Twilight of Honor
|Twilight of Honor|
|Directed by||Boris Sagal|
|Produced by||Irv Pearlberg
|Written by||Al Dewlen
|Music by||Johnny Green|
|Cinematography||Philip H. Lathrop|
|Edited by||Hugh S. Fowler|
|October 16, 1963|
Twilight of Honor, released in the UK as The Charge is Murder, is a 1963 film starring Richard Chamberlain, Nick Adams, Claude Rains, and featuring Joey Heatherton and Linda Evans in their film debuts. Twilight of Honor is a courtroom drama based on Al Dewlen's novel, with a screenplay by Henry Denker. The film was directed by Boris Sagal. Like the 1959 courtroom drama Anatomy of a Murder, it continued a recent trend of descriptions of things previously never mentioned in American cinema, such as vivid accounts of sexual assault, adultery, and prostitution.
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David Mitchell, a widowed lawyer in a small New-Mexican city is appointed to defend a man charged with murder by Judge Tucker, despite the fact that he hasn't tried a criminal case in more than three years, before his wife died. Tucker reveals that Norris Bixby, an ambitious local prosecutor has been assigned to try the case, hoping to fill the shoes of Art Harper, a famed local prosecutor as well as David's friend and mentor, who is now retired. His pleas to be replaced with a more experienced man are denied, as are his requests for a delay and a change of venue, despite the fact that he believes it unfare that a man on trial for his life should have an unqualified lawyer defending him, as well as the local population growing openly hostile towards Ben Brown, the accused, and a media circus attracting crowds outside the jail, with people openly calling for lynchings and executions in interviews with the press covering the case. Judge Tucker informs him that he better get busy because his client will have to enter a plea the day after tomorrow, obviously worried by the public calling for an immediate trial.
David goes to see his Art Harper that night to ask for advice and receives a pep-talk of sorts from Harper, demanding he use every legal trick in the book to defend his new client, or to "get the hell of this porch and never come back." They are interrupted by Arts niece, Susan, who has romantic feelings for David, and has just arrived back in town from Chicago.
During dinner David reveals the facts about the case. Ben Brown has confessed to the killing, and the prosecution is asking for the gas chamber. He knows that Brown is unlikely to get a fair trial in town, and even he confesses to having preconceived notions about him.
Art confesses that he played a role in David being appointed as the defense on the case, and that while he himself is not healthy enough to defend the case personally, he will he helping David try to obtain justice for the accused. David is upset that this trial can potentially ruin his career, but understands that Art has acted on behalf of not only Brown, but David himself, in hopes of restarting his once promising career in criminal defense. David requests the use of Arts house as an office, realizing he will need all of Arts knowledge and aide, as well as his vast legal library and resources, which Art happily concedes. Susan also volunteers to be his legal secretary, hoping to spend time with David.
The next morning, David goes to the prison to see his new client. He runs into Ben's wife, Laura-Mae Brown, who in fact turned her husband in, and reveals that she despises her husband, and "hopes he croaks." She claims that Ben frequently beats her, and will receive an award for turning him in, which may be needed to defend her if she is tried as an accomplice.
She reveals the details of the case, claiming that Ben was fixing a man's car, and in a bungled robbery attempt, he beats the man to death, then fled in the murdered mans car. She also claims her husband is a compulsive liar, and that David didn't run into her by chance; Bixby wanted her to talk to him, to make it appear the trial will be fair. After Laura-Mae leaves, the guard brings Ben in. Despite what his wife said about him, Ben appears to be only concerned with his wife's freedom, claiming he wants her to have a good lawyer. Ben also claims that he doesn't lie, and alleges that he was starved, threatened, and beaten into signing the confession. He also reveals that a second confession was sought, and that parts of the first were purposely left off, including Ben's assertion that the murdered man, Cole Clinton, an off-duty police officer, was committing adultery with his wife before the murder.
Later on, David and Art research New Mexico law, where the crime took place, and find a law which states that a murder which occurs during the adultery of a man's spouse is deemed justifiable self homicide, also known as the "written 'unwritten law." He also reveals that the entire jury list is consisting of friends of Clinton, who was a popular man in town. Despite this, they feel that they finally have a solid defense for the case.
After Art goes to bed, Susan reveals her feelings to David, telling him that the day he married his now-deceased wife was the "saddest day of her life." She confesses that she loved him then, and still loves him now, although David doesn't know how to react.
The next morning, David, Morris Bixby, and Judge Tucker arrive to pick the jury. David and Bixby argue over the fairness of the case, and when picking the jury, Judge Tucker refuses to disqualify Clinton's friends and club members. Laura-Mae's mother is also seen illegally talking to prospective jurors, and Susan reveals that she hates Ben. While going to lunch, David finds that a local paper is being sold outside the court in view of the jurors, and the front page story features Ben's confession, further prejudicing the jury. David finds out that Bixby tactfully leaked the confession to the press, knowing that the jurors will read it.
Back in court, it is claimed that no one applied pressure to achieve a confession just as Clinton's widow dramatically arrives in court. David reveals the tactics used to coerce the confession, which the judge promptly refuses to hear, and admits the confession into evidence.
A witness claims that Ben was abusive towards his wife in a bar, and that he was eyeing Clinton's money and he wanted it "so bad he could taste it." Another witness claims that Ben witnessed Clinton drop his money, and clearly knew he had a large wad of bills on him. While David is asserting that Clinton intended to spend the night with Laura-Mae, Mrs. Clinton dramatically faints.
After the day in court, David goes to see Mrs. Clinton at her request. She reveals that David's suspicions are true, and that for the last few years, her husband was chasing younger women, in a mid-life crisis of sorts. She offers to plea for mercy for Ben, if David drops his adultery defense out of respect for Clinton's daughter, who idolized her father and loved him dearly. David refuses her offer, hoping to help Ben avoid being found guilty altogether.
Although an autopsy wasn't performed, Clinton's doctor alleges that he wasn't in the act of sexual intercourse during death. Bixby calls Clinton's widow to the stand, despite David's plea that it would be too hard for her, and sully her name for the sake of Bixby's ambitions. She alleges that the accusations against her late husband are false, and although David could prove her wrong, he feels pity and refuses to cross-examination.
Bixby then calls Laura-Mae's mother to the stand who claims that Ben once said to her that "he shouldn't have to break his back while Laura-Mae could make a living with her body," which Ben emphatically denies. The judge temporarily dismisses the jury and brings Laura-Mae in, and drops the charges against her, because if not on trial, she can't be called to testify against her husband, despite being the only eye-witness to the actual crime.
The next day Ben's commanding officer from his time in the air force arrives to testify for the defense. He claims that after being married, Ben changed, going AWOL repeatedly to see his wife, becoming moody, and showing signs of mental instability. After being denied leave to look for his wife, who has run off to Denver, he attempted to hang himself as well. Bixby attacks, claiming that if he was put on report for his repeated AWOLs, he would have been in jail and couldn't have committed the murder.
David then calls Ben to the stand, after making him promise to tell the complete truth, not matter how much it may incriminate his wife. He tells how he first met his wife in a bar, after seeing her dancing seductively at the jukebox. He is smitten by her and they dance and talk for hours, until being kicked out at closing time. She accompanies him to his room, and despite just meeting her, Ben proposes to her, and she accepts six months later. He reveals that after she ran off to Denver. She was arrested for prostitution, and after getting her out of jail, they began hitchhiking cross country until they met Mr. Clinton, who picked them up after seeing Laura-Mae. He lets Ben drive his so he can flirt with her while he is distracted. He shows his badge and gun, telling him to not worry about tickets, and begins firing at posts out of the car. Later on, at the motel, Ben awakens to find Laura-Mae not in his room, and sees her and Clinton together. He runs in as Clinton pulls his gun, and in the struggle, he grabs it and beats him to death with it. They flee in Clinton's car. Ben also tearfully admits he still loves his wife, and bears no ill will, even though she turned him in and applied for the reward money. Bixby begins his cross examination, asserting that Bixby pimped his wife to Clinton, beating him to death when he refused. Bixby can't legally call Laura-Mae to the stand to testify against her husband, so he goads David into calling her, which he does. The judge dismissed court before she can testify however.
David visits Laura-Mae to try to get her to agree to tell the truth, and realizes she is about to have company. He waits around and sees a man enter her room. Looking through the window, he realizes it is Bixby's co-prosecutor, Judson Elliot, and that he is having an affair with her, despite being married and having four kids. In court the next morning, Laura-Mae takes the stand. As Bixby begins his cross examination, David reveals in the judges quarters that he saw them, and will reveal the story if they cross-examine her. He also finds out that Elliot is carrying Clinton's money clip, which Laura-Mae gave to him. After dismissing Elliot, Bixby refuses to compromise, and as court resumes, Art arrives and is wheeled into the courtroom by David, to much fanfare.
David begins his closing statement. He goes over all of the points of the trial, as well as the conniving done by the state to protect Mr. Clinton's reputation, and further Bixby's career. Bixby's rebuttal emphasizes the confession and plays on the emotions of the jury, most of whom were friends with Clinton. He claims that they can't find Ben innocent without finding Clinton guilty. The jury retires to deliberate, while Art jovially challenges David to declare his intentions for Susan.
As the jury returns, the courtroom quickly refills to capacity to hear the verdict. Ben is found not guilty on all counts, much to the relief of the defense. Bixby is outraged at the loss, knowing it will hurt his career and curtail his ambitions. Art confesses that David's newfound fame will make him the target of anyone in the Southwest in serious trouble, and passes the mantle to him. David declares his intentions for Susan, and the film ends with them sharing a kiss in front of the courthouse, then walking home hand in hand.
- Richard Chamberlain - David Mitchell
- Nick Adams - Ben Brown
- Claude Rains - Art Harper
- Joan Blackman - Susan Harper
- James Gregory - Norris Bixby
- Joey Heatherton - Laura Mae Brown
- Pat Buttram - Cole Clinton
- Jeanette Nolan - Amy Clinton
- Edgar Stehli - Judge James Tucker
- James Bell - Charles Crispin
- George Mitchell - District Attorney Paul Farish
- Don 'Red' Barry - Judson Elliot (as Donald Barry)
- Bert Freed - Sheriff B.L. 'Buck' Wheeler
- Robin Raymond - Therese 'Tess' Braden
- June Dayton - Vera Driscoll
- Best Supporting Actor - Nick Adams
- Best Art Direction (George Davis, Paul Groesse, Henry Grace, Hugh Hunt)
- "NY Times: Twilight of Honor". NY Times. Retrieved 2008-12-25.