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An Act of Murder

(1948 b 91')

En: 6 Ed: 7

Adapted from Ernst Lothar's novel, a harsh judge learns his wife has a painful terminal illness. He tries to kill her and himself, but he survives and confesses to murder.

Defense attorney David Douglas (Edmond O'Brien) complains that Judge Calvin Cooke (Fredric March) was unfair and sentenced his client to twenty years. Ellie Cooke (Geraldine Brooks) tells her mother Cathy Cooke (Florence Eldridge) that her father becomes mean as a judge. David comes to take out Ellie and disagrees with Calvin about a book on law. Cathy tells Dr. Walter Morrison (Stanley Ridges) her symptoms.

Dr. Morrison gives Cathy tests. Ellie cuts class to talk with her father, but he delays her. Dr. Morrison tells Calvin that Cathy is terminally ill, and three specialists concur. He gives Calvin pain pills for her and advises not telling her. Ellie tells Calvin that she is in love with David, but her father won't talk with her. Cathy tells Calvin that she went to Dr. Morrison, who said she is okay. David questions Judge Cooke about his instructions to the jury, and Calvin decides to grant him a new trial.

Calvin and Cathy go on a vacation where they spent their honeymoon. She gets lost in a hall of mirrors and gets a headache. Calvin gives her a pill. She sleeps but wakes in pain. She finds a note from Calvin, the prescription, and instructions that her illness is fatal. Calvin sees an injured dog that is shot by a policeman, and he throws away the bottle of pills. Cathy tells Calvin that she is better and asks to go back home to Ellie. Calvin drives and stops to check the car. Cathy calls Ellie and collapses. Calvin drives in the rain and goes off the road on a mountainside.

Calvin walks with a cane to work and asks the district attorney to indict him for murdering his wife; he wants to confess. Ellie visits Calvin in jail, but he wants neither bail nor a lawyer. Ellie goes to Judge Jim Wilder, but he says he must recuse himself.

Calvin pleads guilty before Judge Ogden (John McIntire), acting as his own lawyer. David asks to be appointed as counsel, and the judge does so. David asks to change the plea, but Calvin prevents that. David questions Dr. Morrison about Cathy's fatal illness and pain. Dr. Morrison says he opposes mercy killing. He says Calvin was upset and said he was thinking of killing himself and Cathy. David asks for an autopsy, and the coroner says that Cathy died of a drug overdose. A pharmacist testifies that she bought the prescription from him. David gets the plea changed, and Judge Ogden finds Calvin legally innocent but morally guilty. Calvin agrees he is morally convicted, but he says he has learned that intentions are important. He hopes that he can continue to be a judge so that he can consider the heart as well.

This drama explores the moral dilemma of whether death may be caused to save a terminal ill patient from suffering. A judge learns from personal experience that many mitigating factors may contribute to the commission of a crime. The conflict between older judges and younger attorneys is also explored.

Copyright © 2006 by Sanderson Beck

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