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ANATOMY OF A COURTROOM AGENDA: TWILIGHT OF HONOR

Richard Chamberlain faces Joey Heatherton YEAR: 1963
Once again, Hollywood puts Capitol Punishment on trial along with another of their favorite targets, the Middle American small town – and in the case of TWILIGHT OF HONOR, it's a double whammy...

Since the 1940's (Elia Kazan's BOOMERANG! was our last review) the Courtroom Drama has shared similar traits: an idealistic underdog Defense Attorney, who's an alone and easy target against a usually Fascist-like prosecutor in bed with everyone, including the judge and literally, in this case, even the jury: Although here, Richard Chamberlain's young, inexperienced David Mitchell isn't completely by himself with an old mentor in his corner – during this time, working alongside veteran actor Raymond Massey on TV's popular DR. KILDAIRE, Richard's scenes with Claude Rains as retired defense attorney Art Harper (an ancient, creaky-boned version of Orson Welles in COMPULSION, who was channelling Clarence Darrow) is a cakewalk, their scenes providing color-commentary following each day in court or leading to the next round...

Joey Heatherton facing Richard Chambarlain
Where Chamberlain's David has little chance, the hopelessly white trash loser, Ben Brown, played by the usually-antsy, nervous method actor Nick Adams, has it much worse, facing a one-time trip to the gas chamber. Accused of ruthlessly murdering the town's old millionaire darling who, seen in flashbacks and giving GREEN ACRES Pat Buttram a chance to be unlikable, has only one flimsy reason for firing that lethal gun, mirroring the Otto Preminger classic ANATOMY OF A MURDER, which this is an extremely lightweight version of...

Far more voluptuous than Lee Remick, just take one look at our newcomer "Introducing" starlet, Joey Heatherton as unapologetic floozy Laura Mae Brown, and you might get the idea – her and Adams make an odd pair, indeed: she's a trophy wife and he hardly deserves one, but desperately wants to keep it: and, we learn, is far more vulnerable than dangerous. In real life, Nick was a tragic figure who ended his life with suicide, and, on television, his energetic style could hardly be contained within the small screen...

Nick Adams with a profile resembling Ben Gazzara
But here, within a much larger spectrum, despite being nominated for an Oscar (a raised voice got a nod in those days), his performance sheds new light on "chewing the scenery," although this occurs only during particular flashbacks spoken by those recalling slanted events who want him dead. In his own pivotal backstory, and while he's seated sheepishly beside the tall, dapper Chamberlain, with a perfectly rounded head and sad, close-set eyes he resembles a hybrid of Charlie Brown; the soon-to-be "That guy's in everything" actor Tracy Walter; and an abandoned, unwanted, mistreated puppy dog. His life's on the line but his countenance is more "I'm so obviously innocent" when it should be ambiguous and mysterious – studying Ben Gazzara in ANATOMY might have helped. During one scene where he blows up in a jealous rage, screaming for a rope to hang himself, you might want his fellow soldiers (he was in the Air Force) to oblige...

Beauty and The Beast, Joey and Nick FILM SCORE: **1/2
But there are two sides to even a completely loaded coin: In the token villain corner is MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE character-actor James Gregory, another talent given a proverbial mask to fit what might have been director Boris Sagal (more prone to TV shows, and it shows!) or (adapted from a novel) scriptwriter Henry Denker's distracting, extremely obvious Left Wing agenda...

Starting out with Gregory's Norris Bixby, who we quickly learn plans on running for Governor and needs this case to seal the deal, as he follows the car that holds Adams while the town mob roars in his favor and against the doomed culprit: In such a limited, one-dimensional role, he's given absolutely no room to stretch beyond a cliched caricature (unlike ANATOMY prosecutor George C. Scott, who, though edgy and tough, actually seems... human) of a vicious redneck in fancy attire, unrealistically threatening the jury in a ridiculous Closing Statement following an eloquent monologue by Chamberlain, turning-in an otherwise decent performance for a semi-entertaining but insanely manipulating low-budget melodrama, often seeming overqualified in the lead role despite former screen giant Rains at arm's length – but since the same number of odds are stacked against his enemies (i.e. everyone expect Rains and Adams) by the movie itself... as are thrust upon him by the narrow-minded town... it's all too easy a case to win no matter what the actual risk or climb may have been on paper.
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