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Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

Screening on Film
Directed by Fritz Lang.
With Dana Andrews, Joan Fontaine, Sidney Blackmer.
US, 1956, 35mm, black & white, 80 min.
Print source: HFA

Lang’s final American film is a nearly clinical account of a world beyond justice, where even social crusaders rely upon craven manipulation. Dana Andrews plays a fledgling writer who delays his engagement to Joan Fontaine’s heiress in order to aid her publisher father’s campaign against capital punishment. The two men reverse engineer a murder, planting evidence to elicit a false guilty verdict—but as ever in Lang’s ambivalent universe, the difference between imagining a crime and committing it may not be so great as it first appears. The film was championed by the young directors of the nouvelle vague, with Jacques Rivette particularly impressed by the diagrammatic quality of Lang’s direction: “Here one breathes, if I may venture so, the rarefied air of the summits, but at risk of asphyxiation.”

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