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It was no wonder that courtroom dramas were all the rage in the 1950s; television had brought the real thing into millions of viewers' living rooms via the broadcast of the Army-McCarthy hearings. MGM, under Louis B. Mayer, had been virulently anti-Communist, but with Mayer long ousted and the studio under the new Dore Schary regime, the climate was positively liberal.
McCarthy's deserved humiliation and defeat on live TV may not have ended the blacklist; however, it set the tone for a lengthy healing process that would eventually span more than two decades to vindicate many of the political victims. It seemed apt that Metro would take on a project encompassing a number of controversial topics, and Trial (1955), based on the best-selling novel by Don Mankiewicz (who also penned the taut script), zeroed in on every falsehood perpetrated by the dreaded HUAC moniker.
In its 105-minute running time, the movie, about a Mexican youth's murder accusation and the crash exploitation behind it, managed to cover racial prejudice, witch hunting, the crooked judicial system and the deterioration of our education program. In fact, if the forces responsible for Trial were guilty of anything, it was, as a few critics pointed out, for attempting to cover too much at once. Nevertheless these aforementioned forces were formidable ones and, along with the excellent screenplay, the picture boasted a superb stellar cast led by Glenn Ford, who, with Blackboard Jungle (released the same year), shot from a popular leading man at Columbia Pictures to MGM superstar.
Supporting Ford were Dorothy McGuire, Arthur Kennedy, John Hodiak and Katy Jurado - all of whom (not coincidentally) had various liberal political ties. Ford's young Blackboard co-star Rafael Campos was re-united with the actor as the confused human pawn (appropriately named Angel). This select group was rounded out by a veritable character actor heaven, including Elisha Cook, Jr., Whit Bissell, Robert Middleton and John Hoyt. Particularly memorable is the great Juano Hernandez, portraying cinema's first African American judge. The Puerto Rican born actor is probably best known for his role as the lynching victim in Intruder in the Dust (1949), based on the William Faulkner novel.
For director Mark Robson, Trial would be nothing short of a crowning achievement. Having co-edited Citizen Kane (1941), then helming the Val Lewton RKO horror classics, Seventh Victim (1943) and Bedlam (1946), Robson had become "A-list" material with his handling of the 1949 Kirk Douglas smash Champion. Although today remembered for his lush big budget soaps like Peyton Place (1957) and the campy Valley of the Dolls (1967), Trial is generally considered to be his best work. And here's a last bit of trivia: Sheb Wooley, cast in the supporting role of Butteridge, once had a number one pop hit on the charts for six weeks in 1958 - "Purple People Eater."
Producer: Charles Schnee
Director: Mark Robson
Screenplay: Don M. Mankiewicz
Art Direction: Randall Duell, Cedric Gibbons
Cinematography: Robert Surtees
Film Editing: Albert Akst
Original Music: Daniele Amfitheatrof
Cast: Glenn Ford (David Blake), Dorothy McGuire (Abbe Nyle), Arthur Kennedy (Barney Castle), John Hodiak (John J. Armstrong), Katy Jurado (Consuela Chavez), Rafael Campos (Angel Chavez), Juano Hernandez (Judge Motley), Robert Middleton (A.A. 'Fats' Sanders), John Hoyt (Ralph Castillo), Elisha Cook, Jr. (Finn).
BW-110m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
by Mel Neuhaus