I first saw Compulsion back in 1992 at a time when the BBC would, on occasion, show a Cinemascope film in its correct ratio. Something they only started doing again very recently.
It was a masterpiece of cinema back then, and it remains so to this day. The difference between then and now is that then I was watching it on video on a 14" portable TV, and now on DVD, upscaled on a Blu-ray player, to a 37" Plasma TV.
As the film begins, in Chicago, 1924, we see wealthy law students Artie Straus (Bradford Dillman) and Judd Steiner (Dean Stockwell) steal money and a typewriter from a house, then take the evening one step further by driving at, and almost killing, a drunk in the road. Judd's scared at Artie's insistence to do what they've done, but he's easily led by his cocky friend and will stop at just about nothing to impress him. But how far will he go? As they discuss taking things further, it's clear that Judd gets to love taking things dangerously too.
Fellow law student and friend, Sid (Martin Milner), who is also a newspaper reporter, gets to investigate the murder of a young teenager, Paulie Kessler. Not only does the coroner tell him that the lad was hit over the head, rather than drowned as he was led to believe so the corpse could be dumped on his department, but Sid also spots a pair of glasses with the body. Glasses that don't fit. Who could they belong to?
Well, given that the whole thing ends up in a court case and is based on the real-life event where Nathan Leopold, Jr. and Richard Loeb were Chicago students who killed a 14-year-old boy, it's hardly a spoiler to say that they must belong to at least one of them.
Both Dillman and Stockwell pull off maniacal brilliantly, the former as the cool and calculated one, and the later playing it nervous and edgy, coming into his own when he tries to take charge of any given situation but will inevitably end up completely out of his depth.
The film also won a collective award for Best Actor from Cannes for Dean Stockwell, Bradford Dillman and Orson Welles who, as famous defence lawyer Jonathan Wilk, is good, but I think he's overrated in this film and isn't a patch on the other two. However, as he mumbles through his section of the film, appearing for the first time from just over an hour into proceedings, Welles' character does do a nice line in sarcasm. His character was also based on the real-life famous lawyer, Clarence Darrow, who took on the original case.
One thing that's particularly clever about Compulsion is that it does away with convention - you don't actually see the murder for which they're accused. That allows your imagination to bring more to the table than the film itself can, and also allows the film to get away with a 12-certificate, since you're left with a marvellous string of scenes from the two youngsters and Welles getting a number of chances to subtly steal a few scenes.
As an aside, Orson Welles, despite the notable handicap of having died 25 years ago, will take the role of Narrator in November 2011's Christmas Tails, in which a recording of Orson Welles reading the book will be used to create his narration, the basic premise being what would happen if Santa's reindeer became ill one year and Santa had no one to pull his sleigh?
You can also find out more about the Leopold and Loeb case on this link.
Presented in the original 2.35:1 anamorphic theatrical ratio, the transfer is gorgeous and sharply-detailed with full and wonderful use made of the entire Cinemascope image, with some very neat and subtle visual touches at times. For the record, I'm watching on a Panasonic 37" Plasma screen via a Samsung BD-P1500 Blu-ray player.
Audio-wise, this film was made with a 4-Track Stereo soundtrack and brings across the dialogue perfectly with a nice little ambience.
Sadly, there are zero extras on this disc.
The menu shows a static image of the cover art with the theme from the film on a loop and some clips from the film merged into the background. There are no subtitles, which is inexcusable - particularly when there are workmen in a street scene around 30 minutes in and you can't hear what's actually been said by the actors. There are, however, 20 chapters which is a decent amount.