written by Roderick Taylor & Peter Hyams and directed by Hyams. Its title is taken from the name of the Star Chamber, the notorious 15th−17th-century English court.
Judge Steven Hardin (Michael Douglas) is an idealistic Los Angeles jurist who gets frustrated when the technicalities of the law prevent the prosecution of a man who was charged with numerous murders of elderly women for their welfare money after their checks were cashed and two other men who are accused of raping and killing an eight-year old boy as part of a suspected child pornography ring. The latter two were driving slowly late at night and attracted the suspicion of two police officers, who thought the van's occupants might be burglars. After checking the license plate for violations, the policemen pulled them over for expired paperwork, claimed to have smelled marijuana, then saw a bloody shoe inside the van. However, the paperwork was actually submitted on time (it was merely processed late), meaning the police had no reason to pull over the van and Hardin has no choice (see fruit of the poisonous tree) but to exclude any subsequently discovered evidence, i.e. the bloody shoe. Hardin is even more distraught when the father of the boy attempts to shoot the criminals in court but misses and shoots one of the arresting officers instead. Subsequently, the father commits suicide while in jail only after he informs Hardin that another boy has been discovered raped and murdered and tells him "This one is on you, your Honor. That boy would be alive if you hadn't let those men go." After hearing all this, Judge Hardin approaches his friend, Judge Caulfield (Hal Holbrook), who tells him of a modern-day Star Chamber: a group of judges who identifies criminals who fell through the judicial system's cracks and then takes action against them outside the legal structure with a hired assassin.
Judge Hardin participates in one of these proceedings in which he presents the case of two other technicality released criminals. The Star Chamber declares them "guilty" and dispatches the assassin. Soon afterward, however, police detective Harry Lowes (Yaphet Kotto) comes to Hardin with conclusive evidence that someone else raped and killed the boy. Realizing that he and the Star Chamber have just sentenced two men to die for a crime that they did not commit, Hardin implores the Star Chamber to recall the assassin, but is told by the other judges that the hit cannot be canceled. For the judges' own protection, their system includes a buffer between themselves and the assassin; they do not know who he is, and he doesn't know who they are. They rationalize to Hardin that although an occasional mistake is inevitable and regrettable, what they are doing still serves society's greater good — especially, they argue, considering that the two targeted men are clearly criminals who are guilty of numerous other crimes, even if not of the specific crime for which the group convicted them.
Hardin makes it clear that he does not accept their reasoning. Caulfield warns him to back down because the group will do whatever they have to in order to protect themselves. Hardin refuses to heed this warning and says he will do whatever he can do to stop the men from being killed. He then tracks down the men in an abandoned warehouse in an attempt to warn them. However, when he arrives, they do not trust him, as he has now stumbled across their illegal drug operation. After they attack him, Hardin is saved by the hitman, disguised as a police officer, who kills the two men before they can kill Hardin. The hitman points his gun at Hardin, but at the last moment, Lowes arrives and kills the hitman.
The film ends with the Star Chamber deciding another "case" without Hardin, who is outside in a car with Lowes recording their conversation.
- Michael Douglas as Superior Court Judge Steven R. Hardin
- Hal Holbrook as Judge Benjamin Caulfield
- Yaphet Kotto as Det. Harry Lowes
- Sharon Gless as Emily Hardin
- James B. Sikking as Dr. Harold Lewin
- Joe Regalbuto as Arthur Cooms
- Don Calfa as Lawrence Monk
- David Faustino as Tony Hardin
- Larry Hankin as Det. Kenneth Wiggan
- Dick Anthony Williams as Det. Paul Mackey
- DeWayne Jessie as Stanley Flowers
- David Proval as Officer Nelson
- Michael Ensign as Judge Kirkland
- Diana Douglas as Adrian Caulfield
- Frances Bergen as Mrs. Cummins
- Robert Costanzo as Sgt. Spota
Hyams said "I wanted first and foremost to make a film that is connected to an issue, not whether a bunch of judges getting together and ordering people's deaths is a credibility problem. The issue is the breakdown of the legal system and the resulting hysteria of crime . . . I was nervous about how young I could make Judge Hardin (Douglas), but I spent a lot of time at the Superior Court and there are silver foxes, sure, but there are also quite a few good-looking, 40-year-old judges on the bench."
The Star Chamber grossed $5.6 million.
Critic Roger Ebert wrote: "The Star Chamber works brilliantly until it locks into a plot. Then it stops dancing and starts marching. The movie opens with a series of intriguing scenes showing a series of shocking miscarriages of justice. Fiends and perverts are caught red-handed, confess to their crimes and then are put back on the streets again because of minor legal technicalities. [...] The ending of the movie was especially infuriating."
Critic Janet Maslin of The New York Times wrote: "PETER HYAMS has shown himself, with films like Busting, Outland, and Capricorn One, to be a stylish, flippant director, capable of generating a great deal of suspense as well as action scenes that really pack a wallop. The Star Chamber, which opens today at Loews Tower East and other theaters, begins so excitingly that Mr. Hyams appears to have outdone himself. [...] But The Star Chamber can't live up to its own initial promise – nor does it really live up to Mr. Hyams's. His powerhouse style finally sabotages the issues raised by The Star Chamber, which remain much more delicate than the treatment they have been given here.
The Star Chamber was released in theatres on August 5, 1983. The runtime was 1:08:38. It was originally released on DVD on August 30, 2011, and then on May 28, 2013 by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.
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