Coming to PBS’s American Experience tonight, Tuesday, February 9: THE PERFECT CRIME
Cathleen O’Connell’s re-examination of a notorious murder case makes its debut on the long-running public television series.
The crime in question was that committed by the infamous duo of Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, affluent Chicago teenagers who callously killed young Bobby Franks in 1924 just for the thrill of it. Espousing a belief in Nietzschean theories of the Übermensch, positing that they were superior to ordinary people and therefore not bound by laws or morality, they goaded each other into planning a murder which they were certain they could get away with. As summarized in O’Connell’s film, while they disposed of Franks with methodical efficiency, things didn’t go as planned in the aftermath thanks to a pair of lost eyeglasses, and they were soon ratting each other out. Beyond the shock of well-to-do youth committing such a senseless act, the public was riveted by their utter lack of remorse, and newspapers milked the controversy for all it was worth. When prosecutors sought the death penalty, legendary defense attorney Clarence Darrow stepped in in support of Leopold and Loeb – not to try to prove their innocence, as they had already confessed, but instead, noting the high profile nature of the case, to mount a very public argument against the practice of capital punishment. The film successfully demonstrates the brilliance of Darrow and the fascination that still lingers over the case, which inspired several novels and films, including ROPE, COMPULSION, and SWOON.