The notorious 1924 Leopold/Loeb murder is depicted in this based on true events film. Judd Steiner (Dean Stockwell – from television's Battlestar Galactica) and Arthur Straus (Bradford Dillman – Sudden Impact, The Way We Were) are two young men of privileged background who are best friends. Though they are best friends they could not be more different as Straus is domineering and menacing while Steiner is quiet and shy. They are smarter, or believe themselves to be, than most and so they feel that they could do whatever they wanted and get away with it. Bored with the usual petty crimes they have been committing, Straus comes up with a plan to murder someone and to make it the 'perfect' crime. The two murder a young boy and when the body is found, rather than feeling guilty for what they've done, they lend a hand to the authorities. When the two are finally arrested, Jonathan Wilk (Orson Welles – Citizen Kane, The Long, Hot Summer) is their lawyer and argues against the death penalty for Straus and Steiner. He does this despite never having received any explanation from the two. It becomes a legal battle between Wilk and District Attourney Harold Horn (E.G. Marshall – Nixon, Tora!Tora!Tora!). Ultimately, the case becomes one of the issue of the death penalty rather than the actual murder.
"Compulsion" is based on the bestseller by news reporter Meyer Levin and although the names have been changed the other details are still true. The murder that the two young men committed was called the 'crime of the century'. After giving the viewer a reenactment of the circumstances surrounding the crime, the film focuses on the court case and the psychology of the murder. In real life, famous lawyer Clarence Darrow argued against the death penalty for the two murderers. It became a history-making case. Orson Welles is just in the last 30 minutes of the film, but he makes the most of his screen time. He has to deliver some rousing speeches and does so ably. Director Richard Fleischer (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Boston Strangler) wisely does not show the actual murder, instead makes the viewer's imagination take over. Visually, he also kept it looking like a small picture rather than a sweeping epic, which helped with the realism. It was also a perfect choice to make the film in black and white as it contributes to the dark mood. In 1959, when the film was released it was considered to be risqué due to the alleged homosexual relationship between the two men. The two talk and act like lovers, but it is never confirmed onscreen. If you want to learn about the famous murder then pick up this interesting character study.
-Fox Flix: trailers for The St. Valentine's Day Massacre and Murder, Inc.