Beyond a Reasonable Doubt


1h 20m 1956
Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

Brief Synopsis

A novelist frames himself for murder to prove the fallibility of circumstantial evidence.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Mystery
Thriller
Legal
Film Noir
Release Date
Sep 1956
Premiere Information
New York opening: 13 Sep 1956; Los Angeles opening: 19 Sep 1956
Production Company
Bert Friedlob Productions, Inc.; RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States
Location
Benton, Louisiana, USA; Chicago, Illinois, United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 20m
Sound
Mono (RCA Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1

Synopsis

Newspaper publisher Austin Spencer, an advocate of abolishing capital punishment, invites his former employee, novelist Tom Garrett, to witness an execution orchestrated by district attorney Roy Thompson. At a bar afterward, Austin explains that he is concerned that Thompson, who wants to become governor, is repeatedly using circumstantial evidence to win the death sentence in order to create publicity. That night, Tom proposes to Austin's daughter Susan, and she gives him an engraved cigarette lighter as a gift. She wants to announce the wedding date, but after Tom receives a phone call, he informs her that his editor insists that he finish his novel immediately. Although Susan is upset about the postponement, she agrees to wait to marry. Later, Tom discusses capital punishment with Austin as a possible topic for his novel. Austin, who wants to prove that the legal system is too flawed to allow execution as a possible punishment, suggests that they find an unsolved crime, plant evidence that will condemn an innocent man, then finally reveal that the evidence was falsified. Soon after, Austin reads that an exotic dancer, Patty Gray, has been strangled, and convinces Tom, in order to use the details for his novel, to position himself as a possible suspect. First, Austin learns details about the case from a police detective, including the fact that Patty's fellow dancers, Sally Moore and Terry LaRue, saw her drive away the night of her murder with a man in a gray coat smoking a pipe, driving a dark sedan. Six days later, when no further clues have been found, Tom and Austin begin their scheme, agreeing not to inform Susan so she cannot reveal anything to the police. Tom makes Sally's acquaintance by first spilling a drink on her and later visiting her at the club with money for her cleaning bill. The rough Sally is so thrilled to have a wealthy suitor that she fails to notice when Tom steals her body makeup. Soon, Susan spots a photo of Tom and Sally in the newspaper and questions him about the affair, stating that she does not mind a fling but cannot bear him lying to her. Tom urges her to trust him, but when he refuses to clarify his relationship with Sally, Susan breaks off their engagement. Tom and Austin then visit the scene of the crime, where Austin photographs Tom leaving his cigarette case as a false clue. That night at the club, Terry notes Tom's gray jacket and dark car and worries that he may be Patty's killer, prompting Sally to inform police lieutenant Kennedy about her upcoming date with Tom. Meanwhile, as Austin photographs his activities as proof of his innocence, Tom cleans his car of all fingerprints, applies body makeup to the interior and leaves a stocking in his glove compartment. When Tom takes Sally out that evening, the police follow him, and upon seeing him harass Sally, arrest him. The police interrogate Tom for hours, during which he answers their questions truthfully. When he is indicted for murder, Susan urges Austin to intervene, and finds her father's nonchalance shocking. Thompson is eager to try the case in court, but his assistant, Bob Hale, is in love with Susan and hopes to help her prove Tom's innocence. At the trial, Thompson emphasizes Tom's coat, car and the lighter found at the scene. He conjectures that Tom, who proposed to Susan five days before Patty's murder, killed the dancer in order to conceal his past affair with her. As "evidence," he points to a large cash withdrawal Tom made from his bank on the same day that Patty went to work flaunting a large wad of cash, as well as pipe residue found in Tom's garage, despite Tom's insistence that he does not smoke. As the jury deliberates, Austin gathers his photographs and heads to Thompson's to reveal the ploy, but along the way is hit by a car. The explosion burns his body and the photographs. When Tom hears about Austin's death, he tells the true story to his lawyer, Jonathan Wilson, who notifies the judge. Without new evidence clearing Tom, however, the judge cannot stop the proceedings. Susan and Jonathan search Austin's safe for the photographs, but find none, prompting Susan to guess that they may have been burned in the car. When the police recover charred remains of photographs, Susan is completely convinced of Tom's innocence, and attempts to use her influence over the newspaper editors to sway public opinion in Tom's favor. No pardon can be granted, however, and the night before Tom's scheduled execution, Susan implores Bob to investigate further. He discovers that Patty, whose real name is Emma, stole money from a boyfriend who then threatened to kill her. Although Susan is thrilled by this revelation, Thompson soon learns that the boyfriend died years earlier. Just then, a probate lawyer arrives at Thompson's office with a just-discovered note that Austin left in his safe-deposit vault. The letter corroborates Tom's story and clears him of guilt. As the governor arrives to pardon Tom, Susan meets with Tom, and when he calls Patty "Emma," she realizes that he knew the dancer all along. Trapped, Tom admits that he killed Patty, an ex-wife who refused to allow him a divorce. Susan races home, and soon after, Bob visits. Although she tries to be brave, she breaks down and reveals Tom's secret to him. The governor is just about to sign Tom's pardon when Bob calls with the truth, and a horrified Tom is led back to his cell.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Mystery
Thriller
Legal
Film Noir
Release Date
Sep 1956
Premiere Information
New York opening: 13 Sep 1956; Los Angeles opening: 19 Sep 1956
Production Company
Bert Friedlob Productions, Inc.; RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States
Location
Benton, Louisiana, USA; Chicago, Illinois, United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 20m
Sound
Mono (RCA Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1

Articles

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt


The surprise-filled thriller Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956) may have been director Fritz Lang's final American film but it's certainly not one of his lesser ones. Analytically inclined viewers can still find Lang's familiar themes of guilt and innocence but anybody else will delight in trying to out-guess the various twists in the engaging story. Critic Derek Malcolm wrote, "It is a film of great economy and precision (it lasts only 80 minutes), with the terrifying inevitability of Greek tragedy and a pervading sense that man is his own worst enemy."

In fact, we don't want to give too much of the story away but we can let this much slip out: Novelist Dana Andrews is dating the daughter (Joan Fontaine) of a publisher (Sidney Blackmer) opposed to capital punishment. The publisher hatches a scheme where he and the novelist create enough circumstantial evidence in an unrelated case of a murdered dancer that Andrews appears to be responsible. They plan to spring Andrews at the last minute by revealing their deception and basking in a whirlwind of publicity about the unreliability of capital sentences and circumstantial evidence.

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt was acclaimed by many, though certainly not all, critics. Jean-Luc Godard picked it as one of the year's ten best, snuggled right between Chaplin's A King in New York and Bunuel's The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz. However, Beyond a Reasonable Doubt didn't have a very smooth production. Director Lang felt forced into the film by producer Bert Friedlob and, tired of fighting, he restrained much of his legendary combativeness. It didn't help that Dana Andrews was drinking, resulting in missed deadlines until the studio assigned a man to monitor Andrews (which didn't work). Even the beginning and ending of the film resulted in fights between Lang and Friedlob. A portion of the opening execution scene was toned down by the producer (but apparently not as much as he would have liked). As for the unusual climax, Lang finally stood his ground (even though he told Peter Bogdanovich "I was very afraid of the ending"). At least the script was by a one-time lawyer, Douglas Morrow, who had earlier won an Oscar for The Stratton Story (1949).

But all these struggles capped Lang's growing dissatisfaction with Hollywood until he finally told Friedlob, "I don't want to have anything to do with you anymore or the American motion picture industry." After Lang's departure, editor Gene Fowler, Jr., a personal friend of the director, put the film together following Lang's instructions closely. (Fowler would later direct the B-movie classic, I Married a Monster from Outer Space, 1958) Lang directed three more films in Europe: a two-part remake of The Indian Tomb (1959) and the surveillance-mad 1000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse (1960). He also had an unforgettable acting role in Godard's Contempt (1963) as a director trying to make a film version of The Odyssey.

Producer: Bert E. Friedlob
Director: Fritz Lang
Screenplay: Douglas Morrow (also story)
Art Direction: Carroll Clark
Cinematography: William Snyder
Film Editing: Gene Fowler, Jr.
Original Music: Herschel Burke Gilbert
Principal Cast: Dana Andrews (Tom Garrett), Joan Fontaine (Susan Spencer), Sidney Blackmer (Austin Spencer), Arthur Franz (Hale), Philip Bourneuf (Thompson), Barbara Nichols (Dolly Moore), Shepperd Strudwick (Wilson).
BW-81m. Closed captioning.

by Lang Thompson

Beyond A Reasonable Doubt

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

The surprise-filled thriller Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956) may have been director Fritz Lang's final American film but it's certainly not one of his lesser ones. Analytically inclined viewers can still find Lang's familiar themes of guilt and innocence but anybody else will delight in trying to out-guess the various twists in the engaging story. Critic Derek Malcolm wrote, "It is a film of great economy and precision (it lasts only 80 minutes), with the terrifying inevitability of Greek tragedy and a pervading sense that man is his own worst enemy." In fact, we don't want to give too much of the story away but we can let this much slip out: Novelist Dana Andrews is dating the daughter (Joan Fontaine) of a publisher (Sidney Blackmer) opposed to capital punishment. The publisher hatches a scheme where he and the novelist create enough circumstantial evidence in an unrelated case of a murdered dancer that Andrews appears to be responsible. They plan to spring Andrews at the last minute by revealing their deception and basking in a whirlwind of publicity about the unreliability of capital sentences and circumstantial evidence. Beyond a Reasonable Doubt was acclaimed by many, though certainly not all, critics. Jean-Luc Godard picked it as one of the year's ten best, snuggled right between Chaplin's A King in New York and Bunuel's The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz. However, Beyond a Reasonable Doubt didn't have a very smooth production. Director Lang felt forced into the film by producer Bert Friedlob and, tired of fighting, he restrained much of his legendary combativeness. It didn't help that Dana Andrews was drinking, resulting in missed deadlines until the studio assigned a man to monitor Andrews (which didn't work). Even the beginning and ending of the film resulted in fights between Lang and Friedlob. A portion of the opening execution scene was toned down by the producer (but apparently not as much as he would have liked). As for the unusual climax, Lang finally stood his ground (even though he told Peter Bogdanovich "I was very afraid of the ending"). At least the script was by a one-time lawyer, Douglas Morrow, who had earlier won an Oscar for The Stratton Story (1949). But all these struggles capped Lang's growing dissatisfaction with Hollywood until he finally told Friedlob, "I don't want to have anything to do with you anymore or the American motion picture industry." After Lang's departure, editor Gene Fowler, Jr., a personal friend of the director, put the film together following Lang's instructions closely. (Fowler would later direct the B-movie classic, I Married a Monster from Outer Space, 1958) Lang directed three more films in Europe: a two-part remake of The Indian Tomb (1959) and the surveillance-mad 1000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse (1960). He also had an unforgettable acting role in Godard's Contempt (1963) as a director trying to make a film version of The Odyssey. Producer: Bert E. Friedlob Director: Fritz Lang Screenplay: Douglas Morrow (also story) Art Direction: Carroll Clark Cinematography: William Snyder Film Editing: Gene Fowler, Jr. Original Music: Herschel Burke Gilbert Principal Cast: Dana Andrews (Tom Garrett), Joan Fontaine (Susan Spencer), Sidney Blackmer (Austin Spencer), Arthur Franz (Hale), Philip Bourneuf (Thompson), Barbara Nichols (Dolly Moore), Shepperd Strudwick (Wilson). BW-81m. Closed captioning. by Lang Thompson

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

According to a September 1954 Daily Variety news item, Ida Lupino, her then-husband Howard Duff and writer Douglas Morrow formed an independent production company in order to film Beyond a Reasonable Doubt. Lupino was to co-write the screenplay with Morrow, and Duff and Joseph Cotten were set to star. In September 1955, however, Hollywood Reporter announced that Bert Friedlob had purchased Morrow's original story for his newly formed independent production company, Bert Friedlob Productions. On March 28, 1956, Hollywood Reporter reported that Friedlob had created his company in order to distinguish between his California and New York interests. According to an April 1956 Los Angeles Examiner article, Morrow was inspired to write Beyond a Reasonable Doubt by a 1955 Gallup poll that indicated that Americans were evenly divided in their responses to capital punishment.
       A January 1956 Hollywood Reporter news item indicates that some scenes were shot on location in Chicago. The picture marked director Fritz Lang's last American film. According to modern sources, Lang, who made his first American film, Fury, in 1936, had grown so tired of studio interference, amplified by his disagreements with Friedlob, that he decided to return to his native Germany. He made only a few more films there before retiring in 1960. Lang returned to the U.S., where he died in 1976.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Fall September 5, 1956

Remake of the RKO film "Beyond a Reasonable Doubt" (USA/1956), directed by Fritz Lang and starring Dana Andrews and Joan Fontaine.

Franc Reyes was previously attached to direct.

Jonathan Mostow was previously attached to direct and produce.

Project was previously in development at New Regency. Regency Enterprises bought the project off of David Collard's script version in 2004.

Released in United States Fall September 5, 1956

Project was previously in development at Universal Pictures.

The first film from an independent production company formed by Ida Lupino, Howard Duff and Douglas Morrow.

RKO-Scope