One of the most astounding scenes in the movie comes when a seemingly unremarkable, shy nurse enters a courtroom. The impact of this scene is such that when comparing it to the very similar moment in “A Few Good Men” when the great Jack Nicholson (in a monumental role that terrifies everybody in his wake) takes the stand, it overshadows it. This is just one example of how aware Lumet is, in scenes big and small, of how exactly the audience will respond based on how he has set them up, the very essence of movie directing.
I love how the script makes the lies uttered by each character the detonator that sends them to their perdition. The best case in point is the defense lead lawyer Ed Concannon (James Mason), better known as the “Prince of Darkness,” who asks all the wrong questions that make the nurse’s testimony all the more damaging to his side. They are fueled by the lies he’s been fed by the very doctor he is defending. This is a character that shouldn’t even be the movie’s villain. After all, his mistake that cost a young woman and her child of their life was human as could be. Again, his doom came from his decision to lie. The irony here is that the original compensation on the settlement was appropriate for a victim who’ll never get her life back. But here again, it was the archbishop’s decision to hire an attorney determined to win at all costs, regardless of the truth, that will lead to a final verdict that will probably bankrupt an institution that seems to have been founded for the sole purpose of contributing to the common good.
Still, perhaps the term “living in hell” in this movie is best applied to Laura (played by Charlotte Rampling). Her part is all the more devastating because she is desperate to do the right thing again but never manages to gather the courage, even though she stood two feet from a pay phone with the information to win the case for the defendants in plenty of time. This is the best imaginable example of the old saying, “The way to hell is paved with good intentions.”
I love how Lumet handles all of her big revelation scenes. She creates one of the greatest of movie betrayals in just about complete silence, be it when Warden finds the written proof, when he shares it with Frank in a long shot from a distance with plenty of dialogue that we never get to hear (nor we need to) and when Frank faces her in a state of utter wrath. One of the best things about “The Verdict” is how Frank manages to leave his hell with the help of someone so endlessly good like the Jack Warden character, one that is there throughout for him with no other interest but to pull him back (thank God he wasn’t made to be the traitor here, that would just have been too much to deal with). On her part, the feeling conveyed by the movie is that Laura will probably never be able to leave her hell.