The Verdict
Twentieth Century-Fox; produced by Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown

Films intended to capture the affections of members of the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are generally released late in the year. An example is The Verdict, starring Paul Newman, directed by Sidney Lumet.

Courtroom drama, once a popular genre, is a convenient stage for conflicts of good versus evil, rich versus poor, justice and injustice, and power versus truth. Such issues confront us all, both inside and outside the church, and, indeed, plague the church itself. In dealing with this, The Verdict works well, and without being preachy or descending to what might be called “junk-thought.”

Newman plays Frank Galvin, a lawyer who has degenerated into an ambulance chaser and an alcoholic. His remaining client is a young woman in a permanent coma from brain damage suffered while giving birth. While not conceding negligence, the hospital (Catholic, as is Galvin) offers a generous sum to the relatives, who press Galvin to accept. But though settling out of court would bring him a tidy (and much-needed) sum, Galvin sees a chance to restore his practice to respectability, pull his sodden life together, and fight for what he sees as the truth. He opts to prove negligence in a trial, pitted against a master lawyer named Concannon, revered in Boston legal circles as the “prince of darkness,” who marshals his considerable powers and staff on behalf of the medical profession. The conflicts and complications build to an emotional showdown.

The Verdict also features strong supporting roles by veteran actors Jack Warden and James Mason and the directing and cinematography are very good. Rated R for rough language, the film takes its time, making the audience work. Viewers who do not like to think during movies might say it “drags.”

People who know medicine and law can probably find loopholes in the story details. And the mandatory romantic subplot is less than effective. While these problems may rob it of an Oscar, they do not stop The Verdict from being craft at its most careful, and certainly worth seeing.

Reviewed by Lloyd Billingsley, a writer living in Southern California.

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