Blu-Ray Review – Compulsion (1959)

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compulsion orson welles

The Leopold and Loeb case has been a source for inspiration for creatives since the play Rope in 1929. Alfred Hitchcock adapted the play years later into one of his most daring films in 1948. The Leopold and Loeb case got a New Queer cinema makeover with Swoon in 1992. However the best version of the events is Compulsion starring a very young Dean Stockwell and Bradford Dillman as the fictionalised versions of Leopold and Loeb.

Compulsion is directed by Richard Fleischer who was one of the classic examples of a nuts and bolts director for hire. His filmography is diverse and includes such films as Soylent GreenThe Narrow Margin, The Spikes Gang to some of his final films which were sequels to The Amityville Horror and Conan the Conan the Barbarian. He may not be considered an auteur but it’s often harder to adapt your work ethic to wide variety of films over many genres.

Given the fact the film was made in 1959 the homosexuality of Leopold and Loeb who are renamed in the film Artie Straus (Bradford Dillman) and Judd Steiner (Dean Stockwell) is only suggested. The way Judd speaks of his friend Artie and his looks towards him suggests their romantic involvement. They bond over a fascination of Nietzsche and they plot to commit the perfect murder so they can be Übermensch.

Despite getting top billing Orson Welles doesn’t arrived in the film till the last 40 minutes but he completely steals the film from the young actors. Welles of course is probably the greatest director to ever live but he also was an actor for hire so he could fund his own films. His performance in Compulsion is probably the finest bit of acting he did outside of his own films, he commands the screen both physically and his long plea against the death penalty is as convincing as any documentary on the subject.

When it premiered at 1959 Cannes Film Festival it become one of the rare occasions where the best actor award was shared and it was between Dillman, Stockwell and Welles. The film however wasn’t a huge hit and faded away into obscurity where it still remains to some extent. However with this new Blu-Ray from Signal One Entertainment it should get another lease of life.  The special features include both an audio and video lecture from Fleischer at NFT along with a reproduction of the 7″ record of Welles’ plea in the courtroom which I actually own an original of. It also has a new 4K restoration which looks fantastic.

Ian Schultz

Biography, Crime, Drama |USA, 1959 | 12 | Signal One Entertainment | Dir. Richard Fleischer | Orson Welles, Dean Stockwell, Diane Varsi, Bradford Dillman, Martin Milner | Buy: [Blu-ray]