AFI Catalog of Feature Films
Summary View of Movie
Name Occurs Before Title Offscreen Credit Print Viewed By AFI
The Verdict
Director: Sidney Lumet (Dir)
Release Date:   17 Dec 1982
Duration (in mins):  126
Print this page
Display Movie Detail

Cast: Paul Newman  ([Francis] Frank [P.] Galvin)
  Charlotte Rampling  (Laura Fischer)
  Jack Warden  (Mickey Morrissey)

Summary: While attending the wake of a former acquaintance, struggling Boston, Massachusetts, attorney Francis “Frank” P. Galvin offers his business card to members of the family, but the gesture offends the grieving son, and Frank is thrown out of the funeral home. Later, he becomes intoxicated and destroys his office until his former law associate, Mickey Morrisey, exasperatedly informs him that he is due to appear in court in two weeks for a medical malpractice lawsuit. Leaving a note for his secretary, he returns to the bar before trudging to the hospital to observe his client, a brain-damaged patient now surviving on life support. Back at his office, he meets the patient’s sister, Sally Doneghy, and reviews the case: during the birth of her third child in an Irish Catholic hospital four years earlier, Deborah Ann Kaye was given the wrong anaesthetic, vomited into her oxygen mask, and stopped breathing. Abandoned by her husband, the comatose Deborah was left in Sally’s care, but the overburdened sister finally decided it was time to “let go” by filing a lawsuit and accepting her husband Kevin’s job transfer to Arizona. Upon hearing their story, Frank is confident that the Archdiocese of Boston will wish to avoid taking the case to court and offer a settlement sufficient to cover the costs of Deborah’s continuing medical care. Meanwhile, the hospital’s Bishop Brophy reviews Frank’s once-prestigious law career, which began its steep decline after he was once accused of jury tampering. Although he hopes to keep the case out of the public eye, Brophy and his aides sense that Frank is scared to challenge them in the courtroom. Gathering witnesses, Frank visits renowned anesthesiologist Dr. David Gruber, who surprises Frank by pressuring him to take the suit to court in order to punish Deborah’s doctors. After agreeing to reconvene for a formal deposition, Frank triumphantly heads to the bar for a drink, where he briefly speaks with a woman searching the newspaper listings for an apartment. He later returns to Deborah’s room in the hospital and is deeply affected by her misfortune. When Bishop Brophy offers him a $210,000 settlement, Frank rejects the money, realizing the immorality of collecting a paycheck without convicting the doctors responsible. Mickey criticizes his decision, but the two resolutely review evidence as the Archdiocese’s defending lawyer, Ed Concannon, briefs his large legal team on the details of the case and analyze Frank’s refusal to settle. At the end of the workday, Frank returns to the bar and spots the same woman, who introduces herself as a recent divorcée named Laura Fischer. After taking her to dinner, he invites her to his drab apartment to have sex, and she laughs at him for keeping a photograph of his former wife on his bedside table. Convincing Concannon and the skeptical Judge Hoyle that he plans to pursue the case, Frank timidly interviews his jurors. On his way to meet Dr. Gruber, he is confronted by Kevin Doneghy, who is furious about the decision to bypass the settlement. Unable to find Dr. Gruber in his office, Frank learns that his primary witness has since fled to the Caribbean, panics, and requests for an extension from the judge. Annoyed, Hoyle refuses, so Frank desperately, and unsuccessfully, attempts to appeal the Archdiocese’s offer. As Concannon rigorously coaches his witnesses, Frank hastily finds an alternate anesthesiologist named Dr. Lionel Thompson, and Deborah’s obstinate obstetrics nurse, Maureen Rooney. She refuses to testify, however, calling Frank an acquisitive lawyer and slamming the door in his face. That night, Dr. Thompson rehearses his answers for the courtroom, but his inexperience and unfamiliarity with medical terms destroys Frank’s confidence. When he mopes about his failure, Laura refuses to show him sympathy and pressures him to “grow up.” As the trial ensues the next morning, Concannon undermines Dr. Thompson’s authority by pointing out that he is frequently paid to testify in malpractice suits. In addition, Judge Hoyle impatiently interrupts Frank’s questioning in order to speed up the proceedings. During the lunch recess, Frank angrily threatens to file for a mistrial before returning to the courtroom and berating his next witness, Dr. Robert S. Towler, claiming that he has lied about the length of time it took to restore Deborah’s heartbeat after she suffered cardiac arrest. That evening, Frank dismisses Dr. Thompson and then tricks Maureen Rooney into telling him where to find another operating nurse, Kaitlin Costello Price, whose notes indicated that Deborah had eaten a full meal one hour prior to surgery. As Laura continues her relationship with Frank, she visits Concannon in his office, where the lawyer welcomes her back to her former job as a member of his firm. After using telephone records to contact Kaitlin, Frank tracks her down in New York City and pleads for her to appear in court. Laura agrees to meet Frank for lunch, but Mickey finds a paycheck from Concannon’s firm in her purse and rushes to the city to tell him of her deception. Upon seeing her, Frank punches Laura in the face and returns to Boston. Now refusing Mickey’s suggestion for mistrial, Frank surprises the court by calling Kaitlin to the witness stand to negate Dr. Towler’s claim that Deborah had fasted for nine hours before the procedure. Concannon shows her a conflicting document and accuses her of lying, but she procures a personal copy of the form, revealing that Dr. Towler blackmailed her into changing the number to protect his career following a series of problematic deliveries. As she leaves the room in tears, Concannon objects to Kaitlin’s unexpected appearance and her use of unapproved evidence. In agreement, Judge Hoyle instructs the jury to entirely disregard her testimony, but Bishop Brophy worries that the jurors may still believe her story. During his final appeal, Frank urges them to consider their religious values and humanity’s intrinsic sense of justice. After deliberation, the jury rules in favor of Deborah Ann Kaye and agrees to award her family a sum much higher than originally established by the plaintiff. Frank sees Laura standing outside the courtroom after the victory, but she disappears before he can approach. That evening, she telephones him from her hotel room, but he leans back in his office chair, letting the call ring unanswered. 

Distribution Company: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation
Production Company: Zanuck/Brown Productions
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation
Director: Sidney Lumet (Dir)
  Joseph M. Caracciolo (Unit prod mgr)
  Burtt Harris (1st asst dir)
  Robert E. Warren (2d asst dir)
  Ken Ornstein (DGA trainee)
Producer: Richard D. Zanuck (Prod)
  David Brown (Prod)
  Burtt Harris (Exec prod)
Writer: David Mamet (Scr)

Subject Major: Ambulance chasing
  Malpractice (Medical)
Subject Minor: Alcoholics
  Boston (MA)
  Brain damage
  Catholic Church
  Forgers and forgery
  Irish Americans
  Specific hospitals

Display Movie Detail
The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
Advanced Search
Support our efforts to preserve hisotory of film
Help AFI Preserve Film History

© 2017 American Film Institute.
All rights reserved.
Terms of use.