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Lawyers in the Movies

P [Category A]

The Paper Chase
The Paradine Case
Paris Trout
Party Girl
A Passage to India
Paths of Glory
The Pelican Brief
The People vs. Larry Flint
Perry Mason
Presumed Innocent
Primal Fear

The Paper Chase (1973)

A classic movie that has ruined the lives of many law students by forcing us to form study groups and re-enact the characters' lives at Harvard Law School. It's a good movie, but remember: you do not need to relive the obsession with a bullying professor, nor stick with an obnoxious study group, to go through law school. (Unless, I guess, you're stuck at Harvard). Written and directed by James Bridges, based on the novel by John Jay Osborn, Jr., the film follows a first-year Harvard law student, unforgettably played by Timothy Bottoms, as he struggles with his classes and falls in love with a woman, played by Lindsay Wagner, who turns out to be the daughter of a sadistic law professor. John Houseman plays the law prof. At Stanford, one professor used to re-enact Houseman's bullying of a student (played by a third-year) on the first day of class, and then after a few minutes reveal that this kind of stuff doesn't happen at Stanford. Such is the power of this film that the first-years were always taken in by the joke.

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The Paradine Case (1947)

I haven't seen this film. The Internet Movie Database states: "Directed by Alfred Hitchcock; featuring Gregory Peck, Ann Todd, Charles Laughton, Charles Coburn, Ethel Barrymore, Louis Jourdan, Alida Valli. Can a woman so beautiful and charming have actually murdered her husband? Even her own lawyer is spellbound in her presence, unable to clearly see the facts. Increasingly captivated by the woman he must defend, he begins to grow distant from his loyal wife."

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Paris Trout (1991)

I haven't seen this movie. According to the Internet Movie Database, Paris Trout, like To Kill a Mockingbird, "is a drama built around injustice and disturbing race relations in the South. Harry Seagraves, the lawyer protagonist in this film, stands in rather sharp contrast to Harper Lee's Atticus Finch. Harry Seagraves, unlike Atticus, is destroyed by the shadow elements of his profession which he seems never to understand." That's what they should teach prepare you for in law school: the shadowy side of the law.

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Party Girl (1958)

I have not seen this movie. The Internet Movie Database states: "Directed by Nicholas Ray. Cast: Robert Taylor, Cyd Charisse, Lee J. Cobb, John Ireland, Kent Smith, Claire Kelly, Corey Allen. Lawyer Thomas Farrell has made a career defending crooks in trials. He has never realized that there is a downside to his success, until he meets the dancer Vicki Gayle. She makes him decide to get out of the business, but mob king Rico Angelo insists that he continue his services."

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Paths of Glory (1957)

I have not seen this film. According to the Internet Movie Database: "Safe in a chateau behind the front lines, the French General Staff passes down an order to Colonel Dax: take Ant Hill at any cost. A blatant suicide mission, the attack is doomed to failure. Covering up their fatal blunder, the generals order the arrest of three innocent soldiers, charging them with cowardice and mutiny. Dax, a lawyer in civilian life, rises to the men's defense but soon realizes that, unless he can prove that the generals were to blame, nothing less than a miracle will save his clients from the firing squad. Directed by Stanley Kubrick; featuring Kirk Douglas, Adolphe Menjou, Ralph Meeker, George Macready, Wayne Morris, Richard Anderson, Joseph Turkel, Susanne Christian, Jerry Hausner, Peter Capell, Emile Meyer, Berl Freed, Ken Dibbs, Timothy Carey."

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The Pelican Brief (1993)

I have not seen this film. According to the Internet Movie Database: "Director, Alan J. Pakula. Cast: Julia Roberts, Denzel Washington, Sam Shepard, John Heard, Tony Goldwyn, James B. Sikking, William Atherton, Robert Culp, Stanley Tucci, Hume Cronyn, John Lithgow. Two Supreme Court justices have been assassinated, and one lone law student turns her suspicions about the deaths into a speculative brief that sends shock waves into the highest levels of government. She and an investigative journalist want to tell the world what they have uncovered --- if they can live to tell it."

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The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996)

I have not seen this film. According to the Internet Movie Database: "Directed by Oliver Stone; featuring Woody Harrelson, Courtney Love, Edward Norton. Based on the true story of the Hustler publisher whose case went to the Supreme Court in defense of free speech and First Amendment rights. The film shows Flynt's raunchy business savvy, his wildly unconventional marriage, and his infamous courtroom antics."

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Perry Mason (TV)
Perry Mason: The Case of the Black Cat (1936)

Okay, settle down, Perry Mason fans. There were 271 television episodes of this lawyer improbably winning almost every case thrown his way that I wasn't going to include any Perry Mason on this site, out of pure, sick jealousy. (We Legal Aid lawyers rarely won even a motion). The formula of this TV show rarely varied: in the first half hour, there is a murder and the police arrest the wrong person. Perry Mason is retained for the defense. There is a preliminary proceeding, usually a hearing. In the second half hour, Perry and team investigate and solve the case, frequently by getting the guilty party to break down and confess on the witness stand. (Note to law students: Don't rely on this happening in real life - the guilty guys are the best liars and the most credible witnesses. It's the innocent people who get trapped by quick questions. And don't try to call someone's parrot to the stand to testify, as Perry did in The Case of the Perjured Parrot. At least not in New York. Perry Mason practiced law in California, where apparently anything goes, especially on the Perry Mason show. ) Perry's client is released, and after the last commercial, Perry and the gang get together and explain how they figured it all out. The gang: Raymond Burr as Perry Mason; Barbara Hale as his secretary, Della Street; William Hopper as private investigator Paul Drake, and William Talman as Hamilton Burger, the District Attorney. Almost 2,000 actors, many of them quite respected, appeared on this series, which ran from September 1957 through January 1974. There was a reunion movie, entitled Perry Mason Returns, which was such a success that a few more television movies were made until Raymond Burr died in 1993, of kidney cancer. There are many episodes available on video. DVDs are scheduled for release in July 2005.

May the record reflect that Perry Mason did lose three cases of almost 300 --- a record any lawyer would envy, especially since he got one of his losses reversed on appeal. His losses were: The Case of the Witless Witness, The Case of the Deadly Verdict, and The Case of the Terrified Typist, according to www.perrymasontvshowbook.com/pmb_c209.htm.

Just try naming one of your files, The Case of the Doomed Client and see how it goes over in your firm.

Due to popular demand, here is one Perry Mason movie, an early one, a favorite of John Perkins, a legal reference service librarian at Mercer University School of Law:

The Case of the Black Cat

(Summary courtesy of the Internet Movie Database, www.imdb.com): "Peter Laxter calls Perry Mason late at night to have him come over and change his will. He is cutting his granddaughter, Wilma, out and splitting the estate between the two grandsons. He suspects that someone is trying to kill him and soon afterwards, he is indeed killed in a fire at his house. Perry suspects foul play and has the coroner check for time of death and finds that the burned victim was dead long before the fire. When the caretaker is murdered, the police find enough evidence to charge Wilma's boyfriend Keene with murder. Perry represents Keene at the trial...." There is a surprise witness, and I won't spoil the ending. The cast, which predates the Raymond Burr television series: Ricardo Cortez as Perry Mason and June Travis as Della Street.

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Philadelphia (1994)

This film convincingly shows the deterioration of a young lawyer's career once he is fired because he has AIDS. Tom Hanks stars as the fired attorney; Denzel Washington is wonderful as his lawyer who at first is reluctant to take the case. Directed by Jonathan Demme.

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Presumed Innocent (1990)

I did not want to ruin my enjoyment of Scott Turow's novel, on which the film is based, by seeing this movie, though it got strong reviews. Directed by Alan J. Pakula, it features a wonderful cast of Harrison Ford, Brian Dennehy, Raul Julia, Bonnie Bedelia, Paul Winfield, and Greta Scacchi. A prosecutor investigates the murder of a co-worker with whom he'd been having an affair. All clues lead to him as the principal suspect.

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Primal Fear (1996)

I have not seen this movie, which was directed by Gregory Hoblit, based on a novel by William Diehl. The plot outline on the Internet Movie Database states: "Courtroom thriller about a slick, hotshot lawyer (Richard Gere) who takes the seemingly unwinnable case of a young altar boy (Edward Norton) accused of murdering an eminent Catholic priest." The cast includes Laura Linney, John Mahoney, and Frances McDormand. People on the IMDb generally thought this film was well-crafted but didn't want to give away the plot by saying too much! What better tribute to a movie could there be, other than to say, "See it yourself"?

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