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Trial

Trial(1955)

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NOTES

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Opening credits note that Don Mankiewicz's screenplay was adapted from his "Harper's Prize Novel." According to the Hollywood Reporter review and a NYMirror-News news item, the prestigious award, given to Mankiewicz in 1954 for his unpublished manuscript of Trial, carried with it $10,000 and guaranteed publication of the novel by Harper's Publishing. Mankiewicz was subsequently paid $25,000 for screen rights and hired to write the film adaptation of his work. The Hollywood Reporter review indicates that Mankiewicz gave the screenplay a happier ending and developed the love story in more detail than in the novel. According to studio publicity material, Grosset and Dunlap published a special edition of Trial to tie-in with the release of the film. The film's closing credits provide character names for the principal players superimposed over scenes from the film featuring the respective actors.
       According to news items in NYMirror-News and in New York Times, the New York City rally scene was shot at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. Filmed over three days at a cost of $110,000, the scene used 2,000 extras, 750 of whom were students from the nearby University of Southern California. Correspondence dated March 1955 and contained in the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS library indicates that M-G-M executives were concerned that the script might appear as a "subtly Communist vehicle" given the negative comments made by the protagonist about the fictitious Senator's zealous pursuit of Communists and the sympathy accorded his love interest, a former Party member. However, correspondence to studio executives from PCA officials makes no mention of any suggestion of pro-Communist sentiment and the above plot elements remain in the filmed version. The PCA office was highly critical of the script's intimation that David and Abbe spend the night together and of oblique references to Abbe's prior affair with her boss, both of which remain in the film.
       Trial received generally laudatory reviews and was praised for its historical significance and depiction of race relations. The Hollywood Reporter review declared not only that "every American should see it," but also "every European" since this film would "prove...that Americans, in their approach to history, are not stupid, not children, and not nave." The feature article in Life magazine emphasized the timeliness of the film by noting that at a Harlem rally protesting the acquittal of two white men accused of murdering fourteen-year-old Emmett Till for whistling at a white woman, one African-American speaker warned the crowd not to accept any help from the Communist Party because "their support is the kiss of death." The Daily Variety review proclaimed the film's depiction of Judge Motley a notable advance in the representation of black characters, adding that if the Birth of a Nation "was the Negro race's greatest misfortune," Trial May be its "greatest break in terms of a fully felt, many-sided, warm human being." Arthur Kennedy received an Academy Award nomination in the Best Supporting Actor category for his portrayal of "Barney Castle."