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 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 and 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 judge who becomes frustrated when the technicalities of the law prevent the prosecution of three criminals. The first is a man who was charged with murdering several elderly women for their welfare money. The second and third are two men who were accused of raping and killing an eight-year-old boy as part of a suspected child pornography ring.
The suspected child murderers attracted the attention of two police officers when they were driving slowly late at night. The police officers suspected that the van's occupants might be burglars. After checking the license plate for violations, the officers pulled the van over for expired paperwork. They also claimed to have smelled marijuana, and then saw a bloody shoe inside the van. However, the reason for stopping the van turned out to be spurious: the paperwork was actually submitted on time (it was merely processed late). Since the traffic stop was illegal, based on the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine Hardin has no choice but to exclude any evidence discovered as a result of the traffic stop, including the bloody shoe.
Hardin becomes even more distraught when the father of the murdered boy attempts to shoot the criminals in court, but misses and shoots one of the arresting officers instead. After another boy is discovered raped and murdered, the father of the original boy tells Harding "This one is on you, your Honor. That boy would be alive if you hadn't let those men go." The father then commits suicide while in jail.
Judge Hardin learns from his friend, Judge Caulfield (Hal Holbrook), of the existence of a modern-day Star Chamber. This is a group of judges that identifies criminals who cannot be brought to justice through the judicial system, and takes action against them using a hired assassin. Judge Hardin participates in one of the Star Chamber proceedings, and the assassin is dispatched to kill two other unrelated murderers who were released on technicalities despite their own confessions, as well as the suspected child murderers. 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' protection, there is a cut-out between them and the assassin; they do not know who he is, and he doesn't know who they are. They tell Hardin that, although an occasional mistake is inevitable and regrettable, what they are doing still serves society's greater good. They argue that the two targeted men are clearly criminals who are guilty of numerous other crimes, even if they are not guilty 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 members of the group will do whatever they have to in order to protect themselves. Hardin decides to make an effort to stop the men from being killed. He tracks down the men in an abandoned warehouse and attempts to warn them. However, he has stumbled across an illegal drug operation, and the men do not believe that he is there to rescue them. They attack Hardin, but the hitman, disguised as a police officer, kills them before they can kill Hardin. The hitman threatens to kill 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.
- Machlowi 1983, p. 1548.
- Levi 2005, p. 39.
- 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.
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- The agony and the ecstasy Hyams tries for brass ring with new film Fraser, Matthew. The Globe and Mail1 3 July 1983: P.13.
- "The Star Chamber". Box Office Mojo. United States: Amazon.com. Retrieved January 9, 2017.
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- Ebert, Roger (August 8, 1983). "The Star Chamber". Roger Ebert. Chicago: Ebert Digital LLC. Retrieved January 9, 2017.
- 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.
- "The Star Chamber". 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. Century City, Los Angeles: 20th Century Fox. August 30, 2011. ASIN B0006Z2NQI. Retrieved January 9, 2017.
- Machlowi, David S. (October 1983). Lawyer on the Aisle. ABA Journal. Chicago: American Bar Association. p. 1548. Retrieved January 10, 2017.
- Levi, Ross D. (2005). The Celluloid Courtroom: A History of Legal Cinema. Santa Barbara, California: Praeger Publishers. p. 39. ISBN 978-0275982331.
- Solomon, Aubrey (1988). Twentieth Century-Fox: A Corporate and Financial History. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press. p. 260. ISBN 978-0810842441.
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