Sunday, August 09, 2009
What is the greatest courtroom movie of all time? I nominate Breaker Morant, which I am watching right now for something like the 10th time in the last 27 years.
MORE: The closing argument for the defense, in which the defendants have been charged with shooting prisoners. It and much of the examination and testimony in the trial rather brilliantly capture the conundrum of counterinsurgency. During the peak of the Iraq war, when so many ignorant people were saying so much that was wrong about the nature of counterinsurgency and the law that ought to govern it, I thought more than a few times that Breaker should be required viewing for any of the instant experts on the wars in Iraq.
"Breaker Morant" - great movie. If you like Breaker Morant a very similar movie is Kubrick's "Paths of Glory" also with a great trial scene.
Other great trial scenes (are we talking about military court scenes or any? - I'll assume any):
"Inherit the Wind," great scene with Spencer Tracy's character questioning Fredric March, in thinly-veiled fictional portrayals of Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan.
"Caine Mutiny" of course
"A Few Good Men" - "you can't handle the truth!"
My favorite it Billy Wilder's "Witness for the Prosecution." All the performances are great, but you can't beat Charles Laughton's custy barrister.
Lots of people think "Anatomy of a Murder" is the best because it supposed to be pretty accurate.
According to American Film Institute top 10 are:
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) (# 1),
12 Angry Men (1957) (# 2)
Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) (# 3),
The Verdict (1982) (# 4),
A Few Good Men (1992) (# 5),
Witness For the Prosecution (1957) (# 6),
Anatomy of a Murder (1959) (# 7),
In Cold Blood (1967) (# 8),
A Cry in the Dark (1988) (# 9),
Judgment at Nuremberg (1961) (# 10).
So much for the professionals.
Filmsite.org adds The Accused (1948) and Compulsion (1959), both of which I'll have to Netflix, to many of the others previously mentioned.
I'd add the made-for-TV QB VII.
Great movie from a well-written script populated with even better acting.
One line that stuck in my mind during the silly season of second guessing our soldiers in combat over the last several years was that of Col. Hunt to Lord Kitchner discussing the trial of the 3 carbineers.
"I did mention at one time, sir, the complexities of charging soldiers with murder while they're actually in the field"
Heh, what understatement and delivered with exceedingly British tone and mannerisms. You can see it at 50 seconds into this clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hoizA-kkZ3k
I, too, love the film Breaker Morant. I was first introduced to it in a Twentieth century history class my junior year in High School, along with Gallipoli.
Although not yet a movie, Morant has a counterpart in An Operational Necessity (1967) by Gwyn Griffin, in which a fictional U-Boat fires on floating wreckage and survivors to prevent detection by the allies, and which results in a war crimes trial at which the Germans claim it was an operational necessity.
The story is based on the actual U-582, which did indeed fire on wreckage and survivors and whose officers were tried and convicted of war crimes at Nuremberg (the only U-boat personnel so charged and convicted). It may be worth noting that the commander of the British submarine Torbay did something quite similar and received nothing worse than a strongly worded reprimand. He later went on to win a Victoria Cross.
This has nothing to do with movies. A cousin, who happens to have flown for Air America long, long, ago in a galaxy far, far, away sees a parallel between Breaker Morant and what the Obama DOJ keeps hinting it will do to CIA operatives in the Middle East. He does have a point.
Great, great movie. And the last new release where I actually went to the theatre with my parents. So long ago. While the trial scenes were fabulous, it is Bryan Brown's recitation of his poem / limerick has stuck in my mind for all these 39 years:
There once was a man from Australia
Who painted his ass as a dahlia
The color was fine,
Likewise the design
But the aroma, ugh, what a failure
Breaker Morant is indeed an awesome film.
I'd also recommend The Trial of Billy Mitchell, although the subject matter doesn't relate to the conduct of soldiers in the field.
I'm quite struck that a nearly 30-year-old portrayal of soldiers in a war fought more than a century ago reveals familiar archetypes - well-intentioned young soldiers, veterans wise to both the enemy and their unreliable superiors, REMFs, good and bad field officers, and unsympathetic, uncomprehending lawyers.
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