22. Beyond a Reasonable Doubt  (D+)
Fritz Lang's final American-made feature film is mostly well-shot, and the performances are acceptable, but the plotting is ludicrous. Novelist Tom Garrett (Dana Andrews) and newspaperman Austin Spencer (Sidney Blackmer) conspire to frame Garrett for a crime he didn't commit. They'll collect all the evidence, plant it (all the while documenting the planting of the evidence), let the whole affair run on through until there's a conviction, and then release the truth. Somehow they think this will put an end to capital punishment. It seems more likely that it will end with both characters behind bars for wasting the court's time.
Of course, there's twists--at 80 minutes, the film is barely feature-length, so something has to keep it going. First, Spencer is killed in a car accident that is rather poorly staged by Lang, eliciting laughter in more than one member of the audience at the screening I attended. Of course, his car erupts in flames, destroying the photographic evidence exonerating Garrett.
Somehow, though, Spencer left a letter in his will (if only he left some photographs, too) just in case. It's enough to get Garrett off the hook (apparently a letter with a few dates in it from the accused's future father-in-law is enough to get the governor to issue a pardon--no, it doesn't make sense). And, also rather conveniently, it doesn't come right away when Spencer dies but takes it time. One would think he'd have his chief executor put it at the top of his lift--Garrett is on death row, after all. But, again, a feature-length run time is needed.
And then in the final reel comes the ultimate twist (not much of a twist since I had seen the awful 2009 remake of this film a year ago). Garrett actually committed the murder! He goes to the chair after all! He committed a murder in which there was no evidence leading to him and he wasn't even a suspect--and he thought it was a good idea to convince the police he was guilty of it? It's even more stupid than it sounds, and, in the end, the whole film comes crashing down because of it. It's a shame Lang's career came to this in the United States.