Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Trial (1955)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Trial (1955)

In director Mark Robson's and MGM's courtroom crime drama with themes of bigotry, hypocrisy and political extremism - it was adapted from screenwriter Don Mankiewicz's own 1955 novel of the same name (that was also published by Harper's); it told about a controversial trial held after an Hispanic boy was arrested for the death of a Caucasian female, in a lynch-mob atmosphere of anti-ethnic race prejudice in the community, and during the growth of Communist special interests; its tagline was: "IT STARTED SO INNOCENTLY - A BOY AND A GIRL ON A BEACH, THEN...":

  • in the film's pre-title credits sequence during a nighttime scene at a crowded San Juno Village, CA private beach (limited to residents only), after a loud scream, 17 year-old Hispanic teenager Angel Chavez (Rafael Campos) was found by a game warden standing over a deceased female, later identified as Marie Wiltse; later, newspaper headlines read: "MURDER AT VILLAGE BEACH - Youth Accused in Slaying of 16-Yr.-Old Girl"
San Juno Village (CA) Private Beach in 1947

Deceased White Female Marie Wiltse

Detained Suspect Angel Chavez (Rafael Campos)
  • after the title-credits, at 9:30 pm at the San Juno State (California) University on June 7, 1947, a 5-year war veteran and idealistic, clean-cut university law instructor David Blake (Glenn Ford), who had taught for about four years, was being threatened by Dean George (Everett Glass) with the non-renewal of his teaching contract, for lacking legal courtroom trial experience (a new teaching prerequisite); Prof. Terry Bliss (Grandon Rhodes) came to Blake's defense and suggested that Blake find the legal experience needed over the summer months
  • Blake went searching for work in a law office and visited the small law-firm of street-smart shark-attorney Barney Castle (Arthur Kennedy), assisted by his competent and smart legal secretary Abbe Nyle (Dorothy McGuire); he was offered a job if Castle could take on a case regarding a client that was currently in jail

Law Firm Attorney Barney Castle (Arthur Kennedy)

Legal Secretary Abbe Nyle (Dorothy McGuire)
  • they visited the local jail where Castle bribed racist courthouse jail-sheriff A. A. "Fats" Sanders (Robert Middleton) with $20 to speak to the incarcerated Chavez (and his mother Consuela (Katy Jurado)); the scared but forthright boy admitted that he had trespassed onto the private beach, and had become acquainted with the victim who was a student in his HS; he claimed that she willingly kissed him and they started to make out, but then she got scared and ran away; he found her dead body and screamed for help; Abbe mentioned that the girl was known to have suffered from recurring rheumatic fever - the reason for her collapse ("her heart gave out"); however, Chavez had to be charged on suspicion of statutory rape (due to Marie being under-age) and first-degree "felony murder"
  • Blake was hired by Castle as a defense lawyer to take the pro-bono Chavez case known as State vs. Chavez: ("You're gonna take this case to court"); Castle claimed he would function as the "outside man" engaged in fund-raising to support their client
  • the DA prosecutor was John "Jack" Armstrong (John Hodiak) who openly announced his intentions to Blake of the type of proper sentencing recommendations he would propose, including manslaughter pleas (from two to 10 years), in order to avoid having the town labeled as the place where a tabloid-like sex-murder case occurred
  • during his preparation for the trial, the inexperienced Blake was aided by Castle's earnest and supportive legal secretary Abbe, who eventually became a love interest
  • while Angel was held in jail before trial, a small private funeral and burial ceremony was conducted for the dead girl by her grieving parents at the cemetery; a group of disgruntled townspeople, led by aristocratic and bigoted real estate mogul Ralph Castillo (John Hoyt) and long-time Ku Klux Klan member Cap Grant (Paul Guilfoyle), arrived as the ceremony concluded; Castillo declared that they would seek vengeance against the Hispanic boy; he also advocated strict segregation of the races: "But now we're going to see that justice is done. We're going to see to it that this little girl didn't die for nothing...We're going to see to it that people live with their own kind, the way it used to be. They call it discrimination, but why is it called discrimination to keep the races apart"
  • the vigilante lynch mob of racist townsfolk attempted to stir up protest and retaliation by marching to the jail; their objective was to break the boy out of jail and execute him; DA Armstrong arrived to pressure jailer "Fats" Sanders to tell the crowd that the accused boy would be found guilty during a legal trial and executed: ("You can promise them we'll hang that boy legally if they give us a chance"); the jovial "Fats" implored the mob to leave and not create a bad reputation for the town as a 'lynch-town': "I can give you my solemn oath. The man that killed Marie Wiltsie will hang for it - legal...If the law doesn't hang this lousy Mex, I swear I'll quit my job and never run for public office again"
  • during everything that occurred pre-trial, Blake began to realize that the shady Castle had an ulterior motive; he clearly had no desire for Angel to be acquitted, and was in fact sabotaging the case; he was also manipulating and controlling the boy's mother Consuela Chavez
  • to raise funds for the defense of the boy in the sensationalist, racially-charged, felony-murder case, Castle planned a New York City fund-raising rally sponsored by the All Peoples Party (a Communist front); Castle flew Angel's mother to NYC to attend
  • meanwhile, Blake and Abbe worked overtime at Castle's California beach "shack"; a love-affair began to develop between the two, after she admitted that an affair between her and Castle had ended over a year earlier
  • when the San Juno trial opened, it was presided over by black Judge Theodore Motley (Juano Hernandez); Blake suspected the black judge had been chosen due to pressure from town bigots who wanted only the appearance of a fair trial, so they could proceed with executing the Mexican boy; the Judge harshly rebuked Blake for his unfounded suspicions and his own racist attitude: ("I'm sure that you consider yourself completely without racial prejudice, but you'd bar me from the bench for this trial because of the color of my skin")
  • during the first day of jury selection, novice lawyer Blake was compelled to throw out the original jury panel because of charges of jury tampering - the prospective jurors had been visited in their homes and interrogated (and intimidated) by city detectives beforehand
  • on the first weekend during the trial, Blake was summoned to the New York rally to join Castle, who was raising money by courting investors and funders in the "All Peoples Party Club" (a Communist front organization), to support the Angel Chavez Defense Fund; in a back-room before the rally began in Madison Square Garden, Castle stressed the need to over-emphasize the choice of Mexican food at the rally's dinner: ("You can't be expected to eat nomally"), contradicted by Angel's mother who stated that she often ate typical white food (meat and potatoes and vegetables)
  • Blake objected that Castle was taking money from Communist groups and labor unions ("Half of 'em are a bunch of Communists!...I don't want that kind of money"); Castle condescendingly replied: "Of course you don't. You want nice honorable American money, not dirty Communist money"; Blake ripped up the prepared speech given to him, and vowed to deliver his own speech - however, at the start of his anti-Communist remarks, Blake was almost immediately and deliberately silenced by Castle (who cut off his microphone - similar to a scene in Meet John Doe (1941)), and his words were drowned out by a loud brass band; Castle's own fund-raising and anti-establishment speech roused the hysterical crowd with his central message: "Don't trust anybody! The time for trusting and cheek-turning is passed"
Three Speakers at the 'Communist' Rally in NYC

Consuela Chavez

David Blake

Barney Castle
  • Blake realized that he had walked into a "trap" and was being used and duped by the prejudiced Castle for propagandistic purposes (a guilty verdict would bring continued racial unrest and promote fund-raising and support for his own Communist-backed organization); once he returned, he briefly asked why Abbe had knowingly let him go to the rally
    [Note: Before the end of the film, it was revealed that Castle had raised $50,000 BEFORE the rally - and didn't need any additional funding to support the legal case; the rally brought in an additional $320,000 for the Communist cause.]
  • as the trial finally was about to commence after three weeks, process server Finn (Elisha Cook Jr.) subpoened Blake to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) on the next Saturday for his involvement in the New York rally; he was to be questioned by zealous Senator Carl Baron Battle, the chairman of the HUAC committee, and the results would be "highly incriminating" for Blake
  • Blake began to suspect Abbe's own past (including her intimate relationship with Castle and her own political pro-Communist political leanings when she attended college); she explained how she wasn't ever a "card-carrier," but only an "enthusiastic and fellow traveler" when she was younger and in school; she admitted that she had been duped and swayed, and no longer supported the Communist cause because she was deemed a "hopeless bourgeois": ("They were right. I could never really accept the party line. The way it kept changing. Monday's truth would be Tuesday's lie"); she apologized for not warning him ahead of time: ("Now it's too late, I've let them destroy you...I believe in you!")
  • during the trial's opening statements, the DA called for the death penalty; the DA's first witness was Marie's physician from childhood, Dr. Johannes Schacter (Richard Gaines), who testified that Marie died of "violent exertion" to her heart, due to a long history of rheumatic fever
  • Blake's strategy was based on solid, rigorous and aggressive cross-examination to rebut the prosecution's case; he revealed that the victim was at risk of dying at any time anyway, and she was found halfway up a long flight of stairs; another young male witness' testimony about clearly seeing the beach incident with his car's spotlight was also debunked
  • the atmosphere of the trial was tense, due to the continuing protests of white supremacists and other lynch mob members who were rallying to put the Latino Chavez boy away; Castle put undue pressure on Angel's mother to have the boy called to the stand; he was counting on Angel's testimony to be self-convicting, in order to ruin any chances of acquittal (and to make Chavez a martyr for his political leftist cause supporting a "new world" order)
  • as it turned out, Angel's testimony was self-damning, vague and not very convincing; he claimed that Marie had held his hand and had put his hand on her knee before he kissed her and put his arms around her; then the buttons ripped on her dress, she screamed and scratched his face as she fled up the stairs and fell down; there was no attempt at seduction or forcing her against her will; under cross-examination, it was suggested that Angel had lied about what had happened that night
  • the jury ruled against Angel and he was convicted of the crime of felony murder; Blake sought to set up an immediate appeal, but was fired by Castle to prevent him from participating in the sentencing hearing the next day; Blake discovered that Castle had been maneuvering and brainwashing Angel's mother to allow her son to be sacrificed and mourned as a way to advance racial equality ("He will die for all of us and he will not die in vain!")
  • at the sentencing, Castle proposed a mandatory death penalty; Blake burst into the court and asked to speak during the sentencing with an "amicus" (friend of the court) ruling by the Judge; the race-baiting Castle strenuously objected and zealously denounced the Judge for "outrageous prejudicial conduct"
  • in the film's trial climax, Blake delivered an emotional speech to denounce the bigoted and prejudiced Castle for using everyone as his own pawns, and for supporting Angel's execution in order to advance support for his own Communist interests even before the trial began: ("Mr. Castle no longer considered Angel Chavez a defendant in peril of his life. But Bernard Castle and the Communist Party had decided that Angel Chavez should die so that his death might stir up more race hatred, might raise more money for the Communist cause! But in my, my anxiety to help this boy, I permitted myself to be used as a Communist front. I was a fool, and this boy suffered because of my foolishness")
  • Castle rose to object and personally criticized the Judge to provoke him: "You ought to disqualify yourself for incompetence. You're a frightened little man, selling out his own people for a fancy title and a black gown. They may call ya Judge to your face, but they got better words for ya behind your back. You're a handkerchief head, you're an Uncle Tom!"
  • in the film's happy ending, Blake argued for an obscure code statute requiring that the youthful juvenile offender be sent for a short term to the state's industrial reform school; even DA Armstrong added that the defendant should receive an "indeterminate sentence" rather than the death penalty; the Judge accepted Blake's argument for "justice" with a "much fairer sentence"
    [Note: In the original novel, the boy was hanged.]
  • the film concluded with the Judge sentencing the out-of-order Castle to 30 days in the county jail for contempt of court due to his earlier outburst, and the HUAC summons would probably be postponed indefinitely; the victorious Abbe and Blake left the courtroom together

San Juno State University Law Instructor David Blake (Glenn Ford)

Newspaper Headlines of Murder at Village Beach

Racist Jail-Sheriff A. A. "Fats" Sanders (Robert Middleton)

The Scared Boy Angel Incarcerated in Jail

Angel's Mother Consuela (Katy Jurado)

The Prosecuting District Attorney "Jack" Armstrong (John Hodiak)

Two Racist Townsfolk:

Ralph Castillo (John Hoyt)

Cap Grant (Paul Guilfoyle)

Love-Affair Developing Between Abbe and Castle

Black Judge Theodore Motley (Juano Hernandez)

Defense Attorney Blake With Defendant Angel Chavez

Tensions Between Blake and Abbe Over Her Own Communist Background in College

Blake's Rigorous Cross-Examination of Witnesses

Castle Pressuring Blake in the Courtroom to Put Angel on the Witness Stand

Angel Chavez on the Witness Stand

The Judge Denounced by the Race-Baiting Castle

Blake's Emotional Speech

Angel Saved From Execution - Thanks to Blake

Abbe and Blake Leaving the Courtroom


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