Compulsion, 1959 – directed by Richard Fleischer, starring Orson Welles, Dean Stockwell, and Bradford Dillman. The names are changed – but it’s the story of the Leopold/Loeb murders. First half of the film: the crime. Second half: the trial, where Orson Welles comes in – as the atheist infamous brilliant Clarence Darrow defense attorney.
Dean Stockwell plays Judd, the weaker more shattered member of the crime duo – the follower, the one with all the Nietzschean theories, and yet – he’s lost when it comes to acting alone. He hates this part of himself. He sees it as weak. Of course it is his most human side, and that is what he despises. There is an overt homosexual energy running through the whole thing – amazing how overt it actually is, considering the year it was made.
Bradford Dillman, who plays his partner in crime, the leader – the suave operator – was the weak link in the film, and did too much maniacal “oooh I’m craaaaazeee” laughter to show his mental instability. But there are moments between the two of them – Stockwell and Dillman – that shows quite clearly the almost sado-masochistic bond between them. Stockwell is in thrall, he wants to please, he begs Artie (Dillman), “We’ll do it together, right?” Any whiff of independence or singularity throws him into a panic. And yet the panic is something he can barely admit to himself – first of all, because it shows his weakness. Second of all, because (and this is the subliminal thing going on) – it reveals to him, way too plainly, his feelings for Artie. This is not spoken, but it is played. Judd’s brother tries to talk to him about his relationship with Artie – not saying, “Dude, are you gay?” but skirting around it, definitely implying it. “Don’t you ever want to go to a baseball game, Judd? Don’t you ever want to chase girls? I could tell you some stories from when I was your age–” Judd cuts him off, icy, “I am sure you had some fascinating experiences.”
He feels superior to most everybody, and only Artie is his intellectual equal. Artie plays Judd like a violin, withholding love and approval until Judd is twisted up with neuroses, and then Artie fondly chucks him on the chin, letting him back into the circle of light. (This is very similar to the erotic atmosphere between the two characters in Heavenly Creatures. Alone, neither of the girls could ever have committed such a heinous crime. But together? They are deadly. They push each other further into cruelty, narcissism, self-absorption).
Artie says to Judd in the first scene, “You told me that you wanted me to command you to do things.” Judd replies, eager, serious, “I do.” This comes up again and again, when Judd hesitates, or seems unable to go through with something – Artie’s face will get cold, and he will say, “Do you need me to order you?” The power politics are potent.
When Orson Welles comes in to interview the two boys for the first time, he observes, “The hardest thing about this trial is that neither of you appear to have any friends – besides each other. Finding positive character witnesses is going to be difficult.” Artie says, expansive, bragging, “I have a little black book with the names of 40 or 50 girls I’ve gone out with in the last 2 years. You can call any of them.” Orson looks at Judd, who is pacing and smoking. “How about you, Judd?” Judd says, “No. I don’t have any little black book.” Orson then says, in a casual manner, “No girls?” He’s not accusing (at least not openly), he’s not openly insinuating anything about Judd’s sexuality – but he certainly is doing so subtextuallly. Judd stops pacing and stares at Orson, with this horrible horrible vulnerability on his face. It’s like he’s been punched in the gut. He’s been found out.
There is something here that cannot be spoken. It can’t be spoken because it was filmed in 1959. That’s true. But it can be implied (in the same way that in the film version of Streetcar, the homosexuality was toned down, nearly erased – the stage version is completely explicit about what “went wrong” with Blanche’s husband. It wouldn’t get by the censors, though – so Williams had to struggle to somehow get the point across, and yet not SAY it. The studio wanted Blanche’s husband to be discovered “with a Negress” – implying that that would be a perfect stand-in for him being found with another man. How awful to have your husband be “with a Negress”! So you can see the issues storytellers had in those days. The studio also wanted it to have a happy ending. Louis B. Mayer saw Blanche as an evil woman trying to break up “that nice couple”. Ha. However: even without the explicit reference, you “get it”. It’s there. Even if it’s not exactly in the language, Vivien Leigh is playing it.) Same is going on here in Compulsion. Implications are all over the place, but nobody really says it out loud. Stockwell, however, is playing it. That storyline is completely clear, even though it’s not in the language. It’s all in the look on his face when Orson Welles says to him, casually, “No girls?”
Artie orders Judd to rape Ruth, a girlfriend of an acquaintance of theirs. (The word “rape” is used openly – which makes me wonder how rare it was at that time. Not rape itself, but using the word in a film. I’ll do some research. Ruth’s boyfriend says to her later, when she tells him what happened and she actually tries to brush it off – because she felt so sorry for Judd, the boyfriend says, furious, “He tried to rape you, Ruth!” It’s the word that struck me – even in movies where rape occurs, Streetcar, for example – the word itself was never spoken. But here it is.) Anyway, when Artie tells Judd to do it, and Judd balks, doesn’t want to (“I hadn’t thought of that,” he says) – Artie says something to Judd like, “We promised ourselves that we would search out every human experience possible.” To me, that was a subliminal, “You gotta get laid, Judd” message. I would imagine Judd was a virgin. At least in terms of sleeping with a woman. It’s a wrenching scene, terrible – he can’t go through with it. He cries. The shame is intense.
I liked the shot above. It’s showy, yes, tricky – but it’s brief. Not lingered over. I thought it was cool.
(EG Marshall was great.)
Oh – and freakin’ Gavin MacLeod was apparently in this movie – but I can’t figure out which part he played. I’ll have to look closer, just to see Mr. Love Boat in action. [Update: I looked closer. FOUND HIM. He plays one of the cops. Voila.]
I can feel the aura of a captain’s uniform around him already.
And here is Judd, sitting on his bed, waiting to be ordered by Artie to rape Ruth. Artie came up with the idea, and tries to persuade Judd how good it will be for him, how girls “never talk about it afterwards”, how he needs to experience this. Judd is all messed up. He’s in love with Artie. Never spoken, of course, but it is obvious that that is what is going on. But you can’t even admit that to yourself, not in THIS world anyway … The threat is so huge, the wrong-ness so palpable, it truly is a love that dares not speak its name. So it becomes twisted, perverse. Artie keeps teasing Judd about Ruth, “Are you falling for her?” Judd throws Artie a look that says it all. No way is he “falling” for Ruth – how could she ever compete with the tangled web of THIS relationship? But the dynamic has been set, he has to do what Artie says, but he won’t do it without the order. He needs to hear the magic words, “I order you to …” There’s a masochism in him, it’s incredibly creepy to watch. There’s a sexual quality to the whole exchange, a master and slave kind of thing. Artie says, cold and slow, “Do you need me to …. order you to?” And Stockwell, as always, doesn’t ever over-act or ham or telegraph his inner life to us. He is still, watchful, worried, painfully open. Looking up at Artie, waiting for the order.