Classic Film : Favorite Courtroom Dramas

Favorite Courtroom Dramas

A generally fascinating genre that can cover all legal elements - trials, attorney/client meetings/research, jury consideration, etc. Your choices don't have to be entirely about or take place only in the courtroom, but that should be the focal point of the drama. And they can be from any period.

A few of my favorites:

12 Angry Men (1957) - Sidney Lumet
La Passion de Jeanne D'Arc (1928) - Carl Theodor Dreyer
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) - Robert Mulligan
Judgement at Nuremberg (1961) - Stanley Kramer
Breaker Morant (1980) - Bruce Beresford
Adam's Rib (1949) - George Cukor
Boomrang! (1947) - Elia Kazan
Inherit the Wind (1960) - Stanley Kramer

Re: Favorite Courtroom Dramas

Breaker Morant appeals to me because it deals with an Australian, court martialed during the Boer wars.
Breaker Morant remains the movie with which Beresford is most identified and has "hoisted the images of the accused officers to the level of Australian icons and martyrs." In a 1999 interview, however, Beresford explained that Breaker Morant "never pretended for a moment" that the defendants were not guilty as charged. He had intended the film to explore how wartime atrocities can be "committed by people who appear to be quite normal." Beresford concluded that he was "amazed" that so many people see his film as being about "poor Australians who were framed by the Brits."

Breaker Morant

Thanks for the great info, and I'm not surprised. I remember the film as Beresford intended it. He's is a very smart, talented director and his films at their best are filled with profound moral complexities. I think sometimes audiences fail to comprehend what isn't so obvious.

Anatomy Of A Murder

Anatomy Of A Murder is way up there for me.

Also, from way back, and (loosely) on a real life case, They Won't Forget (based on the Leo Frank trial and lynching).

12 Angry Men is sheer perfection for a literal "only courtroom drama", with its isolated characters. Anatomy Of A Murder really moves around Michigan's Upper Peninsula and explores the territory nicely. It's stunning to look at. Otto Preminger makes the off season resort town feel like the most comfortable place in the world to live, with great fishing, clean air, woods, and people spread far enough apart so as to not bother one another, or not too much anyway.

Anatomy of a Murder

Yes, Anatomy of a Murder would have been next on my list. Wonderful film. And I love the fact that the judge is played by Joseph Welch, the attorney famous at the Army-McCarthy heargings for saying, "Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last have you no sense of decency?" - which spelled the end of McCarthy.

I never saw They Won't Forget, but it sounds very interesting. I'll be sure to look for it.

Re: Favorite Courtroom Dramas

They Won't Forget is intense and pull no punches, can't recommend highly enough.

Then there's Witness For The Prosecution, strangely charming at times, eerie near the end, with a terrific final scene.

Re: Favorite Courtroom Dramas

Agree with you about Witness for the Prosecution. Don't know how I forgot that one.

And here's another Hitchcock courtroom drama, but it's not close to being as good: The Paradine Case(1947).

I also wanted to add a comment about To Kill a Mockingbird, which I included initially. Although it's hard to think of it as being limited to a courtroom drama, it probably has one of the most powerful, important, and memorable courtroom scenes in history. So it's hard not to include here.

Re: Favorite Courtroom Dramas

Yeah: The Paradine Case feels stuffy and overproduced. It feels more Selznick than Hitchcock in this regard, with its cast of prestigious and up and comer players. Gregory Peck was miscast, though not awful, just wrong. The women didn't do it for me. Charles Laughton and Charles Coburn were the best things in it, but it doesn't hold together, and the story, the drama itself, is just plain dull.

Re: Favorite Courtroom Dramas

Thanks for explaining it so well. And I agree.

Re: Favorite Courtroom Dramas

I remember some very atmospheric and creepy courtroom scenes during a murder trial in the post-war British Technicolor film, Blanche Fury (1948). Here is an image:

Here is another, with Stewart Granger as the accused:

This is the real location of the courtroom at the Shire Hall, Stafford, as it is today (it's no longer used as a real court):

Obviously there was some added matte painting used in the film because the real courtroom is rather boring by comparison!

By the way, this film was made by Cineguild Productions which was also responsible for cinema classics like Blithe Spirit, Brief Encounter, Great Expectations and Oliver Twist (all of these 4 directed by David Lean).

Re: Favorite Courtroom Dramas

I haven't seen this film, but it looks interesting, and like it has a rich atmosphere, based upon your comments and photos. Thanks so much for the links. And for the info about Cineguild. Oh, those are wonderful films - exactly what one would expect from David Lean.

Anyway, if the film shows up on TCM, I'll be sure to watch it. It would be interesting to assess it based upon your comments, photos, and the idea of using matte painting to improve the courtroom. Love the magic of that.

Thanks for the reply.

Re: Favorite Courtroom Dramas

Not my favorite genre. Courtrooms are just aesthetically unappealing to me. But 12 Angry Men and La Passion de Jeanne D'Arc are great movies. Kramer vs. Kramer is a courtroom drama according to Wikipedia though I don't remember a lot of action taking place in a courtroom. Among the American Bar Association's list are Paths of Glory, M, The Verdict, and The Trial. I enjoyed those, but The Trial is a kind of surrealist courtroom drama, not exactly depicting any legal system that exists in the real world. I think The Verdict hits all of the legal elements you listed. JFK also hits a lot of them. But the very best courtroom film, though not a drama, is probably My Cousin Vinny.

Disney is CIA for kidz!

Re: Favorite Courtroom Dramas

Yes, I can understand what you mean by their appeal, or lack of it. I often feel the same way - except for the great ones (the 1st two you mentioned being my choices for that category).

I love Kramer vs. Kramer, but oddly tend to forget there are courtroom scenes in it. Weird, since that's the primary conflict in the film.

And I love M (the early version). The courtroom scene in that is remarkably powerful, as I recall. It's been awhile since I've seen it. And I never saw The Trial, but I've read the novel. It's hard to imagine it as a film, though I believe it's highly regarded. Paths of Glory I saw so long ago, I can't remember a trial scene/sequence. Need to view that one again. And I enjoyed The Verdict and JFK, but they are not my favorites.

As for your personal best, My Cousin Vinny, I regret to say that haven't seen that one either. It seems I have some catching up to do. 🙂

Thanks for the thoughtful and informative reply.