Letters to the Editor
"Top Lawyer Flicks" Correction
I’d like to point out an error in one of the movie descriptions in "Top Lawyer Flicks." "Anatomy of a Murder" is described as being set in Minnesota. In fact, it was set in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (also known as "the U.P.") and is based on a real murder trial which took place there in 1952. Being a huge fan of the movie and a former resident of Michigan, I couldn’t let this mistake pass without comment. Thanks!
"Top Lawyer Flicks" Additions
This rarely mentioned movie is a must-see for any aspiring lawyer. With a superb cast of Dana Andrews, Jane Wyatt, Karl Malden, Lee J. Cobb, Ed Begley Sr. and Sam Levine, directed by Elia Kazan, it is based on a true story of the district attorney in Bridgeport, Conn. in 1924. When a much-loved priest is murdered, the newspapers and the citizens demand law enforcement take action in finding the killer. (Does this sound familiar?) A suspect is extradited from Ohio who fits the description. There is a rush to judgment and the suspect is convicted in the local media long before the trial takes place. The district attorney, after much soul-searching, is convinced of the suspect’s innocence. At the preliminary hearing, rather than proving the guilt of the accused, he goes to great lengths to show the unreliability of a coerced confession, eyewitness identification and questionable forensic testimony. The theme of the movie is that the prosecutor has the obligation to prosecute the accused, but at the same time ensure that the accused’s constitutional rights are assiduously protected, even at the expense of being unsuccessful at the preliminary hearing. In the process, he gives up any opportunity for higher political office in Connecticut. On the other hand, the district attorney, Homer Cummings, later becomes the top law enforcement officer in the United States, as Attorney General under Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
It was later said of him: "He sought for the truth that justice might be served and desired no unjustifiable conviction. The rights of the innocent were safe in his hands; only the guilty had reason to fear. He was eager that every fact and circumstance should be scrutinized, so that the great power of his office should not in the least degree be directed toward oppression."
"The Fortune Cookie" (1966)
Written and directed by Billy Wilder, starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau (who snagged a Best Actor Oscar for this performance), this movie has it all. Lemmon is a sports cameraman working the sidelines of a pro football game, when he is knocked over a rolled-up mat by a running back. He is rushed to the hospital and his brother-in-law, and Matthau, a personal injury shyster, sees an opportunity for a big lawsuit. Lemmon is reluctant until Matthau suggests that Lemmon may be able to win back his ex-wife after a successful settlement. The movie includes hilarious scenes of Matthau as the ethically-challenged plaintiff’s PI attorney, inept fat-cat insurance defense lawyers, doctors hired by the insurance company to expose the fake injuries (and Matthau’s attempts to fool the insurance doctors), and a determined private investigator who plants bugs and shoots surveillance film through the windows of Lemmon’s apartment. Great comedy, poignant romance, and a good-natured jab at everyone involved in personal injury work.
"The Hour of the Pig" (aka The Advocate) (1993)
Set in 15th century France. A Parisian lawyer wearies of the cynical sophistication of the capital and solicits appointment as the public defender in a remote, rural province. He finds himself expected to defend a pig in a murder trial. (As the public prosector says, "Anyone who knows animals knows there are good ones and bad ones.") What initially appears to be a case based on simple rural superstition turns out to conceal a far worse corruption. Eventually, the lawyer returns to the capital, having learned that cynical sophistication is not so easily evaded.
—Craig M. Berube