• Post category:Movies
  • Post last modified:February 1, 2022

The Verdict: Taking a Chance on Frank Galvin


Paul Newman. Photo: 20th Century Fox

Paul Newman had six Oscar nominations behind him when he was once again nominated in 1983, this time for his performance as an ambulance-chasing lawyer in The Verdict. He didn’t win the Oscar this time either, but it is one of his finest efforts. He dominates a picture that is not so much about a court case but rather the intellectual journey of one of its attorneys.

A lawyer down on his luck
When we first meet Boston lawyer Frank Galvin (Newman), he’s thoroughly down on his luck, spending most of his free time either drinking too much or playing pinball at a local bar. He tries to find new clients by attending funerals and handing bereaved people his business card. He’s a man accepting his humiliation, but his former associate Mickey Morrissey (Jack Warden) is fed up with him. He’s taken a case for Frank that could be a true moneymaker if only he gets a grip on his life. A woman went into a Catholic hospital in Boston to deliver her third child, but two of the doctors screwed up and gave her the wrong anaesthetic, causing her to fall into a coma; now her sister and her husband want to sue the doctors, but neither they nor the Archdiocese want to take responsibility for their wrongdoing.
The Archdiocese has hired one of the city’s most prominent attorneys, Ed Concannon (James Mason), and hopes to settle matters before the trial.

Frank meets with his clients, goes to see the woman in the hospital… and has an epiphany, leading him to reject the Archdiocese’s settlement offer, even though the sum is more or less what he and his clients expected. He decides to drag the doctors to court. As he and Concannon prepare for the trial, Frank meets Laura Fischer (Charlotte Rampling), a woman who falls for his charm and gives him strength ahead of his battle.

Loneliness and depression
Director Sidney Lumet hasn’t lost much of his power. He allows us to catch glimpses of just how low Frank has sunk; the scenes where he plays pinball and drinks beer are effectively backlit, creating a sense of loneliness and depression. His misery eventually leads to the moment when we realize that Frank is probably going to win this case and save his own life.

That comes as no surprise, but it doesn’t matter; one of author Barry Reed’s more novel intentions was to show what happens when the judge takes one side already at the outset of the trial, a problem he considered quite common at the time. He sends Frank into the story as his representative who at a crucial moment during the trial gets to rip the judge a new one.

The case holds one’s attention, but it is the portrayal of Frank that fascinates; Newman totally inherits the part and his baby blue eyes have rarely looked this tired. His relationship with Rampling’s character turns into a not entirely believable but still compelling plot twist, and he’s dynamite in his scenes with Mason (in one of his last performances) who’s appropriately smug as the wealthy, ruthless opponent who falls victim to Frank’s doggedness… yet quickly lands on his feet again. The scene where Concannon preps one of the doctors is particularly memorable in all its nastiness.

In the end, it’s all about taking a chance on Frank. His clients do it, Mickey does it and the jury ends up doing it even though they must know that his case isn’t all that airtight and likely to live on beyond the verdict. Still, the movie doesn’t deal with the inevitable aftermath. It ends with Frank Galvin back in business, his reputation saved. What comes after may not be so sunny… but he has a new chance.

The Verdict 1982-U.S. 129 min. Color. Produced byĀ Richard D. Zanuck, David Brown. Directed byĀ Sidney Lumet. Screenplay: David Mamet. Novel: Barry Reed. Cinematography: Andrzej Bartkowiak. Cast: Paul Newman (Frank Galvin), Charlotte Rampling (Laura Fischer), Jack Warden (Mickey Morrissey), James Mason, Milo O’Shea, Edward Binns.

Trivia: Bruce Willis is an extra. Robert Redford was considered for the part of Frank Galvin; Julie Christie for the part of Laura.

Last word: “Fictional narratives, movies, take a lot of liberties with the law. I’m quite aware that in ‘The Verdict’ the nurse who went to New York and was the ‘surprise witness’ at the trial, if her testimony had been allowed at all, it probably would have been overturned on appeal because she was a surprise witness and the defendants never had been notified of her appearance. So those kinds of liberties that make the story work beautifully are not, as we know, correct legally. But that is in a fictional piece. On something like ‘Serpico’ or ‘Prince of the City’, I’m very careful because they are true stories.” (Lumet, “Sidney Lumet: Interviews”)



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