Drunkard counselor Parnell (Arthur O’Connell) aids Paul in gathering evidence, with hopes of being a real lawyer again - at least temporarily as a sort of sidekick. He’s part muse and part philosophical conversationist, but geared up for a battle of wills. Facts about the case get more elusive when Laura’s version doesn’t quite match up to other testimony (especially when a doctor examines her and doesn’t think she was raped), and gaps of lost memory creates suspicious holes in her story. But her lie detector test says she’s telling the truth.
Lee Remick exudes sexuality and mistrust with her tight sweaters and short skirts, a very level-headed, even-tempered judge presides over the madhouse courtroom, and Paul makes a quite effective, rambunctious show of the whole thing as he dukes it out with big city lawyer Claude Dancer (George C. Scott), who is specifically brought in for this high profile case. “I’m only concerned with a few facts…” says Paul as he interrogates Laura, who is dressed extra sexily and talking purposefully seductively. “Just answer the question… the attorneys will provide the wisecracks,” quips the judge. Their exchanges, along with every other cast member, are so interesting that the pacing of the film never slows down, even though the runtime is nearly three hours long. The rapid-fire questions and answers are unbelievably entertaining, the details are absorbing and the conversations are masterfully scripted. The constant verbal jousting is darkly humorous like dialogue from classic film noir, allowing the plot to thicken intelligently and innovatively.
The field of battle is the courtroom. It’s a taut duel of quick-thinkers, each one distinctly deceptive, hilarious, calculating and creative. We get to see all sides of courtroom drama, including the antics, trickery, badgering, following of procedures, objections, definitions, statements, surprise witnesses, unexpected evidence and outcries – in fact, we see just about the whole trial, which keeps us in the loop and leaves no room for concerns. It’s incredibly complex but always understandable. All of the facts are presented to the audience, but every bit of testimony is refuted by both sides until the actual events come down to one person’s word against another. The beauty of the plot is that the truth is insignificant next to how a lawyer can persuade a jury to his advantage – by the conclusion, the “real” truth is left painfully mystifying.
- Mike Massie