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Lawyers in the Movies

L [Category A]

L.A. Law
The Last Wave
Legal Eagles
Legally Blonde
Let Him Have It
Liar, Liar
The Life of Emile Zola
Losing Isaiah


L.A. Law (1986) [Reunion Movie, TV 2002] [TV-Series 1986-1994]

Created by Steven Bochco and Terry Louise Fisher, this "reunion" movie is reportedly surprisingly good, reuniting most members of the superb TV series who played out their personal and legal lives at the Los Angeles law firm of McKenzie Brackman. The pilot episode (easily available) dealt with office politics in the most literal way: a partner dies, and the other lawyers have to decide who gets his office. I was hooked, and that was before we met the characters and got interested in their personal lives.

I think what I liked most about the TV series was the open way it showed the rivalries and relationships in the law firm, and the need to create support and teamwork among competitive, egotistical and very talented individuals. ("A law firm is a group of solo practitioners who share office equipment.") The show was among the first, other than Star Trek, to feature minorities and women in positions of authority (and Star Trek took place far in the future). A minor - or not so minor - point was the beautiful, professional way that the women dressed at the firm. I was just starting law school when the TV show debuted, and I learned a lot about style from this show.

The plot and subplots of the reunion movie, according to the Internet Movie Database: "Michael Kuzak, now a successful restaurant owner, is called out of retirement to help stop the impeding execution of a former client on death row, and the opposing counsel is Kuzak's old flame, Grace Van Owen. Meanwhile, divorce lawyer Arnie Becker deals with his most toughest divorce: his own, where his estranged young wife has hired former McKenzie Brackman lawyer Abby Perkins…. Office manager Roxanne Melman deals with her ex-husband, Dave Meyer, who claims that he's dying and wants to spend some quality time with her. Also, married partners Ann Kelsey and Stuart Markowitz [who met on the show and then married in real life] find themselves the victims of a scam artist."

In short, just your typical day at a humdrum law firm.

The wonderful cast:

Harry Hamlin .... Michael Kuzak (1986-1991)
Susan Dey .... Grace Van Owen (1986-1992)
Corbin Bernsen .... Arnie Becker
Jill Eikenberry .... Ann Kelsey/Markowitz
Alan Rachins .... Douglas Brackman, Jr.
Michele Greene .... Abby Perkins (1986-1991)
Jimmy Smits .... Victor Sifuentes (1986-1991)
Michael Tucker .... Stuart Markowitz
Susan Ruttan .... Roxanne Melman/Meyer (1986-1993)
Richard A. Dysart .... Leland McKenzie (as Richard Dysart)
Larry Drake .... Benny Stulwicz (1987-1994)
Blair Underwood .... Jonathan Rollins (1987-1994)
Sheila Kelley .... Gwen Taylor (1990-1993)
Amanda Donohoe .... Cara Jean "C.J." Lamb (1990-1992)
John Spencer .... Tommy Mullaney (1990-1994)

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The Last Wave (1977)

I have not seen this film, which is called a "surrealist psychological drama." Here are excerpts from Jonathan Crow's review from the All Movie Guide posted on Blockbuster.com: "David Burton (Richard Chamberlain), a well-to-do Sydney corporate lawyer plagued by visions of impending doom ... is assigned to defend five [Aborigines] accused of murdering a fellow Aborigine. The case itself proves to be mysterious --- no exact cause of death can be determined by the pathologist, and the accused remain strangely tight-lipped about the whole affair." Directed by Peter Weir.

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Legal Eagles (1986)

I saw this movie but can't remember anything about it except it involved Robert Redford and an explosion. (As so many legal cases do). The Internet Movie Database reveals: "Directed by Ivan Reitman. Cast: Robert Redford, Debra Winger, Daryl Hannah, Brian Dennehy, Terence Stamp, Steven Hill. A hard-nosed assistant district attorney and an imaginative defense attorney combine their talents to defend an artist accused of theft and murder."

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Legally Blonde (2001)

I thoroughly enjoyed this amusing chick flick about a sorority sister, delightfully played by Reese Witherspoon, who heads to law school, with her little yappy dog, to follow her boyfriend. (Think: "Clueless/Emma goes to law school. With a little yappy dog.") Directed by Robert Luketic, based on the novel by Amanda Brown, it shows not only the male-female dynamics that permeate our lives, but also how women can both help and sabotage each other along the way as we struggle in a traditional profession. It's a very silly movie that is a good antidote to The Paper Chase, which was about chasing good grades. Legally Blonde actually shows more of what law students do (while chasing good grades), from legal clinics to detailed legal research, and how you can stand up to the pressure to become an arrogant intellectual snob by staying true to yourself.

The sequel, Legally Blonde 2: Red White and Blonde, is not as good, but worth seeing if you love Reese Witherspoon, who in the sequel goes to work for a Congresswoman, played by Sally Field, on Capitol Hill, advocating for animal rights. Of course, Reese conquers all, with her lovely wardrobes, perfect make-up, and her little yappy dog by her side.

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Let Him Have It (1991)

Directed by Peter Medak, this film tells the true, tragic story of a slow-witted boy, Derek Bentley, in 1950s England, who falls in with a group of petty criminals. Their murder trial, which is shown with compassion and respect for the truth, shook England's belief in capital punishment. The case reverberated for years, and this movie helped to keep the case in the public eye. Derek Bentley was first partially pardoned (posthumously) by Home Secretary Michael Howard, who said he should not have been hanged, though he was guilty. Bentley's conviction was later overturned by the Court of Appeal, who found that the trial judge's behavior had prejudiced the proceedings, depriving the accused of a fair trial.

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Liar, Liar (1997)

Jim Carrey stars as a lawyer who can't lie for 24 hours. Directed by Tom Shadyac. I haven't seen this movie, which rests on the assumption that legal practice involves constantly lying for guilty clients. (A lawyer who helps a client lie, or who knows a client is lying, can be disbarred for suborning perjury). Some say that this film is really more about the difficulty of balancing family and work --- the lawyer constantly lies to his son about making time for his son's life. Now, that's a crime. Jim Carrey's physical humor is always a joy, even if the script is weak.

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Libel (1959)

Directed by Anthony Asquith, based on the play by Edward Wooll, this film, which might not be easy to obtain, has a superb plot and cast. Fourteen years have passed since the end of World War II. An English barrister, Sir Mark Loddon (Dirk Bogarde), is accused of being an imposter by a wartime comrade, who remembers that a man who resembled Loddon in the POW camp was plotting to kill him and assume his identity after the war. The barrister's wife (Olivia de Havilland) encourages her husband to sue for libel. The dueling barristers are played by Robert Morley and Wilfrid Hyde-White. The plot can be a bit confusing, though the POW flashbacks are well-handled and British courtroom scenes are always riveting, in part because they allow their witnesses to tell their stories in their own words. (Their direct examinations allow more narrative, rather than short Q&As preferred or required by American procedure). Richard Dimbleby, the BBC broadcaster who was the first broadcaster to report from the Belsen concentration camp and who covered Winston Churchill's funeral, plays himself. The domestic scenes were filmed at an elegant country estate belonging to the Duke of Bedford.

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Losing Isaiah (1995)

Starring Jessica Lange and Halle Berry, this film tells the story of a drug addict (Berry) who abandons her child, who is adopted by Lange. Berry then cleans herself up and tracks down the child and tries to win custody. The court battle over the adoption of the baby raises racial and family issues.

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