USA 1947, 88 minutes

Programme Notes

In 1924 in the town of Bridgeport, Connecticut, a popular priest was gunned down in the street. There were witnesses, but no one recognised the murderer. The police were baffled, but they felt they had to make an arrest – local feelings were running high and there was an election coming up. They arrested a drifter who vaguely matched the description; the evidence was slim, but he confessed. Case settled. Everybody wanted it to be. The District Attorney had his doubts, but came under strong pressure to keep them to himself; the drifter’s guilt had become a matter of politics rather than truth.

Producer Louis de Rochement came across a magazine article on the case, and used it as a basis for a fictionalized version. His background was in documentaries, including the March of Time newsreels, and director Elia Kazan made the film in a semi-documentary style, shooting much of it on location. At the time this was criticized, but it gives the film an air of authenticity which, along with strong performances by the lead players and unexpectedly good ones by local people in supporting roles, makes it very convincing.

Although the dramatic heart of the film is the courtroom examination of the evidence, the moral heart is the pressure that the police chief and the DA come under to get the ‘right’ result. The DA in particular is vulnerable; although totally innocent, he could be falsely implicated in a crooked land deal. There are obvious parallels with Hidden Agenda: while a local party official doesn’t really compare with the might of governments, the DA’s local reputation, and hence his wider ambitions, could be threatened. In retrospect, Kazan wished he’d made more of the chicanery in local politics, which he realised was more widespread and more complex than he’d shown, and certainly many of his films involve people’s moral choices when society or the powers that be are corrupt or simply against them. In 1952 Kazan had his own to make when called before the House Committee on Un-American Activities; he confessed, named names, and went back to work, which some never forgave him for. Had he not done so we might have been deprived of his later films, which included the classic On the Waterfront. Moral decisions are always easier in the movies!

Henry L Harvey: Dana Andrews
Madge Harvey: Jane Wyatt
Chief Robinson: Lee J Cobb
John Waldron: Arthur Kennedy
Director: Elia Kazan
Producer: Louis de Rochement
Screenplay: Richard Murphy
Photography: Norbert Brodine