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Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956 film)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt
Theatrical film poster
Directed byFritz Lang
Screenplay byDouglas Morrow
Story byDouglas Morrow
Produced byBert E. Friedlob
StarringDana Andrews
Joan Fontaine
CinematographyWilliam Snyder
Edited byGene Fowler Jr.
Music byHerschel Burke Gilbert
Bert E. Friedlob Productions
Distributed byRKO Radio Pictures
Release date
  • September 13, 1956 (1956-09-13) (US)[1]
Running time
80 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$1.1 million (US rentals)[2]

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt is a 1956 American film noir legal drama directed by Fritz Lang and written by Douglas Morrow. The film stars Dana Andrews, Joan Fontaine, Sidney Blackmer, and Arthur Franz. It was Lang's second film for producer Bert E. Friedlob,[3] and the last American film he directed.[4]

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  • The Blue Gardenia (1953) [Film Noir] [Classic Fritz Lang] Full Movie 360p



Austin Spencer (Sidney Blackmer), a newspaper publisher who opposes the death penalty, wants to prove a point about the inadequacy of circumstantial evidence. He talks his daughter Susan's fiancé, Tom Garrett (Dana Andrews), into participating in a hoax, in an attempt to expose the ineptitude of the city's hard-line district attorney. The plan is for Tom to plant clues that will lead to his arrest for the recent murder of a female nightclub dancer, Patty Gray. Once Tom is found guilty, Spencer is to reveal the setup and humiliate the District Attorney.

Tom agrees to the plan, and is convicted on the circumstantial evidence. But Spencer dies in a car accident before he can clear Tom, and the photographic evidence he had intended to use to clear Tom after his trial, which he had on his person, is burned to an unrecognizable state in the accident. Tom remains on death row in prison. However, a few hours before his scheduled execution and in time to prove the two men's intentions, written testimony by the dead man is discovered. Because of this, Tom is to be pardoned.

However, while talking to his now-ex-fiancée Susan (Joan Fontaine), who has been trying to help him, Garrett inadvertently reveals that he knows the late woman's real name which forces him to confess that the murder victim is actually his estranged wife, Emma Blucher, who had reneged on her promise to divorce him in Mexico. As this was preventing him from marrying Susan, he murdered her, figuring that the late Spencer's proposed hoax would be the perfect cover-up. Susan, through her current boyfriend, notifies the police, and Garrett's pardon is canceled before the double jeopardy rule comes into effect, and the film closes with him being led back to his cell pending his execution later that evening.



Critical response

Keith M. Booker states that Beyond a Reasonable Doubt is "perhaps the bleakest of his [Lang's] American noir films".[5] Dennis L. White describes the film as having "considerable impact, due not so much to visual style, but as to the narrative structure and mood and to the expertly devised plot, in which the turnabout is both surprising and convincing."[6] Stella Bruzzi, author of Men's Cinema: Masculinity and Mise en Scène in Hollywood, felt that the film plot was "overly schematic" and "motivated by a paradox", affecting "an invisible, transparent style while, at the same time, being all about surface and performance". She adds that Lang "deploys an ostentatiously unintrusive 'classical' style", which he "purposefully reduces down to its minimalist bare necessities".[7] Writer James McKay notes that Fontaine as Susan Spencer is "a little bit more forward than we normally expect, in a role that requires her to do all the running where her man's concerned".[3]

Film critic Dennis Schwartz wrote a mixed review, but appreciated Lang's efforts: "Cheerlessly written with many plot holes, implausible contrivances and legal absurdities by law school graduate Douglas Morrow, though ably directed by film noir maven Fritz Lang (M/While the City Sleeps/Scarlet Street). Lang's last American film is a low-budget twisty courtroom drama about the dangers of capital punishment that ends up being about something more intangible--the unpredictability of fate ... But in this subversive film a perverse atmosphere of subliminal uncertainty prevails over the established surface reality, and the surprise ending comes as more of an emotional shock than as a real surprise--allowing the filmmaker to pass on his cynicism and disillusionment over the human condition. The stark, alluring and unconventional film is worth seeing for the ingenuous way it resolves the brain-teasing dilemma it raised."[8]

See also


  1. ^ "Beyond a Reasonable Doubt : Detail View". American Film Institute. Retrieved June 2, 2014.
  2. ^ 'The Top Box-Office Hits of 1956', Variety Weekly, January 2, 1957.
  3. ^ a b McKay, James (26 April 2010). Dana Andrews: The Face of Noir. McFarland. p. 147. ISBN 978-0-7864-5676-5.
  4. ^ Beyond a Reasonable Doubt at the American Film Institute Catalog.
  5. ^ Booker, Keith M. (17 March 2011). Historical Dictionary of American Cinema. Scarecrow Press. p. 214. ISBN 978-0-8108-7459-6.
  6. ^ White, Dennis L. Beyond a Reasonable Doubt article/entry, in Film Noir An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style, eds. Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward (Woodstock, N.Y.: Overlook Press, 1992), p 21–22. ISBN 0-87951-479-5.
  7. ^ Bruzzi, Stella (30 September 2013). Men's Cinema: Masculinity and Mise-en-Scene in Hollywood. Edinburgh University Press. p. 41. ISBN 978-0-7486-7619-4.
  8. ^ Schwartz, Dennis. Ozus' World Movie Reviews, film review, February 2, 2007. Accessed: August 6, 2013.

External links

This page was last edited on 1 February 2024, at 11:28
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