Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956)
Beyond Reasonable Belief
I can sum up "Beyond a Reasonable Doubt" as a movie with an interesting idea but a lot of flaws. That interesting idea is collusion between a Newspaper owner and a writer to prove that an innocent man can be wrongly accused of murder and sentenced to death. But the flaws are numerous from character issues to various legal issues such as "perverting the course of justice" and "wasting police time". But the biggest flaw is that whilst an interesting idea with a couple of twists "Beyond a Reasonable Doubt" never really gets exciting, never draws you in to what is happening and gets you on the edge of your seat.
Newspaper owner Austin Spencer (Sidney Blackmer) strongly disagrees with the death penalty as he believes that an innocent man can be wrongly sent to his death. In order to prove his theory right he persuades his son-in-law to be, writer Tom Garrett (Dana Andrews - The Frogmen), to collude in a plan which will see him arrested for the unsolved murder of an erotic dancer by planting circumstantial evidence. All goes well as they document everything they do and Tom manages to raise the suspicions of the dead dancer's colleagues enough so that he is arrested and tried for murder. But on the day they expect the jury to return with an outcome of guilty something happens to Austin and the evidence leaving Tom facing the death penalty with the only hope Austin's daughter Susan (Joan Fontaine - Letter from an Unknown Woman) finding some way to prove he is innocent.
Ignoring various flaws for a moment and I actually like the basic idea to "Beyond a Reasonable Doubt" as Austin and Tom purposefully go about planting circumstantial evidence so that sooner rather than later the police will question him. There is a certain amount of cleverness to how they do this from taking photographs of them planting evidence to the way Tom works his way into the life of a friend of the dead dancer and does things to make her become suspicious. And with the whole idea of waiting till he is sentenced to be executed and then proving him innocent it is an interesting idea even if it is obvious that something will happen to Austin to make Tom's situation seem dire.
But it is a flawed idea in many ways none more so that the fact by planting evidence both Austin and Tom would have been charged for "perverting the course of justice" and "wasting police time". Those are not the only issues because we have the cliche set up of Tom being a former journalist who has published one award winning book and in the process of writing his second. But the biggest flaw to me is the twist at the end which whilst you won't see coming is so far fetched it is ridiculous. Yes the twist actually adds some drama and tension which is lacking through out the movie but it ends up feeling too contrived.
As for the acting well Dana Andrews as Tom is solid but delivering a stereotypical character who is frankly forgettable in being so ordinary. It is the same for Sidney Blackmer who plays Austin and Joan Fontaine as Susan is seriously under used in a very flat character. In the end the most entertaining characters are the caricature like erotic dancers with both Barbara Nichols and Robin Raymond brightening up a relatively dull movie.
What this all boils down to is that "Beyond a Reasonable Doubt" has an entertaining idea for a movie but the final movie itself is ordinary.
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