Pete’s Peek | Orson Welles gives a masterclass in acting in 1959’s Compulsion

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The infamous murder case of Leopold and Loeb, two Chicago university students from wealthy families, who murdered a 14-year-old in 1924 to prove they were above the law has been the inspiration for several works in film and fiction – including Patrick Hamilton’s 1929 play Rope, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1948 film of the same name and the 1956 novel, Compulsion, by Meyer Levin.

In 1959, Richard Zanuck (who would later produce Steven Spielberg’s Jaws) brought Compulsion to the big screen, with Bradford Dillman and Dean Stockwell in the Leopold and Loeb roles (as Artie Strauss and Judd Steiner).

The cocky 18-year-olds, who believe themselves to be Nietzschean supermen, attempt to commit the perfect crime. But when their victim, a young schoolboy, is found bludgeoned to death, Judd’s glasses are also found at the crime scene… This sets in motion a series of nail-biting scenes as the two friends devise their alibis, then end up betraying each other under EG Marshall’s determined DA’s intense questioning.

Orson Welles makes an award-winning appearance as the formidable Jonathan Wilk, a famed criminal defence attorney who takes on the boys’ case in a bid to save them from hanging. His closing argument against capital punishment is this film’s highlight, and while it will certainly divide opinion, it remains a truly amazing piece of acting.

Handsomely mounted, with a fantastic cast of character actors, and an excellent jazz score by Lionel Newman, Compulsion will certainly get your ‘little grey cells’ excited.

Out now on DVD

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