TCM Spotlight: Order in the Court
Ever since Edwin S. Porter centered his 1905 silent short “The Kleptomaniac” on the contrasting trials of a wealthy woman who steals for the thrill of it and a poor woman stealing to feed her children, courtrooms and legal procedures have been a core theme in movies. With the coming of sound, phrases like “order in the court,” “I object” and “I solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth,” entered the national lexicon. TCM salutes the screen’s wide variety of courtroom dramas on Wednesdays in May with a series of 21 films all hosted by TCM’s Ben Mankiewicz and his older brother Josh Mankiewicz.
Josh Mankiewicz is a journalist and reporter for Dateline NBC, where he’s been reporting since 1995. He has also reported for ABC News, The Today Show, NBC Nightly News and Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly. He is the son of Frank Mankiewicz, grandson of screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz and grandnephew of screenwriter, producer and director Joseph L. Mankiewicz.
The festival kicks off May 5 with a sextet of explosive cases involving Murder in the First. The jury system itself is on trial in 12 Angry Men (1957), as Henry Fonda argues against convicting a young man accused of killing his father. The defense dominates Anatomy of a Murder (1959), with James Stewart trying to convince a jury that Ben Gazzara was justified in killing the man who raped his wife. Then the focus shifts to defendants Martha O’Driscoll in Criminal Court (1946), Ann Todd in Madeleine (1950), Dana Andrews in Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956) and Loretta Young in Midnight Mary (1933).
Courtroom Comedies take the stand May 12 as married lawyers Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn argue the opposite sides of a case with feminist implications in Adam’s Rib (1949). Ginger Rogers falls for fellow juror, the married Dennis Morgan, in Perfect Strangers (1950). Edna May Oliver battles fellow jury members in Ladies of the Jury (1932). Jean Arthur and Ronald Colman try to help activist Cary Grant beat a murder rap in The Talk of the Town (1942). And, Grant finds himself in an odd love triangle when he falls for judge Myrna Loy, whose teenaged sister (Shirley Temple) falls for Grant in The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (1947).
The focus shifts to Military Justice on May 19, starting with an explosive, all-star dramatization of the Nuremberg Trials in Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), featuring Oscar winner Maximilian Schell alongside Spencer Tracy, Marlene Dietrich, Judy Garland and Burt Lancaster. Kirk Douglas defends soldiers accused of defying an unjust military order in Paths of Glory (1957). Jack Thompson defends soldiers facing court martial for following orders during the Boer War in Breaker Morant (1980). Paul Newman is on trial for his actions as a Korean War POW in The Rack (1956) and Jose Ferrer, as Captain Alfred Dreyfus, faces treason charges in I Accuse! (1958).
On May 26, the festival ends with films highlighting lawyers arguing For the Defense. Gregory Peck won an Oscar for playing Atticus Finch, defense attorney for a Black man falsely accused of rape in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), while nominations went to Spencer Tracy for playing a fictionalized version of Clarence Darrow defending a man who taught evolution in Inherit the Wind (1960). Al Pacino was also nominated for portraying an attorney defending a judge he doesn’t trust who’s been accused of rape in And Justice for All (1979). The case is closed when Conrad Nagel defends Greta Garbo, in her last silent film, when she’s charged with killing her husband in The Kiss (1929), and Spencer Tracy battles the bottle and his own falsely accused client (James Arness) in The People Against O’Hara (1951).