Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956) review

The film’s premise is simple and yet effective with how it’s carried out; to prove that circumstantial evidence isn’t good enough for capital punishment. Tom Garrett, a novelist, gets talked into a hoax by his father-in-law Austin Spencer, a newspaper publisher. The hoax is to frame Tom for murder, and to plant merely circumstantial evidence in order to get him the death sentence, where it would then be revealed that Tom is innocent, proving that innocent people can get accused and executed for crimes they didn’t commit.

It’s an interesting concept, and the suspense that comes from the film comes from a place that I don’t usually see very often, the suspense that something will go wrong, something will happen to the evidence that will prove Tom’s innocence. The subtlety of certain foreshadowing makes you keep a look out for trouble, will the evidence gets destroyed or stolen? Will someone betray Tom? Will there be real evidence that damns Tom? We all know something will happen, we don’t not when, we don’t know what, but something will happen that will turn this whole case around.

The twists and turns of the story are impactful as they keep you guessing. Looking back on the film, I can see what is shown subtly enough that people can pick it up and feel smart for doing so, while ignoring an even more subtle and important piece of information.

It brought up the question, “How far are you willing to go for something you believe in?” Our characters are doing this because they truly believe in their cause… or are they? Are they trying to prove something? Escape from something? Validate something personal? The twists we get reveal layer by layer the true personalities of those present.

The film isn’t without its flaws, by the end I was left questioning why certain characters did what they did, it’s a good cover for their smoke and mirrors personality, but by the end I couldn’t see the point in particular actions.

However, the premise and the way that it unfolds is enough for you to suspend your disbelief and enjoy the ride. The only disappointing thing that will stick with you is the feeling that it could have been much more.


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