Rack, The (1956): Laven’s Courtroom Drama, Starring Paul Newman, Wendell Corey, and Walter Pidgeon

In The Rack, set during the Korean War, Paul Newman gives a strong performance as Edward W. Hall, Jr., a young Army captain charged with collaboration and brought to a court-martial.
The Rack
The Rack FilmPoster.jpeg

Theatrical release poster
Prior to defection, Hall’s war record had been exemplary, winning several citations, but now he is accused of delivering pro-Communist lectures to his fellow prisoners in a North Korean camp. Hall is also charged with signing treasonable statements written by his North Korean captors, and former peers accuse him of informing and other reprehensible practices. Lieutenant Colonel Frank Wasnick (Edmond O’Brien), his defense counsel, tries to win acquittal by pointing out that Hall went through his breaking point, after which he was not completely responsibility for his actions.
Wasnick examines the months of mental torture to which Hall’s captors subjected him. He then proceeds to examine Hall’s early environmental influences and emotional conditionings. Major Sam Moulton (Wendell Corey), his prosecuting officer, is concerned only with whether Hall committed his misdeeds. Moulton stresses the “threshold of pain” principle, claiming that other American servicemen had exceeded this, so why couldn’t Captain Hall?
Aggie Hall (Anne Francis), Hall’s widowed sister-in-law, stands loyally by him, but his father, the obtuse and insensitive Colonel Edward Hall, Sr. (Walter Pidgeon), at first misunderstands his son and finds his trial humiliating. However, when it is then revealed that his childhood was damaged by his mother’s early death and his preoccupied father’s cold denial of affection, resulting in a crippling of spirit, the father apologizes, and in one of the film’s most moving scenes offers the affection craved by the captain. Newman and Pidgeon are particularly effective in this crucial scene, played side-by-side in the front seat of a car.
It is also disclosed the traumatic effect upon him, when his captors had conveyed the news about the death in action of his only brother. Nevertheless, the court finds Captain Hall guilty. In a closing statement, the captain expresses deep regret that he had not risen to “that moment of magnificence” that hardier American prisoners had experienced. The captain emerges as justly sentenced but worthy of compassion and understanding.
“The Rack” was made back to back with the sports biopic, “Somebody Up There Likes Me,” which made Paul Newman a popular star.
Made on a modest budget of $779,000, The rack proved to be a commercial failure.

Paul Newman as Capt. Edward W. Hall Jr.
Wendell Corey as Maj. Sam Moulton
Walter Pidgeon as Col. Edward W. Hall Sr.
Edmond O’Brien as Lt. Col. Frank Wasnick
Anne Francis as Aggie Hall
Lee Marvin as Capt. John R. Miller
Cloris Leachman as Caroline
Robert Burton as Col. Ira Hansen
Robert F. Simon as Law Officer (as Robert Simon)
Trevor Bardette as Court President
Adam Williams as Sgt. Otto Pahnke
James Best as Millard Chilson Cassidy
Fay Roope as Col. Dudley Smith
Barry Atwater as Maj. Byron Phillips



Produced by Arthur M. Loew, Jr.
Directed by Arnold Laven.
Screenplay by Stewart Stern. based on the teleplay by Rod Serling.
Camera: Paul C. Vogel, A.S.C.
Art Directors, Cedric Gibbons and Merrill Pye.
Set Decorations, Edwin B. Willis, Fred MacLean.
Recording Supervisor, Dr. Wesley C. Milter.
Assistant Director, Robert Saunders.
Music by Adolph Deutsch.
Film Editors, Harold F. Kress, A.C.E. and Marshall Neilan Jr.
Makeup by William Tuttle.
Technical Advisor, Col. Charles M. Trammel, Jr.
Running time: 100 minutes.
Release date: November 2, 1956


I had a chance to refresh my notes when TCM showed the movie on July 14, 2020.