Compulsion is a compelling, stylish thriller, loosely based on the famous 1924 murder trial of thrill-killers Loeb and Leopold, two homosexual students who murdered a young boy to demonstrate their intellectual superiority. Artie Straus (Bradford Dillman) is a sadistic, mother-dominated bully. Judd Steiner (Dean Stockwell) is a submissive, introverted sissy.
Having been raised by wealthy, arrogant families, both Artie and Judd consider themselves above conventional morality. Unfeeling and conceited, the boys, after the killing, take delight in offering to aid in finding the culprits. It is this arrogance which leads to their capture and prosecution for the murders.
Jonathan Wilk (Orson Welles), playing a Clarence Darrow-like criminal defense attorney, takes on the case, and puts on a defense, without the cooperation of his clients, who will offer no explanation for what they have done. Bradford Dillman gives an outstanding performance, as does Dean Stockwell as the utterly unsympathetic murderers.
Orson Welles is flamboyantly imposing as Wilk, who must use all his wits to try to save the boys from execution. Compulsion is a suspenseful courtroom drama, even though most viewers will know the outcome. Tautly directed by Richard Fleischer, the film is an outstanding, believable courtroom drama.