AJC senior legal affairs writer Bill Rankin has seen his share of court cases, and it’s only natural that he would have opinions on what makes for great movie courtroom dramas (and comedies).
We asked Bill to name his favorite cinematic courtroom scenes. Here’s what he came up with:
To Kill A Mockingbird – This has to top every list of best legal drama movies. Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, Brock Peters as Tom Robinson and Robert Duvall as Arthur “Boo” Radley are simply magnificent.
12 Angry Men – Taut and provocative. The interactions among the dozen jurors, with Juror #8 (Henry Fonda) in the center of it, all are spellbinding.
Anatomy of a Murder – This movie, starring Jimmy Stewart who defends a man accused of killing his wife’s rapist, broke a lot of Hollywood taboos. An added treat is the movie’s score, written by the magnificent Duke Ellington who makes a brief cameo appearance as “Pie-Eye.”
John Adams: Join Or Die (Part 1) – Paul Giamatti is fantastic portraying the future president as he defends British soldiers accused of murder in the 1770 Boston Massacre. Before agreeing to represent the men, the anguished Adams famously tells his wife, “Counsel is the last thing an accused person should lack in a free country, Abagail.”
My Cousin Vinny – This movie is simply hilarious and many of its best lines – particularly Vinny’s brief and pointed opening statement – can’t be printed in this space. Joe Pesci, Fred Gwynne and Marisa Tomei are all incredible.
Presumed Innocent – Great performances by Harrison Ford (as accused prosecutor Rusty Sabich), Paul Winfield (the judge), Brian Dennehy (the DA), Bonnie Bedelia (the wife) and John Spencer (the investigator). In the courtroom, the cross-examination of Sabich’s lawyer, Sandy Stern (played by Raul Julia), of the medical examiner, Dr. Kumagai (Sab Shimono) is simply awesome.