Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956)

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956)
Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956)

Run time: 80 min
Rating: 7.0
Genres: Crime | Film-Noir | Drama
Director: Fritz Lang
Writers: Douglas Morrow
Stars: Dana Andrews, Joan Fontaine, Sidney Blackmer
A shadowy melodrama of a writer who frames himself for murder on circumstantial evidence to expose “the system”.  There are many plot twists, and the dark ambience is gripping.
Release Date: 5 September 1956 (USA)

4 responses to “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956)”

  1. IMDBReviewer says:

    For his final Hollywood film, Fritz Lang decided to expose the pitfalls of capital punishment for circumstantial evidence. For this film, Lang has kept it simple; with the entire movie focusing on the central premise and not a lot of anything else going on. Filmmakers can sometimes saturate a film with lots of sub-plots, and it can have a huge detrimental effect on what the film is trying to achieve. By keeping it simple, Lang gives himself time to fully explore the implications of his plot and the film is made more compelling because of this. The story follows Austin Spencer; a person of stature that is continually campaigning against circumstantial evidence being used as a means to send someone to the electric chair. His efforts are unsuccessful, until he has the bright idea to have a man sent to death row on circumstantial evidence, only to be pardoned at the last minute by means of the evidence to prove his innocence being brought to light. Enter Tom Garrett; Austin’s son in law to be, and the man that agrees to frame himself for murder…

    This is perhaps Lang’s best assault on the American justice system; he has created a story that is interesting and very plausible and it works a treat in that it gets you thinking about the fact that with this kind of law; someone really could be killed for something they didn’t do. Of course, the chances of someone risking being put to death to expose this are unlikely, but then again; it’s only a movie, so you can expect to suspend your belief a little for a point to be made. Beyond a Reasonable Doubt also features one of the most finely tuned plot twists that I’ve seen in a movie. Lang shows us everything about the plot; from the first ideas, to the setting up, all the way to the trial and because of this; the final twist comes as a complete surprise. It’s been done and done a million times since this film, but despite this; Beyond a Reasonable Doubt still has the power to shock the viewer.

    Beyond a Reasonable Doubt is one of the highlights of Lang’s illustrious filmography. It has an unfairly low IMDb rating, and I hope that you will not use that as a means of deciding whether or not to see this film. It is efficient story telling at it’s best and this is one of the highlights of the film noir era.

  2. IMDBReviewer says:

    "Beyond a Reasonable Doubt" is a curious film – it has the look and feel of a B movie and two stars who had seen better days – Dana Andrews and Joan Fontaine – yet it’s a good script directed by Fritz Lang. A novelist (Andrews) and his future father-in-law, a newspaper magnet (Sidney Blackmer) work together to prove that the death penalty isn’t justified by framing Andrews for a recent murder.

    I thought the story excellent with some exciting twists, though the whole movie has an underplayed (not to mention inexpensive) feeling to it. Fontaine seemed a little old for her role. However, she does a good job as a sophisticate, and Andrews is good as well. Barbara Nichols does a fine job in a typical supporting role for her.

    Lang returned to Germany after this film, his last in America. It’s an effective plot but one wishes the man who made Metropolis and so many other fine films was given more of a budget for his swansong.

  3. IMDBReviewer says:

    Tom Garrett is a writer engaged to the daughter of wealthy newspaper man Austin Spencer. Spencer is also firmly against the death penalty. With Tom looking for a subject for a second novel, Spencer suggests that they set Tom up for an unsolved murder using circumstantial evidence to prove how easy it would be for the courts to kill an innocent man. Once Tom is sentenced to the chair, Spencer will expose the failings in the system and free him. However when Spencer is killed in car crash and none of the evidence can be found then Tom faces the chair.

    A very interesting concept still needs a good delivery to make for a good film. This not only had a good idea but it was also a fair point to be made about the death penalty. The film moves along with a good build up for the whole first half. However once Tom finds himself in real trouble then the film strangely doesn’t manage to deliver as much tension as it really should have done. Conversely the film becomes more of a melodrama for a while and it loses a lot of momentum. There are some nice touches at the end but they can’t completely make up for the weaknesses in the middle section.

    It is quite atmospheric but not to the point that I had hoped but Lang does a good job on direction. The cast are OK. Andrews has long been one of my favourite actors from the period and he gives a solid if unspectacular show here. Fontaine is weaker and doesn’t quite convince as well as Andrews but is fine. Blackmer is pretty enjoyable as Austin Spencer and Ed Binns is a familiar face as Lt. Kennedy.

    It doesn’t quite work as you’d hope as the tension drops off at the exactly the moment that it needs to step up a notch. It is worth watching but it is not one of Lang’s better films.

  4. rgkeenan says:

    The owner of an important newspaper Austin Spencer (Sidney Blackmer) opposes to the capital punishment and particularly to the prosecutor Roy Thompson (Philip Bourneuf), who has just succeeded in a trial based on circumstantial evidences. When a dancer is strangled and the police have no suspect, Austin convinces his future son-in-law, the prominent writer Tom Garrett (Dana Andrews), to plant circumstantial evidences to self-incriminate, while he would hold pictures, receipts and other evidences of his innocence until the very last moment. Later Austin would begin a campaign in his newspaper disclosing the possibility of sending an innocent to the electric chair. They decide to hide the truth from Austin's daughter Susan (Joan Fontaine) since she could not support the situation under stress. When the jury withdraws from the court in the end of the trial to give the sentence, Austin takes the evidences that prove the innocence of Tom from his safe, but has a car accident and dies. Tom is sentenced to death penalty and tries to convince Susan of his innocence as his last hope.

    "Beyond a Reasonable Doubt" is a great film-noir with a surprising twist in the very end. The plot seems to be naive – who would accept to be accused of murder just to prove a point against the death penalty? – but after the very last twist, the concept changes from naive to Machiavellian. I have glanced unfair reviews in IMDb that I do not agree, since I liked this movie a lot. My vote is eight.

    Title (Brazil): "Suplício de uma Alma" ("Torment of a Soul")

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