Compulsion

 

This 1959 black and white movie is about the infamous Leopold and Loeb murder case.  In 1924 Richard Loeb and Nathan Leopold Jr. kidnapped and murdered Bobby Franks.  Here the names have been changed, but not the basics.  Artie Strauss (Bradford Dillman) plays a mother-dominated sadist who, along with submissive friend Judd Steiner (Dean Stockwell), plan and execute a cold-blooded murder just to demonstrate that they can do anything they want to do.  They both come from rich families and are highly intelligent.  The families hire the finest defense lawyer in the country called in the movie Jonathan Wilk (played by Orson Welles) and who in real life was Clarence Darrow.  This case was also dealt with in the films Rope(1948) and Swoon(1991).  What makes the film worth watching is the final defense argument.  Knowing that his clients are guilty, Darrow successfully argues against the death penalty.  Instead of having the jury hear his case, he has the judge review the situation and make the decision.  He argues that there are mitigating circumstances.

 

Clarence Seward Darrow was born in Kinsman, Ohio in 1857 and died in 1938 after becoming the most famous lawyer of his day.  He had an early lucrative career in private and corporate law, but with his defense of Eugene V. Debs and others in connection with the 1894 Pullman strike he turned to representing the underdog.  He bacame famous as an opponent of capital punishment; none of his more than 100 clients was sentenced to death.  Darrow's writings include Crime: Its Cause and Treatment (1922).

 

The following are excerpts from the closing argument that Darrow makes to try and save Leopold and Loeb from the death penalty.  It is an outstanding example of a mitigation report and did succeed.

 

"How insane they are I care not, whether medically or legally.  They did not reason; they could not reason; they committed the most foolish, most unprovoked, most purposeless, most causeless act that any two boys ever committed, and they put themselves where the rope is dangling above their heads.

 

"There are not physicians enough in the world to convince any thoughtful, fair-minded man that these boys are right.  Was their act one of deliberation, of intellect, or were they driven by some force such as Dr. White and Dr. Glueck and Dr. Healy have told this court?

 

"There are only two theories: one is that their diseased brains drove them to it; the other is the old theory of possession by devils, and my friend Marshall (the prosecution team was composed of Crowe, Marshall, Savage, Scarboro, & Smith) could have read you books on that, too, but it has been pretty well given up in Illinois.

 

"That they were intelligent and sane and sound and reasoning is unthinkable.  Let me call Your Honor's attention to another thing.

 

"Why did they kill little Bobby Franks?

 

"Not for money, not for spite, not for hate.  They killed him as they might kill a spider or a fly, for the experience.  They killed him because they were made that way.  Because somewhere in the infinite processes that go to the making up of the boy or the man something slipped, and those unfortunate lads sit here hated, despised, outcasts, with the community shouting for their blood.

 

"Are they to blame for it?  There is no man on earth who can mention any purpose for it all or any reason for it all.  It is one of those things that happened; that happened, and it calls not for hate but for kindness, for charity, for consideration.

 

"I heard the state's attorney talk of mothers.

 

"Mr. Savage is talking for the mothers, and Mr. Crowe is thinking of the mothers, and I am thinking of the mothers.  Mr. Savage, with the immaturity of youth and inexperience, says that if we hang them there will be no more killing.  This world has been one long slaughterhouse from the beginning until today, and killing goes on and on and on, and will forever.  Why not read something, why not study something, why not think instead of blindly shouting for death?

 

"Kill them.  Will that prevent other senseless boys or other vicious men or vicious women from killing?  No!

 

"It will simply call upon every weak-minded person to do as they have done.  I know how easy it is to talk about mothers when you want to do something cruel.  But I am thinking of the mothers too.  I know that any mother might be the mother of a little Bobby Franks, who left his home and went to his school, and who never came back,.  I know that any mother might be the mother of Richard Loeb and Nathan Leopold, just the same.  The trouble is, that  if she is the mother of a Nathan Leopold or of a Richard Loeb, she has to ask herself the question:

 

"'How came my children to be what they are?  From what ancestry did they get this strain?  How far removed was the poison that destroyed their lives?  Was I the bearer of the seed that brings them to death?'…..

 

"Do you think you can cure it by hanging these two?  Do you think you can cure the hatreds and the maladjustments of the world by hanging them?  You simply show your ignorance and your hate when you say it.  You may here and there cure hatr3ed with love and understanding, but you can only add fuel to the flames by cruelty and hate.

 

"What is my friend's idea of justice?  He says to this court, whom he says he respects---and I believe he does---Your Honor, who sits here patiently, holding the lives of these two boys in your hands:

 

"'Give them the same mercy that they gave to Bobby Franks.'

 

"Is that the law?  Is that justice?  Is this what a court should do?  Is this what a state's attorney should do?  If the state in which I live is not kinder, more humane, more considerate, more intelligent than the mad act of these two boys, I am sorry that I have lived so long…..

 

"No one with wisdom and with understanding, no one who is honest with himself and with his own life, whoever he may be, no one who has seen himself the prey and the sport and the plaything of the infinite forces that move man, no one who has tried and who has failed---and we have all tried and we have all failed---no one can tell what justice is for someone else or for himself; and the more he tries and the more responsibility he takes, the more he clings to mercy as being the one thing which he is sure should control his judgement of men.

 

"It is not so much mercy either, Your Honor.  I can hardly understand myself pleading to a court to visit mercy on two boys by shutting them into a prison for life.

 

"For life!  Where is the human heart that would not be satisfied with that?

 

"Where is the man or woman who understands his own life and who has a particle of feeling that could ask for more?  Any cry for more roots back to the hyena; it roots back to the hissing serpent; it roots back to the beast and the jungle.  It is not a part of man.  It is not a part of that feeling which, let us hope, is growing, though scenes like this sometimes make me doubt that it is growing.  It is not a part of that feeling of mercy and pity and understanding of each other which we believe has been slowly raising man from his low estate.  It is not a part of the finer instincts which are slow to develop; of the wider knowledge which is slow to come, and slow to move us when it comes.  It is not a part of all that makes the best there is in man.  It is not a part of all that promises any hope for the future and any justice for the present.  And must I ask that these boys get mercy by spending the rest of their lives in prison, year following year, month following month, and day following day, with nothing to look forward to but hostile guards and stone walls?  It ought not to be hard to get that much mercy in any court in the year 1924…..

 

"Babe (Leopold) took up philosophy….He became enamored of the philosophy of Nietzsche. 

 

"Your Honor, I have read almost everything that Nietzsche ever wrote.  He was a man of a wonderful intellect; the most original philosopher of the last century.  A man who probably has made a deeper imprint on philosophy than any other man in a hundred years, whether right or wrong….Nietzsche believed that some time the superman would be born, that evolution was working toward the superman.

 

"He wrote one book, Beyond Good and Evil, which was a criticism of all moral codes as the world understands them; a treatise holding that the intelligent man in beyond good and evil; that the laws for good and the laws for evil do not apply to those who approach the superman.  He wrote on the will to power.  He wrote some ten or fifteen volumes on his various philosophical ideas.  Nathan Leopold is not the only boy who has read Nietzsche.  He may be the only one who was influenced in the way that he was influenced.

 

"It is not how he would affect you.  It is not how he would affect me.  The question is how he did affect the impressionable, visionary, dreamy mind of a boy.

 

"At seventeen, at sixteen, at eighteen, while healthy boys were playing baseball or working on the farm or doing odd jobs, he was reading Nietzsche, a boy who never should have seen it at that early age.  Babe was obsessed of it, and here are some of the things which Nietzsche taught:

 

"'The morality of the master class is irritating to the taste of the present day because of its fundamental principle that a man has obligation only to his equals; that he may act to all of the lower rank and to all that are foreign, as he pleases.'

 

"In other words, man has no obligations; he may do with all other men and all other boys, and all society, as he pleases---the superman was a creation of Nietzsche, but it has permeated every college and university in the civilized world….

 

"Of course the books are full of statements that the fact that a man believes in committing a crime does not excuse him.

 

"That is not this case, and counsel must know that it is not this case.  Here is a boy at sixteen or seventeen becoming obsessed with these doctrines.  There isn't any question about the facts.  Their own witnesses tell it and every one of our witnesses tell it.  It was not a casual bit of philosophy with him; it was his life.  He believed in a superman.  He and Dickie Loeb were the supermen.  There might have been others, but they were tow, and two chums.  The ordinary commands of society were not for him.

 

"Many of us read this philosophy but know that it has no actual application to life; but not he.  It became a part of his being.  It was his philosophy.  He lived it and practiced it; he thought it applied to him, and he could not have believed it excepting that it either caused a diseased mind or was the result of a diseased mind….

 

"I will guarantee that you can go down to the University of Chicago today---into its big library---and find over a thousand volumes on Nietzsche, and I am sure I speak moderately.  If this boy is to blame for this, where did he get it?  Is there any blame attached because somebody took Nietzsche's philosophy seriously and fashioned his life on it?  And there is no question in this case that is true.  Then who is to blame?  The university would be more to blame than he is.  The scholars of the world would be more to blame than he is.  The publishers of the world---Nietzsche's books are published by one of the biggest publishers in the world---are more to blame than he.  Your Honor, it is hardly fair to hang a nineteen-year-old boy for the philosophy that was taught him at the university."