This is one for the must see list. The poster makes it look like a bad B movie. Don’t believe it for a second. This movie is loaded with superb acting. It’s a thinly disguised dramatization of the notorious 1924 Leopold-Loeb murder case in Chicago. Orson Welles is a thinly disguised Clarence Darrow.
Judd Steiner (Dean Stockwell) and Artie Straus (Bradford Dillman) are nineteen year old geniuses in grad school studying law. They steal a typewriter from a frat house just to cause dissension. Driving away there’s a drunk in the road. Artie wants to run him over but Judd can’t do it even though he’s dominated by Artie.
Artie is a firm believer in Nietzsche’s idea of an emotionless superman. Student Sid Brooks (Martin Milner) works as a newspaper reporter. He’s assigned to cover a story about a drowned boy. At the medical examiner’s Sid is told the boy died by being hit over the head with a blunt instrument. A pair of glasses were found near the body. The boy didn’t wear them. Sid calls reporter Tom Daly (Edward Binns).
That night Sid joins his girlfriend Ruth Evans (Diana Varsi) along with Artie and Judd at a nightclub. He mentions the exclusive about the glasses. Artie and Judd exchange looks. Back home Judd discovers his glasses are missing. They fell out of Judd’s jacket when Artie tossed it around. The two cook up an alibi.
Police Lt.Johnson (Robert F.Simon) is investigating the case. Artie, under the guise of helping, keeps giving him false leads. Ruth is curious about the seemingly shy Judd and agrees to go bird watching with him in the park. Artie thinks he should experience raping the girl. He tells Artie to make it an order and he’ll do it. He tries but can’t go through with it.
Thanks to an unusual hinge on the glasses they’re traced to Judd. D.A.Harold Horn (E.G.Marshall) brings Judd in for questioning. Judd gives the agreed upon alibi. Horn calls in Artie. He’s about to release them when a chance remark by the Steiner family chauffeur Albert changes everything.
The families hire veteran defense lawyer Jonathan Wilk (Orson Welles). He’s vehemently against the death penalty and they feel he’s perfect for the defense. The trial begins but takes a turn. There’s a long speech by Welles that whether you agree or disagree with it you’ll experience a great actor at the top of his form.