Sunday, June 24, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

This spring I reviewed the Warner Archive's Blu-ray release of WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS (1956), directed by Fritz Lang and starring Dana Andrews.

I'm following up on that review with a look at another Warner Archive Lang-Andrews Blu-ray from the same year, BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT (1956), costarring Joan Fontaine.

Tom Garrett (Andrews) is riding high: The author of a recently published best seller, he's also engaged to Susan Spencer (Fontaine), the elegant daughter of a wealthy newspaper publisher, Austin Spencer (Sidney Blacker).

Garrett needs a successful follow-up book, and Austin has a dilly of a suggestion: As part of his own crusade against capital punishment, he and Tom will plant circumstantial evidence showing that Tom has killed a recently murdered showgirl. After Tom is convicted, Austin will produce all the carefully dated evidence to clear Tom's name. Two missions accomplished: They'll strike a blow against capital punishment based on circumstantial evidence, and it will also give Tom subject matter for what should be a best-selling book.

Tom and Austin elect not to let Susan in on their plans, so when Tom starts spending time with another showgirl (Barbara Nichols), Susan breaks off the engagement. A much bigger problem looms after Tom is convicted, when Austin is killed in a car crash and the exculpatory evidence can't be found. The hunt is on...

I was prepared to like this film, given the two lead actors, but while they do their usual fine work, the movie is marred by a very silly plot.

The screenplay, by Douglas Morrow, is simply impossible to believe, and both Tom and Austin are, simply put, a pair of dumbbells. Watching them like a pair of kids playing a game as they planted evidence here and there was unsettling and annoying. And leaving aside the government resources wasted by their scheme and the fact that they were ostensibly diverting the police from the hunt for the "real killer," they didn't plan well enough for the possibility of Austin's untimely death. The entire thing left me feeling impatient and disappointed.

It's all rather crazy, including a plot switcheroo at the very end, which was perhaps the only part of the film I found satisfying...very satisfying, given all that had gone before. Thankfully the movie was only 80 minutes long.

One aspect I did find interesting was the media angle, including a TV camera in the courtroom filming the trial, with recaps on the evening news, shades of the O.J. trial. Later Susan uses her newspaper to push for a pardon. I always find it of interest seeing how the media was portrayed in films made decades ago, as it sometimes seems rather little has changed over the years.

The supporting cast includes Arthur Franz, Shepperd Strudwick, Philip Bourneuf, Robin Raymond, and Dan Seymour.

BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT was filmed in black and white by William Snyder.

BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT was previously released by the Warner Archive in a remastered DVD.

The Blu-ray, which looks and sounds terrific, includes the trailer.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive Blu-rays may be ordered from the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.


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