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James Stewart is Paul Biegler, a former District Attorney turned small town defence lawyer. He is called upon to defend Frederick Manion (Ben Gazzara), an Army Lieutenant accused of shooting dead the man who Manion believes raped his wife Laura (Lee Remick). As Paul digs deeper into the circumstances surrounding the crime, he realises that things are not as clear-cut as they initially seem. And that is before he has to face the fearsome – and fearless – prosecutor Claude Dancer (George C. Scott)…

Well….WOW! This is a superb film. I actually put off watching it for a long time because of it’s length; it runs at 2 hours 40 minutes, and I don’t generally like films that are much longer than two hours (blame it on my attention span). However this film gripped me from the word go, and once the action moved to the courtroom – about an hour into the film – it really became compelling viewing. The role that James Stewart will always be most remembered for is probably George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life. And while that certainly is a wonderful film, I preferred him here, and thoroughly enjoyed his performance as the morally ambiguous Biegler. He was not let down by the rest of the cast either – it’s hard to pick any one performance as outstanding, because everyone in the cast was excellent. Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara, Eve Arden (as Biegler’s smart, loyal but long suffering secretary), Arthur O’Connell (as Biegler’s friend, the alcoholic Parnell McCarthy, who finds a reason to stop drinking and start living, as he works with Biegler on the case), and George C. Scott. If this were any other cast, Scott would probably steal the show with his excellent performance!

The story ticks along nicely, with plenty of twists and turns, and I found myself switching points of view, and never quite sure what the truth was. There was tension, atmosphere and even a few laughs as the story unfolded.

However, I do have one gripe with this film and that was the ending! By that, I mean the last 7 or 8 minutes, which is not too bad for a film of 160 minutes. I won’t give anything away, but for me, the ending was unsatisfactory and not what I was hoping for. Nonetheless, it was a hugely enjoyable film, and I would certainly recommend it, especially to fans of courtroom drama – this is one of the best!

Year of release: 1959

Director: Otto Preminger

Producers: Otto Preminger

Writers: John D. Voelker (book), Wendell Mayes

Main cast: James Stewart, Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara, Arthur O’Connell, Eve Arden, Kathryn Grant, George C. Scott, Murray Hamilton

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In this 1976 classic horror movie, Gregory Peck plays American ambassador Robert Thorn, who makes the biggest mistake of his life when his newborn child dies, and he agrees to illegally adopt another baby, whose mother died in childbirth. This is all unknown to Thorn’s wife Kathy (Lee Remick), and for the first few years of their son Damien’s life, everything is great. The Thorns have a healthy, happy child, and a wonderful marriage. Things start to go wrong however, at Damien’s fifth birthday party, when his nanny commits suicide in front of all the guests, and shortly afterwards, a Priest warns Robert that his family’s life is in danger from their son. Strange and troubling events soon start to convince Robert that his child is evil incarnate…

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this film – I’m not generally a fan of horror movies, and I wanted to see this one, purely because I am a fan of Gregory Peck. I actually did not find it scary – although there were a few genuinely tense moments – but I did find it riveting viewing. Gregory Peck and Lee Remick are perfectly cast as the Thorns, who come to suspect that their child is not all he seems. Billie Whitelaw is also superb, and genuinely unsettling as Mrs Baylock, the nanny who replaces their ill-fated first nanny. Harvey Stephens, as only a young boy, does a fine job as Damien, although he does not get as much screen time as one might have expected. Excellent support is also given by Patrick Troughton as Father Brennan, the repentant Priest who tries to warn Thorn, and David Warner as a photographer named Jennings, who finds himself drawn into the mystery surrounding Damien.

There is very little gore in this film; rather, it is a case of what you don’t see, i.e., the power of suggestion. This creates a more unsettling atmosphere. Although the film is not as frightening nowadays – and possibly has not aged very well – I can imagine that at the time of its release, it was genuinely disturbing.

It’s well worth seeing, even if you’re not a fan of the horror genre – it’s a film that’s a classic with good reason!

Year of release: 1976

Director: Richard Donner

Writer: David Seltzer

Main cast: Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, Billie Whitelaw, David Warner, Patrick Troughton, Harvey Stephens

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