“Is one man’s life worth more than the community?”
When a priest (Wyrley Birch) is brutally murdered on the streets of a small Connecticut town, the chief detective (Lee J. Cobb) heads an investigation leading to the state’s attorney (Dana Andrews) being called in to prosecute a man (Arthur Kennedy) who has been tortured into confessing. Soon Andrews finds himself caught in an elaborate scheme of corruption involving, among others, the Commissioner of Public Works (Ed Begley) and the head of the political opposition party (Taylor Holmes).
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Arthur Kennedy
- Courtroom Drama
- Dana Andrews Films
- Elia Kazan Films
- Falsely Accused
- Jane Wyatt Films
- Karl Malden Films
- Lee J. Cobb Films
- Murder Mystery
Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary asserts that this “dated, overrated semi-documentary by Elia Kazan” — based on a real-life story involving veteran Harold Israel and U.S. State Attorney Homer Stille Cummings — starts out as “a daring attack on corrupt machine politics, mob violence, press irresponsibility, and fascist police tactics”, but “turns out to be the glorification of an honest man”. He writes that the “trouble is that Andrews is the only character who comes out smelling like a rose”, and complains the screenplay deviates from the facts given that the real “case was never solved”, instead “presenting another suspect (a perverted fellow about whom the priest was about to tell authorities [Philip Coolidge])” in a move Peary refers to as “unfairly manipulative”. He also argues it’s “unfair of Kazan not to let on that Andrews was conducting a serious investigation until the hearing”, given that “we [are] led to believe it is only a hunch that makes him think Kennedy innocent”.
I think Peary holds a grudge against Kazan for being “a friendly witness before H.U.A.C”, and it shows. There’s nothing wrong with the introduction of Coolidge as a player in this fictionalized drama, just as there’s nothing at all misleading about leaving Andrews’ investigation of the case as a series of dramatic flashbacks in the film’s culmination. While the film is perhaps overly bold in its assertion of corruption around every corner, who’s to say that’s not (still and always) the case? Indeed, it’s terrifying to watch the police “drag in anybody wearing a dark coat and white hat” as a suspect; to see a jilted former girlfriend (Cara Williams) willfully lie to get Kennedy persecuted; to witness a confession tortured out of Kennedy through sleep deprivation; and to recognize the overall relief of nearly everybody involved when someone — anyone — is held responsible for the death of their beloved priest. (Not a whole lot has changed in our collective desire for criminal “justice” at the cost of potentially innocent lives.) The film is expertly directed by Kazan, with fine use of on-location shooting in Connecticut, stark angles and cinematography, and strong performances by a roster of familiar supporting faces.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Dana Andrews as Henry Harvey
- Arthur Kennedy as John Waldron
- Atmospheric cinematography
- Fine on-location shooting
- Strong direction by Kazan
Yes, once, as a worthy early film by Kazan.