Capt. Edward Hall, Jr. (Paul Newman)- the son of an Army colonel (Walter Pidgeon)- returns to the US (San Francisco) after 2 yrs in a Korean War prison camp. For 6 mos, he was isolated from the other prisoners and psychologically tortured. His younger brother (Paul) died in combat during this time. Ed is quickly charged w/ treason, assigned a JAG lawyer- Lt. Col Frank Wasnick (prolific character actor Edmond O’Brien)- and put on trial. Paul’s widow Aggie (Anne Francis) is empathetic and a willing ear for Ed, though his father is embarrassed (even refusing to come to court). He pleads “not guilty,” but had he reached a personal breaking point during his capture?
This is a must-see if you like intelligent, sensitive, serious, and well-acted l films! The teleplay was written by Rod Serling (creator of the original Twilight Zone TV series). Paul Newman (then 30 y.o.) is able to keep the viewer’s attention in the quiet and intense moments; he slowly reveals the layers of his character. Newman creates terrific chemistry w/ his co-stars, most notably Pidgeon and Francis. The theme of the distant/unemotional father and son yearning for acceptance and love isn’t rare for Hollywood, though it’s handled very well here. When Ed leaves home and goes to stay in a hotel, a concerned Aggie goes to check on him. In a more obvious story, they may have become a romantic pair; here they become good friends.
The prosecution of a (previously decorated) war hero isn’t an easy thing to handle; it falls upon Maj. Sam Moulton (Wendell Corey), who isn’t too happy w/ the assignment. Lt. Col. Wasnick sees that Ed is full of self-pity, so has to boost his spirits and prep him to tell his story on the stand. O’Brien gets some of the best lines (during the courtroom scenes). Even the soldier who testifies against Ed, Capt. John Miller (character actor Lee Marvin), isn’t a one-note character. It turns out that he also suffered tortured, though his was physical. Aggie confides her worries in a neighbor played by a very young (and pretty) Cloris Leachman; she later became an iconic character actor in comedy.
 Paul Newman’s second film… [his acting] demonstrates that, even then, he was the truly finest screen performer around. But the very nature of his style has always placed him behind or to the side of more “bravura” actors of the time. Unlike Brando and Clift and Dean- he is much less self-centered; in other words he is a sharing actor. This puts the SCENE in focus more than the performance…
One thought on “The Rack (1956) starring Paul Newman”
The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs, and explosions, and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices, to be found only in the minds of men. For the record, prejudices can kill and suspicion can destroy; and a thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all of its own for the children, and the children yet unborn. -Rod Serling, writer of the science fiction TV series The Twilight Zone (25 Dec 1924-1975)