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Thursday, February 05, 2009

Movies, Law, and Magic Grits

Thanks to Dan and the other Prawfs for having me back.

Last night I screened My Cousin Vinny as the first installment of Penn State's Faculty Film Series.  The purpose of the series is to bring together faculty and students to watch and discuss great movies about law.  We had a wonderful discussion about the way the movie portrays lawyers--e.g. their clothes, their demeanor, their pronunciation ("the two yutes" vs. "the two youths").

And we have some great movies lined up in the coming weeks.  We're showing 12 Angry Men, North Country, A Few Good Men ("You can't handle the truth!"), Anatomy of a Murder, and my favorite, Kramer vs. Kramer

What else should we show?  I'd love suggestions from the Prawfs readership.  Thanks!

Posted by Zak Kramer on February 5, 2009 at 11:06 AM in Film | Permalink


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I second The Sweet Hereafter.

The movie is far more satisfying and beautiful than the book.

Posted by: ALB | Feb 11, 2009 9:29:02 PM

Let me throw in three insanity-defense related films not mentioned: A Time to Kill (from the Grisham novel), Fritz Lang's M -- the most sophisticated film treatment of the merits and demerits of the insanity defense ever made, and Compulsion, based on the Leopold and Loeb case and starring Orson Welles as, if I recall correctly, the defense lawyer modeled after Clarence Darrow.

Posted by: Russ Covey | Feb 9, 2009 1:42:54 PM

The nice thing about "Find Me Guilty" is that Sidney Lumet and company culled a lot of the courtroom dialogue directly from trial transcripts. It is definitely an underrated movie.

Posted by: Colin Miller | Feb 8, 2009 11:10:35 PM

I enjoyed "Find Me Guilty." Definitely an enjoyable movie, especially as a federal prosecutor.

Posted by: AUSA | Feb 8, 2009 10:11:13 PM

I second "Breaker Morant."

"We caught them and we shot them under Rule 303."

Posted by: C. Zorn | Feb 6, 2009 10:33:59 AM

Judgment at Nuremburg!

Posted by: anon | Feb 6, 2009 8:42:51 AM

Breaker Morant.

Posted by: Jeff Lipshaw | Feb 5, 2009 11:39:35 PM

Some really good suggestions here -- I had forgotten about Reversal of Fortune even though I wrote a rave review of it in college.

For more serious fare, I would nominate "Rashomon" and "The Sweet Hereafter."

Posted by: Bruce Boyden | Feb 5, 2009 11:08:08 PM

Always thought of Reversal of Fortune as top-notch. Also think of Oliver Stone's JFK as a film about one of the worst cases of prosecutorial misconduct in US history -- although you would have to do some research to back this up for students.

Posted by: Steve Griffin | Feb 5, 2009 10:30:41 PM

Thanks, Zak, for provoking and now hosting the first installment of our film series at PSU! Let me also plug: Michael Asimow is one of the great law & culture people in our racket and maintains a terrific archive at picturingjustice.com.

Posted by: Jamison Colburn | Feb 5, 2009 10:26:46 PM

The best film in my view is The Castle, an Australian film about eminent domain. It has wonderful interactions between lawyers and clients.

Secondly, I like the Winslow Boy especially the 1948 version.

Posted by: John Flood | Feb 5, 2009 7:24:39 PM

I have always enjoyed The Paper Chase, though its style is clearly a bit dated, and it's more about the culture of law school and legal education than the law itself.

Posted by: Dave | Feb 5, 2009 4:11:53 PM

I would guess that Errol Morris' "The Thin Blue Line" would be a terrific documentary to show to students.

Posted by: Colin Miller | Feb 5, 2009 3:23:18 PM

I showed "In the Name of the Father" to my fed. courts class last year for our habeas unit. I use movies that talk about shaping the law or creating new law, too. "Iron Jawed Angels" is the only fiction one. The rest are documentaries: "Freedom on my Mind" about freedom summer in Mississippi in 1964 and the attempt to seat the Mississippi Freedom Party at the Democratic National Convention; "Out of the Past" about the GLBT movement in the US; and "Ballot Measure 9" about the campaign to pass a ballot measure limiting GLBT rights like the one in Colorado that was struck down in Romer v. Evans.

Movies I like but haven't used yet are "Erin Brockovich" and "Philadelphia."

Posted by: Marcia | Feb 5, 2009 2:24:33 PM

They Won't Forget is a great film from the 30's, still relevant for its depiction of how prejudices and publicity can affect a trial.

Posted by: D | Feb 5, 2009 2:19:19 PM

Zak, I cannot believe that as much as we talk, we've never talked about this. I was charged with running Hofstra's Visions of the Law series last semester, which featured "To Kill A Mockingbird," "Let Him Have It," "Die Fledermaus," and, of course, "A Few Good Men." We basically asked faculty members what they might like to introduce and then based our schedule of movies on their responses. I was thinking of showing "Transamerican Love Story" and highlighting trans issues that we write about.

Posted by: Liz Glazer | Feb 5, 2009 12:32:28 PM

I nominate Witness for the Prosecution. Laughton is great. His might just be the most effective lie detection system.

Posted by: Jim Green | Feb 5, 2009 12:31:02 PM

At Northwestern, we hold an "Advocacy and Ethics" film series, featuring To Kill a Mockingbird, Twelve Angry Men, and Justice at Nuremberg.

Posted by: Steve Lubet | Feb 5, 2009 12:27:15 PM

Here's the AFI list of the top 10 courtroom dramas of all time:


Posted by: Colin Miller | Feb 5, 2009 11:38:42 AM

The Verdict is one of my favorites. From the Hip is a great comedy (I love the scene where they debate potential synonyms for a$$hole"

I also liked a Civil Action, though reactions are mixed on that one.

Posted by: Michael Risch | Feb 5, 2009 11:27:49 AM

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