“Beyond a Reasonable Doubt” (1956) starring Dana Andrews & Joan Fontaine

Tom Garrett (Dana Andrews) is a reporter on leave from his newspaper to write his second book. Since he has writer’s block, his publisher/friend, Austin Spencer (Sidney Blackmer), suggests an idea for a non-fiction book on capital punishment. Austin thinks the local DA, Roy Thompson (Philip Bourneuf), is using the death penalty in the hopes of getting into the governor’s mansion. Tom and Austin decide to frame Tom for a murder he didn’t commit, in the hopes of showing how easily a man could be found guilty (w/ only circumstantial evidence). They decide to keep Tom’s fiancee/Austin’s daughter, Susan (Joan Fontaine), out of the loop.

Austin: You get engaged to my daughter, and all you can think about is capital punishment?

This was the last American film made by Fritz Lang (an iconic noir director) before returning to his native Germany; he fled in 1934 b/c of the rise of the Nazis (being Jewish). Lang chafed against the Hollywood studio system when producers wanted to impose their ideas on his vision. This film (shot in only 20 days- wow) is a legal drama and noir rolled into one. Instead of a cop, we follow a journalist (which was common for the noir genre). Though it’s not in Lang’s usual style, I thought it was riveting from the start. Some viewers said the movie looked more like a TV show; TV was on the verge of becoming big in the mid-1950s. The dialogue is smart, pacing well-done, and the acting is good (down to the small roles).

Dolly: This guy’s got a lot of class.

Terry: Yeah? If he’s got so much class, what’s he doin’ with you?

Andrews and Fontaine make an elegant couple; they’re also fine actors who understand subtlety. Fontaine gets some classy outfits to wear, too. I think she looked more interesting in her 30s and somewhat baby-faced in her 20s. I wish she had more to do. One of the burlesque dancers, Dolly Moore (Barbara Nichols), brings some humor to the story. Moore looks/acts like a taller a and more streetwise version of Marilyn Monroe; she was in Sweet Smell of Success (1957) opposite Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster.


[1] The main strengths of this movie… its lively pace, its wonderfully bizarre plot and the unexpected twists which make it so intriguing and enjoyable to watch.

[2] Andrews and Fontaine are not a bad pair—both are matched in calm and sophistication, and beauty, even, though Fontaine seems like an accessory until the very end. Andrews rules the plot, which makes him out to be a writer desperate for a new story.

[3] This is perhaps Lang’s best assault on the American justice system; he has created a story that is interesting and very plausible and it works a treat in that it gets you thinking about the fact that with this kind of law; someone really could be killed for something they didn’t do.

It is efficient story telling at it’s best and this is one of the highlights of the film noir era.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

One thought on ““Beyond a Reasonable Doubt” (1956) starring Dana Andrews & Joan Fontaine

  1. I guess I didn’t realize that Lang had gone back to Europe. This got me to read the German wikipedia article. I’ll have to put The Tiger of Eschnapur on my list.

    Liked by 1 person

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