Circles and lines: It opens with a 360į pan in downtown Stamford, Connecticut, then sketches the killer as a disembodied hand and revolver entering the frame at a jagged slant. The victim is the beloved town pastor (Wyrley Birch), the ensuing police manhunt and "political three-ring circus" proceed with cutaways to tangible location photography in neighborhood porches, pool halls, a bridge party at a fire station. The blend of stylization and faux-documentary reportage shows Elia Kazanís understanding of the true innovations of Italian neo-realism, he has bigger fish to fry than merely illustrating a Readerís Digest article. The fellow snagged in the whirlwind of public outrage and media scorn is a drifting WWII vet (Arthur Kennedy), who signs a confession after a few sleepless days under the police stationís interrogation light. A conviction would pave the way to the governorís office for the State Attorney (Dana Andrews), who sees the whole thing as "close to a perfect case." Doubt crosses the prosecutorís mind after he sees the accused face to face, and, despite protests from his own party, he steps into the courtroom to demolish the witnesses and invalidate the evidence. The indirect model for Kazanís "lesson in trial procedure" is Young Mr. Lincoln, the lynch mob waiting outside the jailhouse is adduced even as Fordís mythical vision yields to the unease of postwar film noir. Jane Wyattís versatile docility as Andrewsís wife (she can serve milk and beer) coexists with the profuse sweating of Ed Begley, a disturbed mommaís boy full of unmentionable sins (Philip Coolidge) is offered as the real culprit for a hint of divine law. The best work is done against the grain of Louis de Rochemontís newsreel tidiness, with biting rousers like Lee J. Cobb and Sam Levene punching through the gray veneer. Kennedyís final walk out the courthouse gates illustrates the very young Godard's description of Kazanís early filmmaking, "an accentuation of the phenomenon of the proscenium." With Karl Malden, Cara Williams, Taylor Holmes, and Robert Keith. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce