Compulsion, from Meyer Levin’s novel, is almost a literal case study of the notorious Leopold-Loeb murder of Bobby Franks.
The two protagonists, here called Artie and Judd, both have highly neurotic, seething minds bent on destruction as twisted proof of their superiority. That the boys have a homosexualrelationship is quite clear, though the subject is not overstressed. Both come from wealthy families that spoiled them.
As Artie Straus, the sneering, arrogant youth who can no longer distinguish between reality and his dreams, but who knows how to hide under the veneer of smooth politeness, Bradford Dillman turns in a superb performance. Opposite him, as Judd Steiner, Dean Stockwell plays an impressionable, sensitive youth, caught up in the spell of his strong-willed companion.
Director Richard Fleischer establishes the characters’ from the terrifying opening shot when the two try to run down a drunk on the road to their appearance in court, where lawyer Orson Welles pleads for their life in the same idiom that Clarence Darrow used to save Nathan Leopold Jr and Richard Loeb from the Illinois gallows. The lines he speaks become part of the man himself, an almost classic oration against capital punishment.
As the girl who understands more than she knows, and who reaches out for Stockwell, Diane Varsi seems at times awkward. It’s not an easy part, and she brings to it a tenseness that doesn’t always register.