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Thread: The Dock Brief

  1. #1
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    Sometimes good movies fall through the cracks of the pavement. They disappear, forgotten about. THE DOCK BRIEF (or TRIAL AND ERROR, fluidity of title is another symptom) is one such film. Despite starring Peter Sellers and made in his glory period, it seldom reaches the television screens (while the likes of THE WRONG ARM OF THE LAW seem always to be broadcast) seldom, if ever, talked about. Even Roger Lewis, while researching his "Life And Death Of Peter Sellers" had to hire a film print and project it against his kitchen wall to view it. I was luckier, able to buy it on DVD (lost among a host of better-loved Sellers movies) at a 'bargain bin' price of �3.99.

    Watching this is nothing more than a revelation. The plot is simple, Morganhall (Sellers) a barrister, is given his first case in forty years, as he is chosen to defend Henpecked Herbert Fowle (Richard Attenbourgh), a grey, drab, bird lover, who has murdered his over-bearing, guffawing wife (Reid) because she wouldn't leave him. It is not an important case (the �Dock Brief" of the title means that Fowle has no money for a lawyer, established barristers avoid them like the plague), but Morganhall sees this as an escape from the prison of his own life, "Oh Fowle! The wonderful new life you've brought me!"

    Morganhall and Fowle are little men, confined long before they are cell-bound (this film is full of images of confinement, prison cells, bird cages, claustrophobic houses, ) and the joy of the movie comes from their relationship, dull, grey Fowle takes wing as he falls under the spell of Morganhall's imagination. Sellers is wonderful, Morganhall is a tragic character, a defeated man, but never pathetic. In his dreams he is a great lawyer, but, naturally, his one great day in court ends in ruins, "I had only to open my mouth and pour out words."

    Fowle is reprieved and released, due to Morganhall's incompetence and the barrister's dreams are dashed. Put like that, it is a bleak ending, yet the joy of the movie is that it ends in hope, in Morganhall's and Fowle's friendship. For the first time, as the leave prison and walk across Westminster Bridge, they are free from confinement (I love the little jig Sellers performs in long shot).

    Both Sellers and Attenbourgh are on top form (though I've mostly singled out Sellers, as his Morganhall is perhaps the ideal representation of his cinematic little dreamers, Attenbourgh's lonely bird lover really is beautifully played) and lover's of gentle, bitter-sweet comedy, should seek out this movie.

    I wrote the bulk of the above for a review for IDMB last summer and this movie continues to live on in my memory as a haunting little mood piece which continues to stick in my mind, long after bigger, more expensive and better known films have faded away.

  2. #2
    Super Moderator Country: Fiji
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    I agree chaps, both with LPC's analysis of the film and Tony's comments re: performance and characterisation.



    It just shows where Sellers true strengths lay ; good observation of the little details that make characters...well, just that - characters.



    This was reflected (although in a more caricatured form) with Chance the Gardener in BEING THERE. Sadly, Sellers wanted to be the hero, the matinee idol and the great lover, and in trying to fulfil these dreams (both personally and professionally) lost the plot and most of his friends along the way.



    A most poignant moment in a BBC documentary, talking not long before he died, looking out from his penthouse at the Dorchester. He mused that he could almost see, "The Paris..."(Theatre) where it all started - the Goons and (by his own admission) the happiest period of his life.



    Shame there weren't a few more Morganhalls in his in-tray...



    SMUDGE

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    I agree, Peter wasn't cut out to be a matinee idol and once he became an international star the roles that suited his talent tended to dry up. To my mind, he did more with his five minutes or so screentime as Dr Pratt in THE WRONG BOX, then being centre stage in the likes of THE PARTY or the 'seventies PANTHER movies.



    Certainly I think that at his best he was only equaled by Alec Gunniness in his variety of well-rounded roles (Gunniness too faltered with international fame, post TUNES OF GLORY his career seems a bit meagre, dominated by STAR WARS and George Smiley). Characters such as Morganhall, Fred Kite, Mr Martin from THE BATTLE OF THE SEXES (awful title for a great little movie) Lewis the librarian (ONLY TWO CAN PLAY) are vivid little characters who seem to have a life independent from the actor and the film. That type of role seems to have been lost to Sellers when he went 'Hollywood'.

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    Although I agree that Sellers' career became a touch patchy after he "went Hollywood" there are still some great performances from his later career - notably in The Blockhouse, The Optimists and probably my personal favourite of all his films - Hoffman, one of the few films in which he appeared without a verbal or facial mask. Although the Dock Brief is comparatively obscure I would say that Mr Topaze is much more obscure. I'm reasonably sure that most if not all Sellers' films have been released on video in the UK or the US at some stage - except Mr Topaze.

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    Watched The Dock Brief last night (thanks Aphra). What a lovely little compact film it was. Sellers and Attenborough at their professional heights. John Mortimer as authour of the piece, was also excellent.



    I thought that I had seen all of Seller's films, but I had never seen that one! Excellent!

  6. #6
    Senior Member HUGHJAMPTON's Avatar
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    Never having seen this, and reading the high praise for it, I think I'm going to have to seek it out and give it a look. Thanks for bringing my attention to it.

  7. #7
    Senior Member Country: Vatican Sgt Sunshine's Avatar
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    Today's charity shop trawl brought up this little gem...."Trial & Error".

    Imagine my horror, when noticing on IMDB that run time should be 88 mins, I find that DVD box states run time as only 76 mins.... (I haven't viewed yet to check actual time)

    According to IMDB The USA version is 76 mins, but I have UK Region 2 DVD

    So has it been cut, or do I have USA version ,in UK DVD box.....

    12 minutes does seem to me a hefty cut.......or am I missing something here

    Can anyone shed any light......

    Cheers

    Sgt S

  8. #8
    Administrator Country: Wales Steve Crook's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sgt Sunshine
    I'll always wonder what those missing 12 minutes contain

    Sgt S
    It's worse than you thought - the BBFC says it was passed for British release with a run time of 90 minutes. It was given a 'U' certificate in 1962.



    But when you do the film to TV calculation, 90 * 24 / 25 = 86

    So really you're only missing 10 minutes.



    If you can tell us which 10 minutes are missing then I'm sure someone here can tell you what was in them



    Steve

  9. #9
    Senior Member Country: UK DB7's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Crook
    I'm sure someone here can tell you what was in them

    Steve
    I'd like to think so but wont hold my breath. The film is a real oddity and only worth watching for the acting of Sellers and Attenborough. I suspect it was difficult to market hence the title change (I don't think it was UK or US, but a wholesale retitle) and perhaps some editing to make sense of it all.

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