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Laramie Movie Scope:
The Trial

Orson Welles considered this to be his best film

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by Patrick Ivers, Film Critic
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(1962; b/w) Having forsaken Hollywood, Orson Welles directed, again using deep-focus black-and-white photography, from his screenplay, adapted from Franz Kafka's novel, this fascinating film in Europe for Paris-Europa Productions. Welles, who thought of this more than Citizen Kane as being his best film, narrates the opening parable, having the logic of a nightmare, of a man, who had been taught that the Law is available to all, come to the entrance but prevented from entering by a guard and told that there are other doors within guarded by successively even more powerful guards. For years the man waits, giving away all his possessions as bribes to the guard, who accepts them out of politeness. Finally dying, the applicant to entrance remarks that in all this time no one else has come to the entrance; the guard replies that this entrance had been intended only for the man and now it was closing.

Exactly the opposite of K's situation in The Castle where he could find no means of finding entry into the mysterious fortress, here K once inside the system of injustice can discover no escape from its verdict. Everything is delusion, deceit, and dependency. Baroque composer Giovanni Albinoni's Adagio in G minor plays throughout the movie.

Into the bedroom of Josef K (Anthony Perkins) walk two policemen through the adjoining bedroom belonging to another of Mrs Grubach's boarders, Marika Burster (Jeanne Moreau), waking him. Told that he is under arrest - they also take some of his shirts - and shown three clerks from his office as witnesses, K at first thinks it is some practical joke: "Quite obviously I can't think of a single charge that could be made against me."

Mrs Grubach (Madeleine Robinson) says to K that the arrest is something "abstract" rather than like being accused of being a thief. The inspector (Arnold Foa?) and K's discussion of the details so far collected about his case make for gibberish. After being told to appear before the examining magistrate, K gets into an argument with Mrs Grubach about Miss Burster, a nightclub dancer whom the landlady regards as disreputable.

When Marika arrives after a long night, K goes next door to see her; her conversation sounds contradictory, back and forth between seduction and accusation. "I'm innocent," he tells her of the arrest, though he admits to feelings of guilt and kisses her; "Keep me out of it," she commands after commenting that the authorities are counting on his becoming demoralized.

At his office - an enormous room filled with hundreds of desks with typists clacking away - where K is a highly regarded, up-and-coming assistant manager, his 15-year-old cousin, Irmie (Naydra Shore), unexpectedly appears wanting to see him; K refuses to see her. Back at the boarding house, K sees a crippled woman dragging a heavy trunk from Miss Burster's room. Trying to help her, K asks why Miss Burster is leaving. She responds that he should know. "Why am I always in the wrong without knowing why or how?" he asks, but then feels responsible because he kissed her or because Mrs Grubach wanted her out.

After receiving a note during a theater performance, K, initially displaying comical courage, leaves with the inspector, passing a collection of elderly people barely clothed with a number on a placard hanging from their necks. Inside a crowded courtroom, K courageously confronts the examining magistrate and everyone present, speaking on his own behalf and for everyone else caught up in a similar miscarriage of justice. At the back of the room, a man begins ravishing Hilda (Elsa Martinelli), the wife of the guard, who admitted K.

Back at the office inside a closet, K discovers the cops being whipped for having stolen his shirts. Uncle Max (Max Haufler) arrives having heard from Irmie about the arrest and recommends getting legal help for his orphan nephew. Or he suggests asking the office's computer, a monstrous machine, why K has been charged and with what crime. They go to see the advocate, Albert Hastler (Orson Welles), who says he's already aware of K's case.

Meanwhile K takes an interest in Hastler's attractive nurse, Leni (Romy Schneider), who shows him her physical disability and seduces him. She informs him that he must make a confession to have any chance with the court. On his next visit to the courtroom, which is empty, he only finds a flirtatious Hilda who attempts to seduce him, offering her assistance, before being carried off over a man's shoulder to the examining magistrate. Wondering if it had been a trap, K listens when Hilda's cuckold husband next appears complaining of being sent on useless errands but says admiringly: "Only a man like you could do it." K says: "I'm not afraid of any of them."

Passing through the law-clerk offices between floor-to-ceiling stacks of documents, K realizes that groups of accused treat him as if he were a judge or an official. Pessimistic that his case obviously is prejudiced, possibly without recourse, he enters a labyrinth of passages, corridors, lobbies no longer wanting to see anything further of the judicial system. Again outside and depressed he tells Irmie he plans to dismiss the advocate.

Once again in the advocate's rooms, K finds Leni in her nightgown with Block (Akim Tamiroff), who initially acts as if he's manipulating the system with five other advocates. Of Leni the advocate then says to K: "She finds all accused men attractive." He then turns on Block, saying to K, "It's time you learned how other accused men are treated," making the other client show himself to be a weakling, a sniveling, miserable man willing to be treated like a dog.

Having seen a portrait of Hastler, K goes to see the artist Titorelli (William Chappell), where he's mobbed by young girls. Titorelli explains the different types of acquittal available - such as indefinite and ostensible - but attainment of "final acquittal" is impossible; besides other arrests may following any of the other acquittals. Taking three paintings with him, K exists back into the law-clerk offices.

In a church the priest informs him: "Your case is going badly," adding that K expected too much from outside help, especially from women. The advocate says to K that he came of his own free will. Is there an insanity plea either for his case or for the universe?

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2008 Patrick Ivers. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Patrick Ivers can be reached via e-mail at nora's email address at juno. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)