Beyond a Reasonable Doubt: Fritz Lang’s Last American Film, Noir Starring Dana Andrews and Joan Fontaine

Fritz Lang’s last American feature, Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, is a typical film noir, starring Dana Andrews and Joan Fontaine.

Austin Spencer (Sidney Blackmer), a newspaper publisher, wants to prove a point about the inadequacy of circumstantial evidence. He talks his daughter’s fiancée, Tom Garrett (Dana Andrews), into participating in a hoax, in an attempt to expose the ineptitude of the city’s district attorney.

The plan is for Tom to plant clues which will lead to his arrest for the murder of a female nightclub dancer, Patty Gray. Once Tom is found guilty, Spencer is to reveal the setup, which will humiliate the District Attorney.

Tom agrees to the plan, but unforeseen events put a snag in the scheme: Spencer dies in a car accident before he can testify, and photographic evidence intended to clear Tom at his trial is burned to an unrecognizable state. Tom is found guilty and placed on death row in prison. In time to prove the two men’s intentions, a written testimony by the dead man is found. Because of this, Tom is to be pardoned.

However, while talking to his fiancée Susan (Joan Fontaine), Tom reveals that he knows the late woman’s real name. Patty Gray, the murder victim, is actually Emma Blucher, Tom Garrett’s estranged wife, who had reneged on her promise to divorce him in Mexico.  Preventing Garrett from marrying Susan, Emma is murdered. Garrett’s pardon is cancelled before the double jeopardy rule comes into effect.

The film ends with Tom being led back to his cell, soon to be executed.

Dana Andrews as Tom Garrett
Joan Fontaine as Susan Spencer
Sidney Blackmer as Austin Spencer
Shepperd Strudwick as Jonathan Wilson
Arthur Franz as Bob Hale
Philip Bourneuf as DA Roy Thompson
Edward Binns as Lt. Kennedy
Robin Raymond as Terry Larue
Barbara Nichols as Dolly Moore
Dan Seymour as Greco
Rusty Lane as Judge
Joyce Taylor as Joan Williams
Carleton Young as Allan Kirk
Joe Kirk as Clothing Store Clerk
Charles Evans as Governor
Wendell Niles as Announcer


TCM showed the film on April 11, 2020.