COMPULSION [1959 / 2016] [Blu-ray] [UK Release] You Know Why We Did It? Because We Damn Well Felt Like Doing It!

When two wealthy law students – sadistic bully Artie Strause [Bradford Dillman] and timid introvert Judd Steiner [Dean Stockwell] – plot and commit the “perfect crime” to prove their intellectual superiority, their arrogance leads to their arrest and they are tried in a dramatic court case.

Based on the notorious 1924 murder trial of thrill-killers Nathan Freudenthal Leopold, Jr. and Richard Albert Loeb, this stylish and compelling film from director Richard Fleischer’s film ‘Mr. Majestyk’ and features cinema legend Orson Welles as the criminal defence lawyer and won Best Actor Awards for all three stars at the 1959 Cannes Film Festival.

FILM FACT No.1: Awards and Nominations: 1959 Cannes Film Festival: Win: Best Actor for Bradford Dillman, Dean Stockwell and Orson Welles. Nominated: Palme d'Or for Richard Fleischer. 1960 BAFTA Film Award: Nominated: Best Film from any Source for Richard Fleischer [USA]. 1960 Directors Guild of America: Nominated: DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures for Richard Fleischer. 1960 Laurel Awards: Nominated: Golden Laurel Award for Top Drama [5th place]. 1960 Writers Guild of America: Nominated: WGA Award (Screen) for Best Written American Drama for Richard Murphy.   

FILM FACT No.2: Orson Welles, whose recent thriller ‘Touch of Evil’ was overlooked in America, though appreciated in Europe, was bitter at not being selected to direct ‘Compulsion,’ and Orson Welles time on the set was tense, and where he threw frequent tantrums.

Cast: Orson Welles, Diane Varsi, Dean Stockwell, Bradford Dillman, E.G. Marshall, Martin Milner, Richard Anderson, Robert F. Simon, Edward Binns, Robert Burton, Wilton Graff, Louise Lorimer, Gavin MacLeod, Don Anderson (uncredited), Brandon Beach (uncredited), Terry Becker (uncredited), Russ Bender (uncredited), Peter Brocco (uncredited), Alan Carney (uncredited), Harry Carter (uncredited), Ben Frommer (uncredited), Jack Gordon (uncredited), Wendell Holmes (uncredited), Kenner G. Kemp (uncredited), Colin Kenny (uncredited), Henry Kulky (uncredited), Joseph La Cava (uncredited), Mike Lally (uncredited), Gerry Lock (uncredited), Jack Lomas (uncredited), Dayton Lummis (uncredited), Hank Mann (uncredited), Frank McLure (uncredited), Hans Moebus (uncredited), Ralph Montgomery (uncredited), William H. O'Brien (uncredited), Voltaire Perkins (uncredited), Murray Pollack (uncredited), Paul Power (uncredited), Jack Raine (uncredited), Tony Regan (uncredited), John Roy (uncredited), Jeffrey Sayre (uncredited), Simon Scott (uncredited), Nina Shipman (uncredited), Hal Taggart (uncredited), Arthur Tovey (uncredited), Tom Wilson (uncredited) and Wilson Wood (uncredited)

Director: Richard Fleischer

Producer: Richard D. Zanuck

Screenplay: Richard Murphy (screenplay) and Meyer Levin (based on the novel)

Composer: Lionel Newman

Cinematography: William C. Mellor, A.S.C. (Director of Photography)

Image Resolution: 1080p (Black-and-White)

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 (CinemaScope)

Audio: English: 2.0 LPCM Dolby Digital Stereo Audio
English: 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio

Subtitles: English SDH

Running Time: 103 minutes

Region: Region B/2

Number of discs: 1

Studio: 20th Century Fox / Signal One Entertainment

Andrew’s Blu-ray Review: ‘COMPULSION’ [1959] is one of several stage or screen productions based on the Leopold and Loeb trial. Other trial-inspired productions include Alfred Hitchcock's ‘The Rope’ [1948], Tom Kalin's impressionistic black-and-white film ‘Swoon’ [1992], and John Logan's play “Never the Sinner” [1997].

‘COMPULSION’ was the title of a fictionalized account of the Nathan Freudenthal Leopold, Jr. and Richard Albert Loeb trial, written in 1956 by Meyer Levin. The story concerns two wealthy Chicago teenagers, Artie Strause [Bradford Dillman] and Judd Steiner [Dean Stockwell], who kidnap and murder a young boy, become suspects because of glasses found with the boy's body, confess, and are defended by the brilliant lawyer, Jonathan Wilk [Orson Welles].

‘COMPULSION’ contains many other parallels to the real Nathan Freudenthal Leopold, Jr. and Richard Albert Loeb story, including Judd Steiner's [Nathan Freudenthal Leopold, Jr.] obsession with the philosophy of Nietzsche, the theft by the boys of a typewriter used to type the ransom note, the inadvertent destruction of the boys' alibi by the Judd Steiner's family chauffeur, and the use of verbatim passages from the original Clarence Darrow's trial summation.

We first meet Judd Steiner [Dean Stockwell] and Artie Straus [Bradford Dillman] as they are gallivanting about in Judd Steiner’s Stutz Bearcat car and Artie Straus tries to run down a drunken man who’s walking down the road. This sets the tone, not only for the film, but for their relationship. Judd grabs the wheel and averts the potential murder, so Artie Straus tells him to drive and keep in mind, it is Judd Steiner’s car, and then orders him to run the bum down. Judd Steiner comes close, but at the last moment swerves, which angers Artie Straus. To keep peace, Judd Steiner swears he’ll do anything Artie Straus wants and we mean anything. And although we don’t know it yet, a murder is about to be born.

Martin Milner plays Sid Brooks, a fictional character, based on Meyer Levin, a fellow student at the university with Judd Steiner and Artie Straus, and a fledgling reporter for the newspaper. Chance involves him in the case, and also his girl Ruth Evans [Diane Varsi], who develops a relationship with Judd Steiner and later testifies at the trial.

This is a very faithful adaptation of the novel and captures the flavour of it very well. The cocksure attitude of the young geniuses, who took the life of a young boy because they could, and to prove that such a thing could be done with great deliberation and no emotional involvement. We never see the victim, not even in the morgue, nor do we get a real sense of who he was. These things were not shown back then, too graphic. Today, I’m sure there would be a lot more gruesome scenes, but the film does not suffer for lack of them.

They came very close to getting away with their crime, but a pair of eyeglasses was the crack in the facade that became the first clue, and that ultimately led to them. E.G. Marshall plays the prosecutor, Horn, who is determined to see these two boys hang for what they’ve done, despite their tender ages 18 and 19 years of age and despite the fact that never has the state put to death anyone below the age of 21.

The boys’ very wealthy parents hire the best attorney they can find in Jonathan Wilk (Clarence Darrow, in real life) and flawlessly played by Orson Welles. In a brilliant ploy, Jonathan Wilk withdraws their plea of not guilty and changes it to guilty, with mitigating circumstances, thus eliminating the trial by jury. And despite the best efforts of the prosecutor, he does not plead insanity, as that would bring the jury back in. And as he explains to the boys’ parents, he’d rather plead for their lives before one man, the judge, than twelve, in the form of the jury. Orson Welles’ performance is riveting. Despite being very familiar with him as an actor, his persona disappears and he becomes Jonathan Wilk/Clarence Darrow, and his very eloquent summation speech is some of his finest work. That is the hallmark of a great actor, when you stop seeing the man, and only see the character.

One comment on the opening composed music, although probably good for its time, now it sounded to me very 1950s and jarring, but perhaps that was the effect the composer was going for. It’s jazzy and discordant, so maybe that’s the right feel for two young men out of step with society. Look for Richard Anderson [Six Million Dollar Man] as Judd Steiner’s bossy older brother Max Steiner. And a young Gavin MacLeod (Captain Steubing on the Love Boat) as District Attorney Harold Horn’s assistant.

One last comment on the film. As I said before, Judd was just beginning a relationship with Ruth Evans, who was Sid Brooks’ girl, and I think that goes a long way to show his innate humanity, as opposed to Artie Straus and his black book, his love ’em and leave ’em philosophy. There is a very intense scene between Judd Steiner and Ruth Evans in the film. On the whole, I was very pleased with the film, and highly recommend it.

Nathan Freudenthal Leopold, Jr. said that reading ‘COMPULSION’ made him "physically sick," caused him to feel "terrific shame," and induced a "mild melancholia." He felt as "if he were exposed stark-naked under the strong spotlight before a large audience." He also complained that the book depicted the murder in sexual terms. Steiner saw the murder as a way to kill the girl within himself; Nathan Freudenthal Leopold, Jr. dismissed such a motive in his own case as preposterous. In 1959, Nathan Freudenthal Leopold, Jr. filed suit against the producers of the film ‘COMPULSION.’

Trivia: Because Orson Welles was having tax problems during the production, at the end of shooting his salary for the movie was garnisheed by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. This upset Orson Welles so much that just before he finished looping his dialogue in post-production, he stormed off the studio and left the country. All that was left to be looped was the last 20 seconds of his end speech in the courtroom. Incredibly, Editor William Reynolds fixed this problem without needing Orson Welles. William Reynolds took words and pieces of words Orson Welles had spoken earlier in the film, and pieced them one by one into those 20 seconds.

Blu-ray Image Quality – Signal One Entertainment presents us this classic film ‘COMPULSION’ that has been “digitally restored and remastered” in 4K and offered up on Blu-ray in an encoded 1080p image that looks quite remarkable given the age of this 1959 film. The Black-and-White photography looks absolutely striking, with strong contrast and only the slightest hint of crush in some of the blacks. The restorative efforts have delivered elements that are largely free of any major cases of damage. Moments of softness come and go, and typical of the time and close-ups flaunt a diffused gauzy quality, but considering what the restorers had to work with, this is quite an admirable effort that rightfully honours this “film noir” winning film. Please Note: Playback Region B/2: This will not play on most Blu-ray players sold in North America, Central America, South America, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia. Learn more about Blu-ray region specifications.

Blu-ray Audio Quality – Signal One Entertainment brings us ‘COMPULSION’ with two audio tracks that consist of 2.0 LPCM Audio Stereo and 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. It is basically clean and free from any excessive noise, and is very intelligible. While obviously unable to overcome the technological limitations of the original recording, the track is decently clear, with good prioritisation. The dynamic range is limited and there's not much resonance to the track, but it serves the material well and does its job without incident. Again Signal One Entertainment Blu-ray release offers totally rich and rewarding audio tracks. So anyone purchasing this particular Blu-ray UK Release will be very well rewarded from the audio performance.

Blu-ray Special Features and Extras:

New 4K restoration

Special Feature: Richard Fleischer Guardian Interview [Audio only] [1981] [1080p] [2.35:1] [93:18] The Guardian Interview with award-winning director Richard Fleischer, is in conversation with Adrian Turner at the National Film Theatre in London on the 1st February, 1981. This recording exhibits a range of problems which are to be expected given the age and the nature of its production. In addition to those affecting the recording of the questions from the audience are often very difficult to hear. Signal One Entertainment hopes that these issues will not detract from your enjoyment of this historical important recording document. While the film ‘COMPULSION’ is being presented to you again, we are informed by Adrian Turner that Richard Fleischer is in London because of his film ‘The Jazz Singer’ had just opened in the cinema, and has kindly accepted an invitation to the National Film Theatre to do a question and answer session. We find out that Richard Fleischer has directed over 40 different films, which includes ‘Fantastic Voyage’ [1966]; ‘Doctor Doolittle’ [1967]; ‘The Boston Strangler’ [1968] and ‘Che!’ [1969]. We find out there is no mystery in his choice of films to direct, it is a fact that he will direct a film when someone offers him a job, but eventually it all boils down to Richard himself feeling the film is worth directing and one that audiences will want to go and see at the cinema, as well as hopefully is a commercial success, but most importantly Richard wants a script that is intelligently well written. Richard Fleischer praises the actor Orson Welles, but when it came to dean Stockwell, who says is a totally different actor who prefers the “method” style of acting, and of course Richard would approach each actor is a different way, but most importantly you must be a good listener and console each actor is all its foibles. We hear that when Orson Welles does his court appearance scene, Richard had only 10 days shooting time with this actor and had to get it right as on the 10th day Orson Welles was off to China and would not be delayed, so Richard Fleischer used three cameras to get it all on film. We find out that Richard Fleischer d has done several films with the theme on murder and enjoys directing these types of genre, as Richard Fleischer wants to get under the skin of the perpetrator and try and find out why perform these heinous crimes. But Richard Fleischer is also a great advocate against Capital Punishment and most of those types of films to do with murder, the end result Richard want to achieve is that they are sent to prison and praises the British justice system of capital punishment being outlawed and that is why he wanted to direct the film ‘10 Rillington Place’ [1971] in the United Kingdom and of course with the brilliant actor Sir Richard Attenborough as John Christie. We of course find out that his Father was the famous cartoonist Max Fleischer, who was based in New York, who had great rivalry with Walt Disney, well once day Walt Disney phoned Richard Fleischer to come the Walt Disney Studio and offered him the job to direct the film ‘20,000 Leagues Under The Sea’ [1954] and of course Richard was totally flattered, but insisted to Walt Disney that he must contact his Father so as to give him his blessing, which he did so very enthusiastically and of course gave him his blessing. But of course Richard asked Walt Disney why he was asked to direct that film, well Walt Disney was so impressed with several of his films and that is why he thought Richard would be ideal to direct ‘20,000 Leagues Under The Sea’ and of course they breathed a sigh of relief as the film was a big box office hit, but at the time of the film being directed the Walt Disney Studio was in very serious debt problems. Adrian Turner comments on some of Richard Fleischer’s films are very violent, and especially by the critics, but Richard informs us that he does not go out to make a film for children and we are all adults and he also informs us whenever we turn on the Radio or TV for the news, there is much more violence happening in the world at one time and Richard would never go out of his way to direct an over the top violent film, because it is not necessary. Richard talks about directing the film ‘The Vikings’ [1958] where Kirk Douglas was the Producer and Richard informs us that it was the most unpleasant experience in all his career working with Kirk Douglas and nearly pulled out of directing the film, as Kirk Douglas was acting like a spoilt Diva and because of this very bad experience, never ever wanted to work with Kirk Douglas again, because Kirk Douglas was always having constantly differences of opinions with Richard on how the film ‘The Vikings’ should be filmed. Of course as we go through this very interesting interview, we get quite a few very interesting questions from the audience and the answers that Richard responds is totally fascinating and on top of that Richard Fleischer is a totally fascinating and interesting intelligent person and also has some more interesting opinions about the state of the film industry in general and especially the preservation of old classic films, especially the ones in colour, so that they can be viewed by future generations to come. But all in all, to not listen to this particular audio only presentation with Richard Fleischer will be a crime, as it has been the most joyous 1 hour and 33 minutes audio experience and definitely gets a five star rating from me.

Special Feature: Richard Fleischer Guardian Interview [1994] [480i] [1.37:1] [76:42] The Guardian Interview with award-winning director Richard Fleischer, returns to the National Film Theatre in London on the 19th April, 1994. This video recording exhibits a range of technical problems which are to be expected given the age and the nature of its production. In addition to those affecting the recording of the questions from the audience are often very difficult to hear. Signal One Entertainment hopes that these issues will not detract from your enjoyment of this historical important recording document. But what is so nice with this particular interview is that we actually get to see this famous director Richard Fleischer in person, and once again doing some more question and answer session with the audience. At the start of this interview, we hear from Richard Fleischer about his first meeting with Orson Welles before shooting started on the film ‘COMPULSION’ and found out what a pain in the neck Orson Welles was and comments on how gross and overweight Orson Welles was and looked like a clown, without the circus costume. Well once again we hear about the 10 day shoot schedule he was only being allowed with Orson Welles, and on the 10th days shoot, Richard Fleischer found out that there was too much noise from the three cameras on the recording, and wanted Orson Welles to go in the recording studio to do the post sync sound, but Orson Welles refused and walked out and got on a boat to China. So Richard Fleischer thought this was a total disaster and an end to the film he had just directed, so his brilliant and very professional Editor went through all the recording of Orson Welles and found each individual words spoken by Orson Welles and edited it all together, to produce a flawless recording to replace the bad recording with the court scene, and Richard Fleischer could not praise this very professional editor, but felt really vindicated, because he got one over Orson Welles. Before Richard Fleischer got into proper filmmaking, especially with RKO, he was asked to make some short “Flicker Flashbacks” films, and goes into great detail about what they filmed and what the contents of the films contained and was under contract with Pathé News, where Richard Fleischer did some directing, as well as do the screenplay and also did some commentary as well. Richard Fleischer talks in depth about his involvement with the “Un American Activity” situation and how he nearly lost his job at RKO, but as you will hear that eventually it all got resolved and that nasty evil event in the American history finally faded away and Richard Fleischer felt it should never have happened, especially in a so called civilised society. Richard Fleischer also tells us the story again with his meeting with Walt Disney in making the film ‘20,000 Leagues Under The Sea’ [1954] and having to deal with the belligerent attitude of the actor Kirk Douglas, which Richard Fleischer had now wished he had never had to work with this Diva actor, who was always taking his shirt off. Despite the negative atmosphere while making the film, but luckily they were very rare events and the interviewer asks Richard Fleischer what type of genre film does he like to direct, as there has been so many different kinds of films he has directed, well again he very much likes crime and psychological films and talks about the film ‘10 Rillington Place’ [1971] and working with the brilliant Sir Richard Attenborough, which he informs us was the most enjoyable experience in his directing career. Of course once again we get quite a few question and answer session from the audience and again was totally fascinating hearing his very intelligent answers, and once again Richard Fleischer is a totally fascinating and intelligent person, who I could listen to all night long and of course to sum up this was once again a totally brilliant special feature and is well worth viewing and again gets a five star rating from me.

Special Feature: Orson Welles in the Courtroom Scene from ‘COMPULSION’ [Audio only] [1959] [1080p] [1.37:1] [10:10] Here is the dramatic courtroom scene from the film ‘COMPULSION,’ where Orson Welles as Jonathan Wilk, appeals to the court to spare the two accused teenage murders. The portrayal by Orson Welles is one of the screen’s greatest moments. The words are those of one of history’s greatest criminal lawyers, Clarence Darrow. This recording was released by the Top Rank Records Limited – London on an Extended Play 45rpm vinyl record.

Special Feature: Lobby Cards, Posters and Stills Gallery [2016] [1080p] [00:59] Here you get to view 59 stunning Black-and-White and Colour images from around the world and to view each individual images you have to press the “NEXT” button on your remote control to advance the images you want to view.

Theatrical Trailer [1959] [480i] [1.78:1] [2:27] This is the Original Theatrical Trailer for the film ‘COMPULSION.’ Sadly the quality is atrocious and not up to the standard of the 1080p image of the film, but despite this it is a brilliant presentation.

PLUS: Here we have a brilliantly designed reversible Blu-ray cover by artist Graham Humphreys. Graham Humphreys is an illustrator and graphic designer based in London, United Kingdom.

Finally, when ‘COMPULSION’ premiered at the 1959 Vannes Film Festival, it became one of those rare occasions where the best actor award was shared between Bradford Dillman, Dean Stockwell and Orson Welles won the Best Actor Award. Unfortunately the film was not a huge success, which is a shame as it is far superior to the Alfred Hitchcock film ‘THE ROPE,’ and sadly ‘COMPULSION’ faded away into obscurity, where it still remains to some extent, however this new British Blu-ray Release from Signal One Entertainment it has now been given a new lease of life and also for a new audience to appreciate this “film noir” classic from director Richard Fleischer and the sterling performances from the brilliant actors Bradford Dillman, Dean Stockwell and Orson Welles. Highly Recommended!

Andrew C. Miller – Your Ultimate No.1 Film Aficionado 
Le Cinema Paradiso 
United Kingdom

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