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Compulsion (DVD)

Trying to commit the perfect murder

Disc Specs

Starring Bradford DillmanDean StockwellOrson WellesE.G. Marshall Disc Cover
Directed By Richard Fleischer Certificate 12
Audio Dolby Digital 2.0
Visuals 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Running Time 99 mins
UK Release Date September 20, 2010
Genre Drama, Thriller
Our Rating
User Rating

Spoilt brat law students Judd Steiner and Artie Straus have a lot going for them in this 1959 thriller. Both are highly intelligent, both are also from incredibly rich families. On the downside, both are also homicidally evil.

Obsessed with the writings of Nietzsche and utterly convinced of their own intellectual superiority, the duo decide to carry out that old favourite – the perfect murder – killing a local youth seemingly at random in their 1920s Chicago neighbourhood. But as is so often the way, the murderers aren’t as brilliant as they think they are. A vital bit of evidence ends up being left besides the body.

Although there’s no “based on a true story” caption here, Compulsion is clearly based on the notorious case of Leopold and Loeb, two young Jewish homosexual intellectuals who were convicted of murder in the 1920s. The story had already helped inspire Hitchcock’s Rope ten years earlier, but whereas Hitch’s  version was dominated by his experiments with the cinematic form (filming it one room, trying to make it appear as if it was filmed in one continuous shot etc.) Fleischer’s version is a more conventional drama and none the worse for it.

Bradford Diller is wonderfully childish and arrogant as the bullying Artie, a man cocky enough to offer his services to the police investigating the crime he has himself committed. Dean Stockwell (later Al on TV sci-fi Quantum Leap) is equally strong as the deeply troubled Artie, even remaining good in the face of terrifically wooden performance from Diane Varsi as his near love interest Ruth.

Orson Welles doesn’t waddle on until well over an hour in, but impressively does effectively steal the last third of the film with a memorable and emotionally charged turn as the duo’s defence attorney.

There are no extras at all here but this is well acted enough that it is easy to see how Welles, Stockwell and Dillman all won the acting award at that year’s Cannes festival.

Overall Verdict: The perfect crime? Well, perhaps not quite a classic. But nevertheless a fine piece of work which leaves you wondering whatever happened to Bradford Dillman.

Reviewer: Chris Hallam

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