Beyond a Reasonable Doubt is directed by Fritz Lang and written by Douglas Morrow. It stars Dana Andrews, Joan Fontaine, Sidney Blackner, Arthur Franz and Philip Bourneuf. Music is by Herschel Burke Gilbert and cinematography by William Snyder. Plot has Andrews as a writer who hatches a plan with his future father-in-law to expose the weakness in using circumstantial evidence to send suspects to the electric chair. The ruse is to plant "evidence" that will incriminate Andrews in a topical murder and see him sentenced to death. Then the two men will reveal their own photographic evidence to prove the folly of law and the death penalty. But it's a dangerous game to play, and fate and hidden secrets may have the ultimate say on the outcome?
It was Fritz Lang's last American movie, after wowing cinema fans with such excellent pictures like M, The Big Heat, Scarlet Street and While the City Sleeps, it's safe to say that Beyond A Reasonable Doubt is not the great swansong many had reason to expect. There's nothing particularly impressive about the camera work or photography, while the sets look distinctly under nourished. But veering away from our yearnings for technical smarts, film finds Lang determined to prove a bitter based point whilst enjoying dangling his protagonist above a fascinating pit of ifs and maybes.
The fascination comes from the court case that underpins the movie, as we observe the law unfurling its might, privy to the dangerous ruse perpetrated by Andrews' daring Guinea Pig. It feels cold in narrative, and most certainly that is intentional because the last fifteen minutes of film pulls the rug from under everyone and finally reveals its hand. It's then, as the end card appears, that the film comes full circle and delivers on the promise of a game of human chess. Where the winner is not innocence or guilt, but something that drives many a film noir picture, that which concerns the vagaries of fate.
The main cast players rightly play it sedately, with Andrews calm and understated, and Fontaine regal like and serene in dialogue delivery. Best turns come from the support slots, with Blackner most interesting as the newspaper publisher-come potential father-in-law-come the man who originated the idea for the "hoax", and Barbara Nichols who charms and entertains as the air head dancer who becomes a critical pawn in this particularly tricksy game of deceit and suspicion. It's never overtly film noir until the last quarter, and really it's a court room/legal drama sprinkled with some less than sparkly dust. Yet in spite of the undeniable contrivances that reside within the plot, this is still prime Lang for the way it observes the law and the human condition that said law brings out of the skin. 7.5/10