Movies on Trial: The Legal System on the Silver Screen

Overview

The popular culture of American law has never played a larger role than it does today in shaping the way we think about lawyers and the legal system. Our very definition of justice is now inseparable from motion picture and television images and popular legal narratives, from Hollywood westerns and O. J. Simpson to Law and Order and John Grisham. In Movies on Trial, law professor and movie aficionado Anthony Chase sorts out some of the complex and often contradictory notions Americans have about the legal system....

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Overview

The popular culture of American law has never played a larger role than it does today in shaping the way we think about lawyers and the legal system. Our very definition of justice is now inseparable from motion picture and television images and popular legal narratives, from Hollywood westerns and O. J. Simpson to Law and Order and John Grisham. In Movies on Trial, law professor and movie aficionado Anthony Chase sorts out some of the complex and often contradictory notions Americans have about the legal system. He uses movies to investigate and inventory many of our deepest beliefs about law and politics, and provides a strong historical and intellectual context throughout. Analyzing Dirty Harry and True Believer for their commentary on the Miranda ruling and criminal procedure, and explaining tort law via The Verdict and A Civil Action, Chase also employs Three Kings to reveal changes in international law and The Rise to Power of Louis XIV to explore the rise of the modern state. Through the lens of film, he is able to describe and analyze the symbiosis between the image of law and its actual practice in our cultural imagination, in a genuinely illuminating and entertaining book.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
When many people show up for jury duty, they expect a scenario akin to what they saw in Twelve Angry Men. Arguing that civilians' perception of American law is largely shaped by representations of it in motion pictures and TV, law professor Chase (Law and History) explores films that deal with criminal law, civil law, international law, interpretations of the Constitution and more. He dissects well-known law-related movies such as Dirty Harry and Judgement at Nuremberg as well as more unlikely ones, including Fight Club and Flashdance. Serious in tone, this will be of interest to law-practicing film buffs. (July) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A left-leaning survey of "how motion pictures fit into our history, our politics . . . our legal values and assumptions," with a little philosophy and film theory added. Smartly pointing out that "legal movies are more than courtroom dramas," Chase (Law/Nova Southeastern Univ.; Law and History, not reviewed) divides the genre into several subcategories: criminal-law films; civil-law films; international-law films; and films of comparative law and politics. Each gets its own chapter, replete with critical analyses. Some of the works discussed are standards (e.g., Anatomy of a Murder), while others are surprising-from a movie fan's viewpoint, not always pleasantly so. Revolution or True Believer may illustrate the author's points, but his exegeses remind viewers of less-than-appealing films that do not invite (re)viewing. For other movies, however, Chase offers such interesting historical background that he prompts interest in works like Disney's Ben and Me, at least as cultural artifacts. The text consistently displays a polymath's abundance of sources-Hegel, Andrew Sarris, and Alan Dershowitz are all cited knowledgeably-but the references are sometimes so abundant that the author's ideas are obscured. However, Chase's synopses of film critics' views on a given subject are succinct and often illustrative of broader themes, as in his catalogue of the reaction to John Ford's Young Mr. Lincoln. Depicting various opinions of Lincoln, he demonstrates one of his basic points: "Images are capable of providing as compelling a portrait of law and the legal system as words." Yes, but what makes these images of Lincoln memorable while those from other movies may be less so? That's for another book;Chase is more concerned with subject matter than artistic merit. Perhaps best enjoyed by those who regard movies as objects of cultural study-film fans may be put off by the many spotlights on middling films.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781565847002
  • Publisher: New Press, The
  • Publication date: 6/1/2002
  • Pages: 204
  • Sales rank: 1,463,431
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author


A professor at Nova Southeastern University Law Center in Florida, Anthony Chase is the author of Law and History. His work on popular legal culture has appeared in the Wisconsin Law Review, the Yale Journal of Law and Humanities, and the Velvet Light Trap Review of Cinema.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction
Ch. 1 Legal Visibility: Finding and Looking at Law 1
Ch. 2 Constitutional Foundation: Revolution and the Rule of Law 32
Ch. 3 Criminal-Law Films: Crime-Control Versus Due-Process Cinema 67
Ch. 4 Civil-Law Films: The Cinema of Tort Liability 104
Ch. 5 International-Law Films: Sovereignty, Idealism, Consensus 120
Ch. 6 Films of Comparative Law and Politics: Germany 133
Ch. 7 Popular Culture, Legal Genre, Realism 158
References 182
Index 193
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