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Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956 film)

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt is a 1956 film noir directed by Fritz Lang and written by Douglas Morrow. The film stars Dana Andrews, Joan Fontaine, Sidney Blackmer, and Arthur Franz. It was Lang's second film for Friedlob,[3] and the last American film he directed.[4]

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt
Beyond a Reasonable Doubt movie poster.jpg
Theatrical film poster
Directed byFritz Lang
Produced byBert E. Friedlob
Screenplay byDouglas Morrow
Story byDouglas Morrow
StarringDana Andrews
Joan Fontaine
Music byHerschel Burke Gilbert
CinematographyWilliam Snyder
Edited byGene Fowler, Jr.
Bert E. Friedlob Productions
Distributed byRKO Pictures
Release date
  • September 13, 1956 (1956-09-13) (US)[1]
Running time
80 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$1.1 million (US rentals)[2]


Austin Spencer (Sidney Blackmer), a newspaper publisher, wants to prove a point about the inadequacy of circumstantial evidence. He talks his daughter's fiancee, Tom Garrett (Dana Andrews), into participating in a hoax, in an attempt to expose the ineptitude of the city's hard-line district attorney. The plan is for Tom to plant clues which will lead to his arrest for the murder of a female nightclub dancer, Patty Gray. Once Tom is found guilty, Spencer is to reveal the setup and humiliate the District Attorney.

Tom agrees to the plan, but unforeseen events put a snag in the scheme: Spencer dies in a car accident before he can testify, and photographic evidence intended to clear Tom at his trial is burned to an unrecognizable state. Tom is found guilty and placed on death row in prison. In time to prove the two men's intentions, a written testimony by the dead man is found. Because of this, Tom is to be pardoned.

However, while talking to his fiancee Susan (Joan Fontaine), Tom slips, revealing he knows the late woman's real name; this leads him to confess. Patty Gray, the murder victim, is actually Emma Blucher, Tom Garrett's estranged wife, who had reneged on her promise to divorce him in Mexico. As this was preventing Garrett from marrying Susan, he murdered Emma. Garrett's pardon is cancelled before the double jeopardy rule comes into effect, and the film closes with him being led back to his cell. We are given to assume that his execution goes ahead as scheduled.



Critical responseEdit

Keith M. Booker states that Beyond a Reasonable Doubt is "perhaps the bleakest of his [Lang's] American noir films".[5] Dennis L. White describes the film as having "considerable impact, due not so much to visual style, but as to the narrative structure and mood and to the expertly devised plot, in which the turnabout is both surprising and convincing."[6] Stella Bruzzi, author of Men's Cinema: Masculinity and Mise-en-Scene in Hollywood, felt that the film plot was "overly schematic" and "motivated by a paradox", affecting "an invisible, transparent style while, at the same time, being all about surface and performance". She adds that Lang "deploys an ostentatiously unintrusive 'classical' style", which he "purposefully reduces down to its minimalist bare necessities".[7] Writer James McKay notes that Fontaine as Susan Spencer is "a little bit more forward than we normally expect, in a role that requires her to do all the running where her man's concerned".[3]

Film critic Dennis Schwartz wrote a mixed review, but appreciated Lang's efforts, "Cheerlessly written with many plot holes, implausible contrivances and legal absurdities by law school graduate Douglas Morrow, though ably directed by film noir maven Fritz Lang (M/While the City Sleeps/Scarlet Street). Lang's last American film is a low-budget twisty courtroom drama about the dangers of capital punishment that ends up being about something more intangible--the unpredictability of fate ... But in this subversive film a perverse atmosphere of subliminal uncertainty prevails over the established surface reality, and the surprise ending comes as more of an emotional shock than as a real surprise--allowing the filmmaker to pass on his cynicism and disillusionment over the human condition. The stark, alluring and unconventional film is worth seeing for the ingenuous way it resolves the brain-teasing dilemma it raised."[8]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Beyond a Reasonable Doubt : Detail View". American Film Institute. Retrieved June 2, 2014.
  2. ^ 'The Top Box-Office Hits of 1956', Variety Weekly, January 2, 1957.
  3. ^ a b McKay, James (26 April 2010). Dana Andrews: The Face of Noir. McFarland. p. 147. ISBN 978-0-7864-5676-5.
  4. ^ Beyond a Reasonable Doubt at the American Film Institute Catalog.
  5. ^ Booker, Keith M. (17 March 2011). Historical Dictionary of American Cinema. Scarecrow Press. p. 214. ISBN 978-0-8108-7459-6.
  6. ^ White, Dennis L. Beyond a Reasonable Doubt article/entry, in Film Noir An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style, eds. Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward (Woodstock, N.Y.: Overlook Press, 1992), p 21–22. ISBN 0-87951-479-5.
  7. ^ Bruzzi, Stella (30 September 2013). Men's Cinema: Masculinity and Mise-en-Scene in Hollywood. Edinburgh University Press. p. 41. ISBN 978-0-7486-7619-4.
  8. ^ Schwartz, Dennis. Ozus' World Movie Reviews, film review, February 2, 2007. Accessed: August 6, 2013.

External linksEdit