Compulsion Richard Fleischer

It’s Hollywood vs. Nietzsche in a duel to the death, with the former dealing the latter some serious tough love. Based on the famous Leopold and Loeb trial of the 1920s, this thinly fictionalised account features a pair of law students named Strauss and Steiner (Bradford Dillman and Dean Stockwell), who are convinced of their intellectual superman status and contrive to kidnap and kill an innocent child. They manage to keep the authorities tied up in knots for quite a while, but in the end they’re caught and handed over to superstar lawyer Jonathan Wilk (Orson Welles), who insists that they’re sort of guilty but sort of not. That’s as deep as this defence for sentiment gets in dealing with the complexities of the case — the cheap irony is that sparing the lives of the killers is an act of Christian charity that flies in the face of their professed ideology. There are plenty of "nice” people around to serve as buffers to the cold-hearted duo (including co-ed Diane Varsi, who has sympathy for the more passive and sensitive Steiner), and in true ’50s fashion, the boys are seen as an aberration from the system rather than a symptom. I’m no Nietzschian (and no fan of murder, either), but the film smacks of typical anti-intellectual Hollywood emotionalism with a subject tailor-made to its sappy specifications. Journeyman hack Richard Fleischer gives a proficient but boring directorial performance, while Welles manages not to disappoint in a subtle turn that shows up most of the rest of the cast, but it’s not enough to imbue this completely unremarkable production with anything like credibility or even a reason to exist. (Fox)