Paul Newman should have won an Oscar for his work in The Verdict. Instead he would have to wait four more years to pick up his one and only Academy Award for The Color of Money. (For the record, he was nominated nine times for his acting.)
Throughout his youth and middle age, Newman was an impossibly handsome, disarmingly charming screen presence. But at age 62, as ambulance-chasing Boston lawyer Frank Galvin, Newman played against type and the results were spectacular.
Galvin is a walking corpse, reeking of booze and reduced to kibitzing funeral parlors to pass out business cards to the bereaved. Most of his days are spent in bars where he drags out the same old jokes, like the time he cut himself so badly shaving that his eyes cleared up.
Galvin is a washed-up mess and it was much to Newman’s credit that this least-messy of actors so completely absorbed Galvin’s idiosyncrasies and desperation. He’s the very image of the frayed legal hack.
The Verdict is a first-rate courtroom drama filled with surprise plot twists, triumphs, and reversals. But it’s about a lot more: redemption. The film is a salvage operation on a human wreck.
Galvin has a single case, one passed to him by a former partner (Jack Warden). A young woman lies comatose after being given the wrong anesthetic in a hospital delivery room. The idea is for Galvin to settle out of court with the Roman Catholic Archdiocese, which operates the hospital and is eager to avoid the bad publicity of a trial.
That’s exactly what Frank plans to do ... until he visits his client, a human vegetable kept alive by hoses and tubes. Perhaps he recognizes too much of himself in her lifeless form. Against everybody’s best advice, he refuses a settlement of $210,000 and asks for a trial.
The hapless Galvin must contend with a small army of opposition lawyers headed by an urbane, unflappable, and perfectly ruthless legal mind (James Mason) who knows that cases aren’t just won in the courtroom. He has connections with the local media and the money to hire spies to ferret out what Galvin is up to.
Rounding out the cast are Charlotte Rampling as a recent divorcee with obscure motivations who has an affair with Galvin, and Milo O’Shea as the trial judge, a pompous political appointee who won’t give Galvin a break.
They’re all good, but this is Newman’s show. He does more here than shoot down his own pretty-boy persona. He finds in this lowlife a fully-rounded character. Frank Galvin discovers the inner strength to rise from the barroom floor and take on the big guys.
Other films in the series “Order in the Court!”
Saturdays at 1:30 p.m.:
- June 1: The First Monday in October (1981) Rated R
- June 8: The Verdict (1982) Rated R
- June 15: Presumed Innocent (1990) Rated R
- June 22: Witness for the Prosecution (1957) Not Rated
- June 29: Primal Fear (1996) Rated R
Admission to these films is free.
About the Author
Robert W. Butler is a lifelong Kansas City area resident, a graduate of Shawnee Mission East High School and the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas. For several decades he was the movie editor of the Kansas City Star; he now writes a movie-themed blog at butlerscinemascene.com. He joined the Library's Public Affairs team in 2012.