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Thursday, June 02, 2011

Your favorite trial performance in a movie

I'd like to start by thanking Dan Markel and the rest of the Prawfs gang for inviting me to guest blog this month. I thought I'd start off with the fun post, although that implies that my remaining posts will be serious --  which is not something that I'm willing to commit to.

What is your favorite trial scene performance by an actor in a film? I imagine that certain iconic performances come to mind such as Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch in "To Kill A Mockingbird." I am hoping that people will rccall some not so famous performances as well as the well-known ones. One of my favorite trial scene performances is by a not-so-famous actor, Lane Smith. Smith appeared as a character actor in a good number of television shows and movies during his long career, including "Kojak," "The Rockford Files,"Dallas," "Red Dawn," "My Cousin Vinny," and "The Legend of Bagger Vance," among others. However, it was his role as Panama City, Florida criminal  defense attorney Fred Turner in The Hallmark Hall of Fame's "Gideon's Trumpet" that caught my attention.

In addition to its star, Henry Fonda (playing the title role), the made for TV film boasted a number of other good actors, including John Houseman (as Chief Justice Earl Warren), Jose Ferrer (as Abe Fortas), and Faye Wray in her last film role. I could be wrong, but I believe that Harry Dean Stanton also makes an (uncredited) appearance. The film can be a bit hard to find but I have a taped version that I use in class on occasion - I guess I'll be in trouble when they quit equipping classrooms with the old VCRs. I am a bit reluctant to post the scene, which is available on Youtube, as it is a bit long and comes in two parts. However, I think that it highlights very well the difference that a good lawyer can make in a trial outcome. But enough about my favorite trial performance in a movie - what's yours?

Posted by Jeff Yates on June 2, 2011 at 01:50 PM in Criminal Law, Culture, Film, Teaching Law, Television | Permalink


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The judge's performance deserves special mention in Anatomy of a Murder. (Stewart is great too as usual; it's an overall excellent movie, right down to Ellington's score).

Charles Laughton's performance in Witness for the Prosecution is pretty entertaining.

Posted by: GU | Jun 3, 2011 1:51:54 PM

I agree, Anatomy of a Murder is the best.... just to mention another: though it may not be the greatest performance by an actor, it is William Shatner's greatest performance: The Andersonville Trial.

Posted by: Russell Dees | Jun 3, 2011 4:23:47 AM

The only correct answer, both for best American courtroom drama and best performance in an American courtroom drama, is Jimmy Stewart in Anatomy of a Murder.

Posted by: Asher Steinberg | Jun 2, 2011 5:30:55 PM

Joe Pesci, My Cousin Vinny

Posted by: Jason | Jun 2, 2011 4:27:56 PM

Jack Nicholson, "A Few Good Men"

Posted by: Saurabh Vishnubhakat | Jun 2, 2011 4:23:40 PM

Paul Newman, "The Verdict"

Posted by: C60 | Jun 2, 2011 4:02:36 PM

Denzel Washington as Joe Miller in Philadelphia. He played a hustling p.i. lawyer whose favorite line was, "explain it to me like I was a six year old."

Here is a clip of his redirect examination of Tom Hanks:

Posted by: Steven Lubet | Jun 2, 2011 3:12:57 PM

Al Pacino in "And Justice For All..." Here's the longest clip that I could find on the internet, but even it doesn't contain his entire, maniacal closing argument:


Posted by: Colin Miller | Jun 2, 2011 2:28:54 PM

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