The Star Chamber

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The Star Chamber
The Star Chamber.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byPeter Hyams
Produced byFrank Yablans
Screenplay by
Story byRoderick Taylor
Music byMichael Small
CinematographyRichard Hannah
Edited byJames Mitchell
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • August 5, 1983 (1983-08-05)
Running time
108 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$8 million
Box office$5.6 million

The Star Chamber is a 1983 American crimedrama/mysterythriller film starring Michael Douglas,[1] Hal Holbrook,[2][3]1 Yaphet Kotto, Sharon Gless,[4][5] James B. Sikking,[6][7] and Joe Regalbuto.[8][9][10] The film was written by Roderick Taylor & Peter Hyams and directed by Hyams.[11] Its title is taken from the name of the Star Chamber, the notorious 15th−17th-century English court.[12]


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.



The Star Chamber was given a budget of $8 million.[13]

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."[14]


The Star Chamber grossed $5.6 million.[15]

Critical response[edit]

Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gives The Star Chamber a score of 71% based on reviews from 14 critics and a rating of 6 out of 10.[16]

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."[17]

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.[18]


The Star Chamber was released in theatres on August 5, 1983.[18] The runtime was 1:08:38.[19] It was originally released on DVD on August 30, 2011, and then on May 28, 2013 by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.[20]




  1. ^ Machlowi 1983, p. 1548.
  2. ^ Levi 2005, p. 39.
  3. ^ Papke, David Ray; Corcos, Christine A.; Essig, Melissa Cole; Huang, Peter H.; Ledwon, Lenora P.; Mazur, Diane H.; Menkel-Meadow, Carrie; Meyer, Philip N. (2012). Law and Popular Culture: Text, Notes, and Questions (2nd ed.). Dayton, Ohio: LexisNexis. ISBN 978-0769847535.
  4. ^ "Sharon Glass". Boca Raton, Florida:, LLC. Retrieved January 10, 2017.
  5. ^ "Sharon Glass". NNDB. United States: Soylent Communications. Retrieved January 10, 2017.
  6. ^ "James B. Sikking". Film Reference Library. Toronto: TIFF Bell Lightbox. Retrieved January 10, 2017.
  7. ^ "James B. Sikking". Boca Raton, Florida:, LLC. Retrieved January 10, 2017.
  8. ^ "Joe Regalbuto". Film Reference Library. Toronto: TIFF Bell Lightbox. Retrieved January 10, 2017.
  9. ^ "Joe Regalbuto". Boca Raton, Florida:, LLC. Retrieved January 10, 2017.
  10. ^ "Joe Regalbuto". NNDB. United States: Soylent Communications. Retrieved January 10, 2017.
  11. ^ "The Star Chamber". Turner Classic Movies. Atlanta: Turner Broadcasting System (Time Warner). Retrieved January 9, 2017.
  12. ^ Boyd III, Newell Dalton. "THE FINAL YEARS OF THE COURT OF STAR CHAMBER 1558–1641" (PDF). Texas Tech University Press. Lubbock, Texas: Texas Tech University. Retrieved January 10, 2017.
  13. ^ Solomon 1988, p. 260.
  14. ^ The agony and the ecstasy Hyams tries for brass ring with new film Fraser, Matthew. The Globe and Mail1 3 July 1983: P.13.
  15. ^ "The Star Chamber". Box Office Mojo. United States: Retrieved January 9, 2017.
  16. ^ "The Star Chamber". Rotten Tomatoes. United States: Fandango. Retrieved January 9, 2017.
  17. ^ Ebert, Roger (August 8, 1983). "The Star Chamber". Roger Ebert. Chicago: Ebert Digital LLC. Retrieved January 9, 2017.
  18. ^ a b Maslin, Janet (August 5, 1983). "PETER HYAMS DIRECTS 'STAR CHAMBER'". The New York Times. New York City: The New York Times Company. Retrieved January 9, 2017.
  19. ^ "STAR CHAMBER (15)". British Board of Film Classification. London. July 7, 1983. Retrieved May 8, 2015.
  20. ^ "The Star Chamber". 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. Century City, Los Angeles: 20th Century Fox. August 30, 2011. ASIN B0006Z2NQI. Retrieved January 9, 2017.


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