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good drama wrapped in a B production
blanche-22 September 2005
"Beyond a Reasonable Doubt" is a curious film - it has the look and feel of a B movie and two stars who had seen better days - Dana Andrews and Joan Fontaine - yet it's a good script directed by Fritz Lang. A novelist (Andrews) and his future father-in-law, a newspaper magnet (Sidney Blackmer) work together to prove that the death penalty isn't justified by framing Andrews for a recent murder.

I thought the story excellent with some exciting twists, though the whole movie has an underplayed (not to mention inexpensive) feeling to it. Fontaine seemed a little old for her role. However, she does a good job as a sophisticate, and Andrews is good as well. Barbara Nichols does a fine job in a typical supporting role for her.

Lang returned to Germany after this film, his last in America. It's an effective plot but one wishes the man who made Metropolis and so many other fine films was given more of a budget for his swansong.
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Last but by no means least for Lang!
The_Void17 November 2004
For his final Hollywood film, Fritz Lang decided to expose the pitfalls of capital punishment for circumstantial evidence. For this film, Lang has kept it simple; with the entire movie focusing on the central premise and not a lot of anything else going on. Filmmakers can sometimes saturate a film with lots of sub-plots, and it can have a huge detrimental effect on what the film is trying to achieve. By keeping it simple, Lang gives himself time to fully explore the implications of his plot and the film is made more compelling because of this. The story follows Austin Spencer; a person of stature that is continually campaigning against circumstantial evidence being used as a means to send someone to the electric chair. His efforts are unsuccessful, until he has the bright idea to have a man sent to death row on circumstantial evidence, only to be pardoned at the last minute by means of the evidence to prove his innocence being brought to light. Enter Tom Garrett; Austin's son in law to be, and the man that agrees to frame himself for murder...

This is perhaps Lang's best assault on the American justice system; he has created a story that is interesting and very plausible and it works a treat in that it gets you thinking about the fact that with this kind of law; someone really could be killed for something they didn't do. Of course, the chances of someone risking being put to death to expose this are unlikely, but then again; it's only a movie, so you can expect to suspend your belief a little for a point to be made. Beyond a Reasonable Doubt also features one of the most finely tuned plot twists that I've seen in a movie. Lang shows us everything about the plot; from the first ideas, to the setting up, all the way to the trial and because of this; the final twist comes as a complete surprise. It's been done and done a million times since this film, but despite this; Beyond a Reasonable Doubt still has the power to shock the viewer.

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt is one of the highlights of Lang's illustrious filmography. It has an unfairly low IMDb rating, and I hope that you will not use that as a means of deciding whether or not to see this film. It is efficient story telling at it's best and this is one of the highlights of the film noir era.
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Bizarre, Twisted & Very Enjoyable
seymourblack-124 March 2012
Warning: Spoilers
"Beyong A Reasonable Doubt" is an offbeat thriller with a fascinating plot about two men who devise a dangerous scheme to expose the flawed nature of the legal system, the uncertain value of circumstantial evidence and the inherent dangers of using the death penalty as a form of punishment for certain crimes. The clever set-up for the story, a number of entertaining plot twists and a good deal of suspense make the whole film compelling to watch and compensate greatly for some of its shortcomings which appear to be attributable mainly to its low budget.

Newspaper publisher Austin Spencer (Sidney Blackmer) is an opponent of capital punishment who's become concerned about the conduct of his local D.A. Roy Thompson (Philip Bourneuf) who regularly uses circumstantial evidence to secure convictions for crimes which are punishable by the death penalty. Austin's concerns relate to the unreliable nature of the evidence, the risk of an innocent man being executed and the belief that the D.A. is more concerned with gaining publicity to advance his political career than he is about ensuring that the justice system operates fairly.

Austin explains his concerns to Tom Garrett (Dana Andrews) a novelist who used to work for him as a reporter and suggests a plan that could lead to an innocent man being sentenced to death for a crime he didn't commit. If the plan could be carried out successfully and the man's innocence could subsequently be proved, the use of capital punishment could be effectively discredited.

Tom, who's engaged to be married to Austin's daughter Susan (Joan Fontaine), agrees to be framed for the murder of a nightclub dancer and as he plants various items of phony evidence, Austin takes photographs which could later be used to prove that Tom's not the murderer. The plan seems to work well and Tom is eventually arrested and tried before the jury withdraw to consider their verdict. At this point, as planned, Austin gathers together the various documents and photographs that will prove Tom's innocence but before he's able to present them to the appropriate officials he's killed in a car crash and all the material that he's carrying which is pertinent to the case is burned in the wreckage. This leaves Tom in an incredibly tight spot and the developments that follow are genuinely surprising.

It's deeply ironic that the two men whose scheme is intended to highlight the unfairness and deficiencies of the justice system actually have no concerns about misleading the police by planting false evidence, wasting their time in processing the case or impeding them in their pursuit of the real culprit. Furthermore, both men have no scruples about their plans to exploit the scheme for their own profit as it will provide good material for Austin's newspapers and Tom's next book.

"Beyond A Reasonable Doubt" is a real no-frills production with some acting performances which are rather perfunctory in nature. The main strengths of this movie however, are its lively pace, its wonderfully bizarre plot and the unexpected twists which make it so intriguing and enjoyable to watch.
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Surprising Twist in a Great Film-Noir
claudio_carvalho20 November 2007
The owner of an important newspaper Austin Spencer (Sidney Blackmer) opposes to the capital punishment and particularly to the prosecutor Roy Thompson (Philip Bourneuf), who has just succeeded in a trial based on circumstantial evidences. When a dancer is strangled and the police have no suspect, Austin convinces his future son-in-law, the prominent writer Tom Garrett (Dana Andrews), to plant circumstantial evidences to self-incriminate, while he would hold pictures, receipts and other evidences of his innocence until the very last moment. Later Austin would begin a campaign in his newspaper disclosing the possibility of sending an innocent to the electric chair. They decide to hide the truth from Austin's daughter Susan (Joan Fontaine) since she could not support the situation under stress. When the jury withdraws from the court in the end of the trial to give the sentence, Austin takes the evidences that prove the innocence of Tom from his safe, but has a car accident and dies. Tom is sentenced to death penalty and tries to convince Susan of his innocence as his last hope.

"Beyond a Reasonable Doubt" is a great film-noir with a surprising twist in the very end. The plot seems to be naive – who would accept to be accused of murder just to prove a point against the death penalty? – but after the very last twist, the concept changes from naive to Machiavellian. I have glanced unfair reviews in IMDb that I do not agree, since I liked this movie a lot. My vote is eight.

Title (Brazil): "Suplício de uma Alma" ("Torment of a Soul")
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An excellent modernist noir
tsavc16 September 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Fritz Lang's last film in America saw him reunited with some of the people with whom he had made WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS, and while the budget is still clearly poverty row, once again he comes up with a terrific commentary on the ills at the heart of fifties America. This time, it's the death penalty that forms the centrepiece of the film - or it seems to be, since that's the plot motor. But look closer, and you'll find it's actually about two of Lang's most familiar subjects: guilt and hypocrisy. Almost everyone in the film lives a double life, most obviously Dana Andrews' writer, but even Joan Fontaine's deeply frustrated spinster, who really can't wait to marry Andrews, and whose horror, when she discovers his double life is palpable. Lang floats above his subject matter elegantly, occasionally dipping his toe into the sleaze (a wonderful scene towards the end with a Miami strip-joint owner), getting terrific performances and indicting an entire society.
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Too strained and imperfect for even Lang, Fontaine, and Andrews? Yes, sadly.
secondtake17 March 2014
Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956)

An early wide screen black and white drama that marks the end of Fritz Lang's American career and also shows the winding down of two great stars, Joan Fontaine and Dana Andrews. The film is no send off, exactly, but it is slightly tired, as if the formula of movie-making needs a twist and it isn't here.

That's not the point, of course. This is now the mid-fifties, crisis time for Hollywood, and with widescreen (and widescreen color) movies making a final jab at the rise of television. The plot is sensational, and not too far from what an extended early television drama might try, with mostly interior shooting and a staged (sometimes stagey) presentation. In all it's not Lang's best, and he was a master at both noir/expressionist drama and at getting to the human dilemma of fate and murder.

Andrews and Fontaine are not a bad pair—both are matched in calm and sophistication, and beauty, even, though Fontaine seems like an accessory until the very end. Andrews rules the plot, which makes him out to be a writer desperate for a new story. So desperate he's going to pretend to commit a murder just to test the justice system.

It's all so outrageous you want to believe it, though your mind says it just wouldn't happen. It's too convenient, and one man's suggestion from the newspaper turns out to be the other man's reality. Enough said!

Oddly enough, this is an RKO distribution even after the studio's demise (I don't know the reasons there) but it might point to a less than perfect crew. Certainly the cinematographer, which Lang relied on greatly in earlier films, is no one with credentials. Likewise the editing and writing are fairly routine, even lackluster. And so if a movie that depends on some psychological intensity is really a bit of a grunt effort, whatever the star power involved, it's a bit doomed.

So watch this if you are curious about any of the parts. I'm a fan of all three of the principles here, and so had to watch it. But I didn't walk away impressed.
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why BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT is Lang's best US film
Howard_B_Eale3 January 2009
Sometimes, in the world of 1940s-1950s film noir, we are given a film so transparently impossible and contrived that we can see ourselves giving up on watching it half way through. But is extremely rare that we are faced with a film where the very response the viewer is having holds the key to the success, rather than the failure, of the film.

Such is the case with BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT, which has - to its credit - been completely misunderstood by many. When we reach the film's conclusion, we realize that even the title of the film itself is a joke, perhaps the ultimate prank on the viewer. Yet to offer analysis of the film would be to destroy its main and most sinister motive; you can't "explain away" the glaring plot holes and contrivances without revealing the twist the film takes in its climax, and to do would rob the viewer of a genuine experience. So... I won't.

Suffice it to say, BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT is far more than it seems and is nothing without the sum of its parts, in total. Lang tackles the story of a person who creates a fictitious role for himself in order to, essentially, pull a fast one on the legal profession for personal gain (or, as it appears on the surface, someone else's). In the world of film noir, of course, we know that such a character won't get away with it, but when Lang depicts the tragedy the viewer knows will come, he majestically turns the entire premise on its head. As a result, it's a cold slap in the face - a devastating critique of the complicity of the audience in following along, hungrily, with such contrivances in cinema.

Every part of the film fits perfectly by not fitting at all. Even the visual style of the film is a cold, rarely pleasing one, almost daring you to suspend your disbelief just a little bit longer without even granting the pleasure of emotionally charged close-ups at key moments. The editing is brutal and jarring, cutting away practically mid-sentence and moving to a similar conversation elsewhere.

As a swan song to his Hollywood career, BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT does to the audience what Billy Wilder does to the industry in SUNSET BLVD. - biting the hand that feeds. The result is a total masterpiece.
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Not as taut as it should have been or as meaningful
bob the moo23 March 2003
Tom Garrett is a writer engaged to the daughter of wealthy newspaper man Austin Spencer. Spencer is also firmly against the death penalty. With Tom looking for a subject for a second novel, Spencer suggests that they set Tom up for an unsolved murder using circumstantial evidence to prove how easy it would be for the courts to kill an innocent man. Once Tom is sentenced to the chair, Spencer will expose the failings in the system and free him. However when Spencer is killed in car crash and none of the evidence can be found then Tom faces the chair.

A very interesting concept still needs a good delivery to make for a good film. This not only had a good idea but it was also a fair point to be made about the death penalty. The film moves along with a good build up for the whole first half. However once Tom finds himself in real trouble then the film strangely doesn't manage to deliver as much tension as it really should have done. Conversely the film becomes more of a melodrama for a while and it loses a lot of momentum. There are some nice touches at the end but they can't completely make up for the weaknesses in the middle section.

It is quite atmospheric but not to the point that I had hoped but Lang does a good job on direction. The cast are OK. Andrews has long been one of my favourite actors from the period and he gives a solid if unspectacular show here. Fontaine is weaker and doesn't quite convince as well as Andrews but is fine. Blackmer is pretty enjoyable as Austin Spencer and Ed Binns is a familiar face as Lt. Kennedy.

It doesn't quite work as you'd hope as the tension drops off at the exactly the moment that it needs to step up a notch. It is worth watching but it is not one of Lang's better films.
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An Arranged Jackpot
bkoganbing9 September 2011
In his last film in the USA before returning to Germany where he had left to escape the Nazis in the Thirties, Fritz Lang takes up the case of capital punishment and its application, especially when the case is a circumstantial one.

Unlike the remake of Beyond A Reasonable Doubt with Jesse Metcalfe as the reporter and Michael Douglas as a corrupt District Attorney, both Sidney Blackmer as a newspaper publisher and Sheppard Strudwick as the politically ambitious DA hold each other in respect. Blackmer is not happy with Strudwick running up a string of murder convictions as a platform to be governor.

He and prospective son-in-law Dana Andrews agree to frame Andrews with a string of manufactured evidence all carefully documented with photographs to have the police arrest him for murder of a burlesque queen that the police are stumped about. It certainly works all right, but as the case is coming to verdict, Blackmer is killed in an automobile accident and the evidence burn with him. Andrews is left in quite the jackpot.

How it all works out is for you to see. Andrews is not abandoned by fiancé Joan Fontaine who is Blackmer's daughter. She does what she can and toward the end of the film her performance dominates.

Fritz Lang certainly builds the tension worthy of Alfred Hitchcock himself. One scene did have me baffled. After the police have gotten those arranged clues, Andrews makes some moves on burlesque dancer Barbara Nichols who resists his advances. I could not quite believe that one at all.

This original version is a notch or two above the Metcalfe/Douglas remake. Though it got an interesting alternative remake, this is still the one to see.
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Cold and remarkable (spoilers)
alice liddell12 July 2000
Warning: Spoilers
When we think of the great Hollywood films, we probably think of sensuality, the way they manipulate our emotions through suspense, fear, laughter, sensation, melodrama. BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT might seem to be the antithesis of this kind of film - its cold, formal, mathematical, forbidding distance. It is as brutally insensitive to audience weaknesses as Tom Garrett is to his fiancee - like Lang, he creates a plot to prove something; his lack of humanity, though, counteracts the supposed humanitarianism of his cause, even before we discover his real motives.

DOUBT is a cruel movie, which makes its 'implausibility' and 'unrealism' (sic?) part of its theme. Most Hollywood films offer us a hero, no matter how flawed, with whom an audience can identify, with whom they can experience the ups and downs, joys and pains, dangers and relief; he will generally have some redeeming feature, eg Norman Bates' gentleness, Roger Thornhill's charm. Lang refuses us such luxury. Tom is a deeply unpleasant man from the start. There are two realms in the film, that of life, a passive realm, of women, who depend on the time and money of men, who must prostitute themselves for status (both Susan and the strippers); this is a sensual world of the body.

Then there is the male realm, icy, intellectual, where plans are hatched, where gods tamper with life and law, use them as playthings, ideas. Tom's dilemma is that he belongs to both. Initially, we are led to suspect that Tom's decision to experiment is a chance to slum, to visit the seedy dives prohibited by his airless upper-middle-class milieu before his marriage, an example of double standards in a male-dominated society.

But even at an early stage, the ease with which he assumes his role, his familiarity with the environment, the codes, the language, make one suspicious. So then we query Austin's interest, his chilling suggestion to use a man as a guinea-pig to test the unfairness of capital punishment. He is the classic liberal in the abstract, the sort of man who would justify the gulags as necessary for the greater good. When Tom fobs Susan off with an affirmation of physical desire, we notice Austin's strange look, and wonder if he is trying to set Tom up, wary of his social ambitions or sexual predatoriness (where is Mrs. Spencer)?

Tom is a classic noir (and even Victorian) split personality. He navigates two environments, two histories, two (even three) women. Either way, he has committed two crimes, either killing the girl, or planting evidence, obstructing the course of justice. This is a bleak Hollywood instance of the 'hero' being punished, killed, revealed not to be a hero. So who is? Hardly Susan, a mere nuisance in the men's big schemes - her taking over power, by running the paper, and trying to inject emotion into the chilly plot by sentimental appeal dries up like a tear in the desert. Her ex-lover, the dull, dutiful policeman, is in the ironic position of trying to save a murderer from death row, so the latter can marry the woman he loves (the sordid sexual engine of this plot motor is unmistakable and unpleasant).

DOUBT has been praised for its geometric austerity, its theorem-like drive. Every shot is dominated by lines, rectangles, and especially triangles, from the sets and camera movements to the placing of characters. But what does the theorem demonstrate? The easy manipulation of American justice (Tom is only foiled by a stupid slip)? The inability of anything, law, art etc. to explain the randomness of life? In its extreme formalism, its spare mise-en-scene, its profusion of screens in different scenes (eg the restaurant and the courtroom) makes the film feel Oriental, and, like AI NO CORRIDA, there is an analysis of surveillance in the public sphere, from the cameras recoding the trial to the DA's trampling the spirit of the law for political gain. There are two extraordinary sequences in this chilling film - the opening execution, a mixture of funeral march and dream; and the pan in the jail over the prisoners that must have been in Godard's head when he made WEEK END.
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Very surprising
Liza-1911 December 2000
This film was on TV not too long ago, and I loved it. I was watching because of the cast, Dana Andrews and Joan Fontaine are reason enough to watch it, but I was very pleasantly surprised. I knew that there was going to be some sort of twist ending, so I was expecting the unexpected - and I was still surprised! Good performances from the entire cast, a job very well done.
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Too low-key to thrill
Oct27 September 2004
Fritz Lang's twenty years as a Hollywood refugee, which had started so spiritedly with "Fury", gradually wound down to the grey, listless offering that is "Beyond a Reasonable Doubt". True, Lang's first and last titles have family resemblances. "Fury" concerns a man who may or may not have committed a capital crime but who deserves due process rather than lynching; "Doubt" is about a guy who frames himself to prove that the irrevocable sentence of capital punishment, legal or not, is never justifiable if the law is fallible.

But whereas the argument of "Fury" was driven full steam ahead by a master of montage ("Metropolis") and suspenseful pacing ("M"), "Doubt" consists largely of two- or three-shots of men in suits with "display kerchiefs", arguing in paneled offices with unraised voices. The story has its due ration of twists as Dana Andrews's writer is persuaded by his prospective father-in-law, a crusading press magnate, to set himself up as a burlesque dancer's killer; the two of them will keep records of the plot that are sure to exonerate Andrews before he faces the chair. (Wouldn't he get a stiff sentence for wasting the cops' time, though?)

But the focus shifts awkwardly from Andrews to his girl and lawyer as it unwinds, and the scenario is oddly bare of dramatic crises. For example, the press boss's death occurs off screen and his exoneration is brought in by his lawyer, not tracked down by his daughter, Andrews's fiancée. Only a few backstage scenes with the dancing girls, all peroxide and nasal cynicism, enliven proceedings. Andrews had begun to freeze into the stone faced stolidity which hampered his later career, while 39 year old Fontaine (the classic aging actress's age) is matronly in costume, maquillage and demeanor: encased in stately prissiness like other English ladies of Hollywood such as Garson and Kerr.

Apart from Fontaine the production looks as well as feels impoverished, aesthetically like Ida Lupino's and Collier Young's problem pics but without their punch. The final twist is not signaled strongly enough to give smarter audience members a decent chance of foreseeing it. At one ludicrous moment, the publisher suggests his guests catch up on the day's highlights in Andrews's murder trial: he turns on a TV which immediately and obligingly recounts them, like George Burns's magic set on "The Burns and Allen Show". Incidentally, was covering trials and commenting on them normal for American television c. 1955?

"Beyond a Reasonable Doubt" was a swansong not only for Lang but for RKO. It had abandoned production three years earlier after being wrecked by Howard Hughes, had sold its studio to Desi and Lucy and was now reduced to releasing outside product: in this instance from one Bert Friedlob. It really was time for Herr Lang to catch the plane back to de-Nazified Germany.
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Last but not least.
dbdumonteil14 August 2001
Warning: Spoilers
This is Lang's final movie in America.He was to make another two-part movie in Germany but the latter can easily be dismissed compare to'beyond a reasonable doubt".Prologue:an execution scene,filmed with an absolute intelligence :instead of focusing on the condemned person,the camera searches those who watch a human being die:priest,wardens,executioner,journalists and among them the hero (Dana Andrews).The black and white cinematography is austere,unspectacular,and it will remains so during the whole projection. The hero's soon-to-be father-in-law,who attended the execution too, wants to demonstrate the absurdity of death penalty.He asks Andrews to play the wrong man,guilty of murder;he would bring the proofs or evidences of his innocence just before his execution.To reveal more would make me a spoiler.Suffice to say the suspense is constant,the plot unlikely (Hitchcock's screenplays were too) but fascinating.In France,this movie is praised by the unanimous critics as a peak of the film noir.Give it a chance,it deserves it!
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An interesting film about the death penalty that makes you think
MartinHafer15 October 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I liked this film because while it dealt with a tough subject (the morality of the death penalty--particularly in cases where there is circumstantial evidence), it was not preachy and didn't have any obvious answers. I could easily see this movie as being enjoyable to those opposed to the death penalty or those who want to see its widespread use--the film presents so many arguments for both opinions as well as those in the middle. It's actually pretty rare to see a film accomplish so much.

Dana Andrews plays a writer who is dating Joan Fontaine. Her father is an editor of a newspaper who is anti-capital punishment and he convinces Andrews to 'set himself up' for murder using only circumstantial evidence. This is to prove that an innocent man could easily be convicted on such evidence and this would supposedly make for an excellent book. So, once an unsolved murder occurred, they step-by-step created evidence that pointed in Andrews' direction but was not damning in and of itself--taking photos that proved the whole thing was orchestrated. One of several holes in the story is that if this REALLY was done, the legal system would not be very forgiving of a man who cost the state a fortune in legal expenses--all for a book! The plan seems to be working out just fine,...that is until the editor is killed in a car crash and the evidence exonerating Andrews is destroyed in the resulting fire!! Now Andrews is about to be convicted and there's no one who can prove it's all a set-up! I liked how towards the end the story took many unexpected turns and was a real thinking-person's film. Unfortunately, the ending is both very interesting but a bit hard to believe. I suggest you just watch it and try not to think about this weak ending too much, as the rest of the film is pretty dandy and engaging. Dana Andrews and director Fritz Lang, as usual, did a fine job.
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One-off storyline deserves to be seen
Leofwine_draca29 April 2015
BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT isn't a bad slice of 1950s crime and indeed it has one of those one-off story lines (like DOA) which is thoroughly intriguing. The film involves a crusading journalist, staunchly fighting against the death sentence, who decides to implicate himself in a murder case in a bid to expose flaws in the justice system. Inevitably it all goes wrong, with horrendous consequences for himself and his loved ones.

The film is directed by Fritz Lang and is his last American movie, and you can sense his heart wasn't really in the material. The ending in particular feels tacked on and unbelievable. As a whole the film lacks the sense of mystery and atmosphere of the likes of WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS and SCARLET STREET, but that's not to say it's bad; it just could have been even better.

None of these things change the fact that the plot's a good 'un, even if there's one twist too many along the way. Dana Andrews makes for a solid and dependable leading man as always, and it's nice to see Joan Fontaine playing his love interest, even if she has little to do. Lang directs the various shock and drama scenes effectively and the courtroom spectacle is where this film comes to life, but something I can't quite put my finger on is lacking so I was left slightly disappointed.
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Working the system
ALauff10 June 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Opening with a death-row electrocution and ending at the moment in which a man is presumably sentenced to the same fate, Reasonable Doubt is defined by its audacious, sensationalistic arrangement of events. The story's anti-capital punishment premise—a struggling writer frames himself for murder to prove the fallibility of the death penalty—obviously lends itself to pulpy embellishment, but the film's most spectacular feat is its jaw-dropping last-reel twist, which puts its own purported moral stance through the ringer by positing emotion as the true determiner of principles. Lang baldly manipulates the audience with this reversal, but his purpose, deeper than momentary awe, is to illustrate the eternal conflict in society between humankind's self-preserving unpredictability and its own noble, if constantly undermined, search for unified moral judgments. What ultimately transcends the stodginess of the theoretical conversations between the main players and their necessarily shallow characterizations (the film hinges on befuddlement for a reason) is Lang's empathy for a condemned man, a sensibility fully embodied in two shots: a close-up on a revoked certificate of pardon and the reverse shot of its regarder as he sadly considers freedom for the last time. In retrospect, the story's outcome is established in one of its very first shots, as the guilty party looks unblinkingly upon an execution while the other spectators turn away in disgust. Lang's thesis is easily described after all: the only man who can emotionlessly observe the practice of capital punishment is himself a murderer.
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Square, straightforward Fritz Lang (what Hitchcock could've done with this!)
moonspinner5514 October 2006
Opening with a ridiculously melodramatic prison execution scene, director Fritz Lang sets up this 'hard-bitten' story in the hoariest manner. Plot about former newspaperman-turned-novelist incriminating himself in a murder he didn't commit (to make points on capital punishment AND come up with a bestseller in the bargain!) is just dumbfoundingly basic, a connect-the-dots noir without any of the genre's suspense, passion or intrigue. Hitchcock would have certainly added some subtext; here, Lang is straightforward in all the wrong ways, underlining every human stupidity just to make that maximum impact. It's a message picture wherein the message is buried underneath impossible contrivances. As late-night TV fodder, the film is just passable, but as a Hollywood career-capper for Fritz Lang it's all rather depressing. ** from ****
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Taut legal thriller
aromatic-222 May 2000
Dana Andrews was never more attractive or earnest. The script is imaginative, and the twists and turns it takes in the last half hour will leave you bedazzled. An excellent supporting cast, featuring Donna Reed, keeps things moving along in interesting fashion. More honest about legal system than one would expect in 1956.
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Absurd story and weak script
lcf02139-125 June 2005
This has got to be the worst Lang film ever. No wonder this was his last American film. He must have been kicked out of Hollywood for directing such a cold, uninteresting and absurdly flat film. The writer must have written the script when he was in grade school. The script went something like this: Hey, I was always against capitol punishment, how about you take the rap for this girl's murder? Just to prove that innocent men can be convicted. But don't worry, I will take pic. of you as you fabricate the evidence and just before you are being sent to the electric chair, I will come forward to testify what we have done. Just to prove to the world my point. Well, I don't know. Do they have any leads who the real murderer is? Well, let me call headquarters. No, not any leads. Well then OK I guess I will do it! Now attempting to point all evidence that he was the murder, he plants evidence. Then he has to get one of the dancing girls to take notice of him so he can date her. What to do? I know. I will go to her local hangouts and spill water on her dress. Then try to offer her money to buy a new dress. AND IT WORKED. But the dancing burlesque girl has these funny feelings because he wants to go parking! What a suspicious thing to do! SO I guess I will call the Police! This movie was so contrived. Everything about it was ridiculous and far fetched as to be totally unbelievable from the beginning.
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This has got to be Fritz Lang's worst movie
zetes6 May 2003
The premise is good. A writer (Dana Andrews) conspires with a feisty anti-capital punishment newspaper owner (Sidney Blackmer) to frame himself for murder and get the death penalty. Blackmer is to jump out at the last moment to prove Andrews innocent, thus proving that the system doesn't work. Okay, so even the premise is flawed - what are they going to do when charged with a massive charge of interfering with a criminal investigation? - but it could have worked, I think. Unfortunately, the script is simply crappy. I mean, the point of a trial is in the details, and the writer (Douglas Morrow, who should have been punished for incompetence) completely skips over the most obvious points that the lawyers would have mentioned. For example, the defense attourney doesn't even propose that the body makeup found on Andrews' car seat (he put it there to fabricate evidence) still could have come from Dolly Moore, even though she washes herself after work. And, even after that, Morrow forgets a lot of the little details himself. For example, Andrews wipes all the fingerprints from the interior of his car (he wants the prosecuting attourney to bring this up as exceptionally odd), but then he takes Ms. Moore out that very night (and is arrested on the spot, with no time to wipe her fingerprints away). There are a couple of big plot twists. The first is predictable, the second is stupid. Was this movie later remade as The Life of David Gale, because the two plots sound a lot alike? Add to this some truly lazy direction from Lang (it seems like a mediocre TV movie from the time), a wooden performance from Andrews, and a wasted performance from Joan Fontaine, and you have yourself a bad movie.
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Propaganda in worst degree
ioannesp15 April 2019
Let's imagine that the producers of the film wanted to opposite the death penalty and wanted to shoot a film to present their arguments. In such a case and in a artistic manner they would left the leader actor to be executed in the electric chair and they would present the facts of his innocence after his death. I don't want to judge if it is right or wrong, I just would accept their effort and I would give a good rating, nothing more and nothing less. In this case, the producers underestimate our intelligence, because they do not present their arguments for the rightness of death penalty but they degrade the opposite opinion (against death penalty) by pretending that they go along with it. They pretend that they are against the death penalty by using a "publisher" and a reporter-writer "the leading actor" to play a game which would oppose the tactics of the public prosecutor who would follow their game. By his fall into false documentation of facts and a wrong verdict, the opposition to death penalty would shined beyond a reasonable doubt. Just when all are pointing this outcome, they use a personal confession of the leading actor to his beloved woman to pinch him back in the electric chair and avoid the pardon. Here lies a double trap. This trap were set for the viewers and not the leading actor. Viewers are the victims of the intentions of the producers. Viewers are sent to electric chair for the execution of their intelligence. Just because the opposition party to death penalty missed their goal in the very last match point, death penalty itself and the prosecutor as their priest reach a limit up in viewers assessment! Its disappointing how much and the degree of it, the producers do the worst kind of propaganda! Pity for the leading actor who performed its best in 1945 film"The best days of our lives". I rate this film by two and not less because I live in the future and not in the time that this disappointing film were filmed.
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By far the best film noir
nattymon12 August 2006
I am a film history student and we did a module on film noir, which I personally cannot stand.

However, I was pleasantly surprised by Beyond A Reasonable Doubt.

Although it was made many years ago, the huge twist at the end almost added a modern edge to it, and you can see how certain directors have been influenced by Fritz Lang.

I completely didn't expect the twist and I was on the edge of my seat the whole time.

You must watch this film.

It is a classic piece of film history.
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The worst of Fritz Lang
panicwatcher14 July 2001
This movie has a terrible script. The main characters are unsympathetic and incredibly stupid. I don't want to give away the ending, but the twists at the end of the movie surprise you only because you don't expect such idiotic behavior.

Joan Fontaine's character is particularly unpleasant and unattractive. You are supposed to feel bad that Dana Andrews is sacrificing his relationship with her to pursue his project of exposing the justice system's abuse of circumstantial evidence, but unless he needs her money he seems better off without her.
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even knowing the twist ...
didi-514 January 2002
... because someone told me what the twist was before I saw this I guess I was approaching it from the angle 'well, let's see how they got there'. And there was still a bit which made me surprised (no spoilers though). The film twists and turns through moral and amoral viewpoints and is very dark in its whole outlook. I wonder if it looked so contrived on release? I expect not. And I'm not so sure it is. Also good to see Joan Fontaine in a role which required her to be more than docile (Jane Eyre, Suspicion) or bats (The Witches). The only thing which seems rushed about Doubt are the last couple of scenes, everything seems crammed into that last few minutes. Other than that, I liked it very much.
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dark noir
SnoopyStyle5 July 2017
Newspaper publisher Austin Spencer is having lunch with his daughter's boyfriend reporter Tom Garrett. Tom had just written a successful first book. Austin calls over D.A. Roy Thompson and berates him for executing a possibly innocent man. Austin is against capital punishment. Austin and Tom decide to manipulate a murder investigation to get Tom convicted. They would then present the evidence of his innocence and prove the fallibility of capital punishment. The plan goes wrong as the story takes surprising turns.

The concept is dark noir. Fritz Lang's execution is old school which leaves the movie a little stiff. The acting is stodgy. The protagonist lacks appeal. The dark subject is compelling which keeps the movie interesting for the first half. It's not until the turn that the tension truly picks up. The first half is more of an intellectual exercise.
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