Thursday, January 24, 2019

How To Get Away With Murder

Reversal of Fortune
Director: Barbet Schroeder
Cast: Jeremy Irons, Glenn Close, Ron Silver, Annabella Sciorra, Fisher Stevens, Christine Baranski
Released: November 9, 1990

Oscar nominations:

Best Direction - Barbet Schroeder (lost to Kevin Costner for Dances With Wolves)
Best Actor - Jeremy Irons (won)
Best Adapted Screenplay - Nicholas Kazan (lost to Michael Blake for Dances with Wolves)

While watching this movie, I found that pretending it's a sequel/spin off to The Lion King really heightens the movie experience and makes it much more enjoyable. I know what you're thinking: what does a movie based on the true story of a man accused of trying to murder his wife have to do with an animated Disney movie about safari animals? Absolutely nothing, except for the fact that Jeremy Irons is in both of them and every time he spoke, all I could hear was Scar! (Let's be honest, Jeremy Irons will always be Scar to me). It was especially prevalent when we don't see him, but can hear him in voiceover when he's about to tell a story in a flashback scene. All I could think of was that it sounded like Scar was narrating the story and that's when it hit me! What if, after Scar was eaten alive by his hyena minions (I know he killed his brother, but I always thought his death was a *tad* harsh!), he was reincarnated into a skinny Danish-born/British-raised man named Claus von Bulow? (The only thing that doesn't really work is that Claus von Bulow is a real person and obviously real people can't be reincarnated from dead animated villainous lions! That's the ONLY reason why this theory couldn't really work!) But seriously, watch this movie and pretend that Scar has been reincarnated as a human. It totally works too because Claus is a bit of a shady character, and, like I mentioned before, is accused of trying to kill his wife. If this doesn't scream Scar, I don't know what does! There's even a flashback scene where he's petting a baby tiger! And there's a scene where his lawyer tells him he's a strange man and he replies, "You have no idea." Isn't this the same reply he has to young Simba after the cub tells him, "You are so weird." Obviously this is probably a shout out to this movie. 

During the opening credits, I noticed that the movie was based on a book of the same name by Alan Dershowitz and I was thinking, Why does that name sound familiar to me? Then, a few scenes later, it is revealed that the author is in the movie and he is played by Ron Silver. There was something familiar looking about him and I knew he was supposed to be somebody famous and then it clicked. He was one of the lawyers on the OJ Simpson trial and honestly, if I hadn't watched the Ryan Murphy miniseries a couple years ago, I would not have remembered him at all.

This was a murder trial I was not familiar with. And speaking of the OJ Simpson trial, before that, THIS one was the first major criminal trial to be televised in the United States. I guess Alan Dershowitz likes the limelight.

There were two incidents that involved Claus's wife, Sunnny von Bulow (played by Glenn Close), both of which happened very close to Christmas. In 1979, she fell into a coma, but came out of it within twenty-four hours. The doctors were sure that she had suffered from hypoglycemia and told her not too eat too many sweets or go too long without eating. The same thing happened nearly a year later in 1980 and this time Claus was accused of trying to murder her. She was found unconscious in the bathroom in the morning and when taken to the hospital, they discovered she had suffered enough brain injury to keep her in a vegetative state.

Sunny's adult children from her previous marriage thought that their stepfather may have injected their mother with insulin and wanted to have him investigated. They were suspicious of him the first time Sunny fell into a coma. Sunny was an heiress with a lot (A LOT!) of money and they lived in this huge mansion in Newport, Rhode Island. The two had been having marital problems for awhile now and Claus was having an affair which he didn't even keep a secret. I'm not gonna lie; Claus von Bulow comes across as being super shady (and if you come from the school of thought where he's Scar reincarnated, then of course he has the means to kill his own wife if he's already murdered his own brother!) But, on the other hand, Sunny had her own demons and did not follow her doctor's strict orders of no alcohol or overindulging on sweets. She did not take care of herself at all and it is easy to see why she would have ended that way...of course, all the more reason for Claus to have a very good motive to try to kill her! It's understandable to see why Claus was acquitted at his second trial; there was a lot of evidence pointing to Sunny did this to herself, unintentionally. But personally? Eh, I think he probably did it. Even though the movie is based on Dershowitz's book, it doesn't paint Klaus as being innocent, it more or lets you decide if he's guilty or innocent. We're just given the facts they presented themselves in the case. I would have to do some more research on the case, but my instincts says he is guilty.

The movie starts after Sunny is in her permanent coma and we hear from her in voiceover as she explains what had happened to her the first time. The maid was concerned that Sunny had been sleeping all day (to which Claus told her she had been up all night) and insisted she was not sleeping, but rather unconscious. She pleads to Claus to call a doctor, but he only does this after he notices Sunny's not breathing right. A bag of insulin was found in his closet. Of course his lawyer is able to talk it away during the trial.

After he was tried and sentenced to thirty years, he appealed and hired Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz. In the scenes we see him in with his students (which include Annabella Sciorra and Felicity Huffman) it reminded me of the first season of How to Get Away with Murder. Felicity Huffman's character voices her concern about defending Claus since he is "obviously guilty", but Dershowitz tells her it's their job to defend him. One of his students says, "I agree von Bulow is guilty, but that's the fun; that's the challenge" to which Dershowtiz replies, "Now there is a lawyer." Claus doesn't help matters when he repeats jokes he's heard about him with the law students, asking them, "What do you get a wife who has everything? An injection of insulin."

When Sunny was found unconscious, she was facedown on the bathroom floor with her nightgown hiked up. We see scenarios from the defense team of how she could have gotten there with or without Claus's help. We first see the scenario where Claus injected her with the insulin in their bedroom, then dragged her to their bathroom, then we see the scenario where she had been drinking too much the night before and hit her head on the edge of the toilet when she got dizzy and fell while she was in the bathroom. One of the students ask how did her nightgown get hiked up (which would have been been the result of Claus sliding her across the floor if he had done it), and Dershowitz comes up with the possibility that she was about to use the toilet, but hit her head before she sat down.

The real Sunny von Bulow was in her coma for 28 years; she died at the age of 76 in December 2008. I don't know why her family kept her like that for almost thirty years; maybe they thought she would wake up and then be able to accuse Claus of killing her? I feel like after a couple of years, it might be time to pull the plug. It is a little weird to think that when this movie was released (in 1990), she had been in her coma for ten years by then...and would remain in it for another eighteen years. It is a little chilling when we hear Glenn Close's voiceover as the comatose Sunny say, "I never woke up from this coma and I never will." We see nurses in the hospital massage her fingers and give her sponge baths and roll her over so she won't get bed sores. I don't know anything about comas, but it almost seems like abuse to keep someone in one for so long.

While researching this case, (this wasn't mentioned in the movie), I discovered that the daughter Claus and Sunny had together (who was 13 when her mother was found unconscious the second time) stayed loyal to her father, while, of course, her older step siblings thought he was guilty. Awkward! I also read she was disowned by her maternal grandmother because of this, which is sad. At the time of this writing, Claus von Bulow is still alive at the age of 92. Who knows if he'll ever confess if he ever did it before his time on this earth is up.

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