The Verdict

Plot Summary | Commentary & Analysis

Plot Summary

An American film starring Paul Newman depicts a discredited and impoverished lawyer, Frank Galvin, who had fallen from prosperity, high status and high principles, and now struggles to regain his former stature, self-respect and values.

A decade earlier Frank had discovered that a senior partner in the top law firm owned by his father-in-law was illegally influencing members of the jury to win a case. When Frank threatened to expose the crime to authorities, the law partners reported to the police that Frank was the one guilty of jury tampering. Jailed, divorced by his wife and about to be disbarred, Frank retracted his threat to the partners and they in turn arranged for his release from prison.

Publicly disgraced, Frank took to alcohol and struggled to find clients. In the last two years he handled only four cases and lost them all. His former law professor, Mick, brings him an important and potentially very remunerative case of a women who suffered brain injury while undergoing childbirth and now lives in permanent coma like a vegetable. Evidence suggests that the well-known doctors who handled the case at a prestigious Boston hospital were guilty of negligence. The victim's sister and her husband ask Frank to file suit for damages of $600,000, of which he stands to earn a third if he wins it.

With Mick's aid, Frank arranges for another leading physician to testify as expert witness that the attending physicians committed criminal negligence in their handling of the patient. Frank gives up drinking and strikes up a relationship with a young, sympathetic woman named Laura. He feels his life is finally turning around after years of degradation and failure.

Five days before trial, the hospital authorities call Frank and offer an out-of-court settlement for $210,000. He is sorely tempted to accept the money, which would give him a much needed success and substantial income, but he sees that the defendants are simply trying to buy him off for a cheap price. Out of higher principle, he refuses the money and decides to fight the case in court.

The hospital and physicians engage the services of one of the top law firms headed by a ruthless lawyer who insists on victory regardless of the methods. That firm puts its senior partner and 12 other lawyers on the case against Frank and Mick. They arrange for articles in the local newspapers and a TV program extolling the virtues of both the hospital and these particular doctors.

The judge himself, who has a reputation for siding with the establishment, urges Frank to accept the settlement and displays a strong bias in favor of the hospital and other law firm. Still Frank refuses to compromise.

The day before the trial begins, Frank's client is told by the opposing attorney that Frank refused the $210,000 and the husband is so furious that he punches Frank in public. Later that day Frank discovers that his expert witness has disappeared, obviously having been bribed by the defendants. Somehow the defendants seem to know every step Frank takes and are able to undermine all his efforts.

The power of the establishment and the pressure it exerts becomes too much for Frank. He panics at the sudden reversal of fortunes and concludes that he has no chance of winning the case, so he calls the defense attorney and offers to accept their settlement offer. Knowing Frank's case is now weak, they refuse and the case comes to trial. When Frank turns to Laura for sympathy, she abuses him for giving up even before the trial.

Frank arranges a last minute replacement for his expert witness, but that physician lacks the necessary credentials and his testimony is discredited by the judge himself. The case is lost before the defense even begins its presentation. Desperate, Frank re-examines all the facts and rightly surmises that one obstetrics nurse present during the patient's operation refused to testify because she is trying to protect the admitting nurse who had filled out the report when the patient came to the hospital.

With great energy and resourcefulness, Frank tracks down the admittance nurse and discovers the truth before the next trial date. One of the physicians had failed to read the admittance report and, therefore, failed to note that the patient had eaten one hour before admittance. As a result, the doctor had administered an anesthetic to the patient that caused her to vomit into the oxygen mask, resulting in suffocation and brain damage. Afterwards the physician forced the admittance nurse to alter her report to state that the patient had eaten nine hours earlier instead of one hour.

The same day, Mick discovers that Laura is secretly working for the opposing lawyers and is the source of the leaked information that had undermined Frank's case. Laura, who by now has fully regretted her betrayal and become very fond of Frank, tries to confess, but finds no opportunity to speak with him. Meanwhile Mick alerts Frank to prevent him from telling Laura the admittance nurse. In a fury, Frank slaps Laura and then refuses to have any further contact with her.

Back in court the defense presents a very strong case. In cross examination, Frank gets the physician to admit that if anesthesia had been given to a patient an hour after eating, it would constitute criminal negligence. He then calls the admittance nurse as a surprise witness along with a photocopy of the original report that shows the one hour had been altered to nine. Despite the effort of the judge to discredit the witness, the jury is fully convinced and decides to award Frank's clients even more than the $600,000 they sued for.

In the last scene, Laura desperately tries to speak with Frank on the phone to reconcile with him, but Frank refuses to pick up the phone despite a strong inclination to do so.

A man who had fallen from grace and renounced values recovers them both through an intense struggle against incredible odds. Both his inherent goodness and his weakness are apparent throughout. His final act of manliness in refusing to take back the woman who had betrayed him express the inner sense of self-respect and self-restraint that were crucial for his resurrection.


Social Context

  1. When a power is born in the society, the previously established powers fully appropriate it. Money, education, trade, communication, banking, transport are such social powers which are appropriated by the society for its own purposes of survival and growth. Anything new has to meet the entire opposition of those powers.
  2. In this story, a Catholic hospital, served by eminent doctors, had an occasion to lapse. Normally one expects the hospital and the doctors acknowledging the lapse and appropriately compensating the victim's family. That may happen when Truth emerges in the society stronger than the establishment. In the absence of the rule of Truth, STRENGTH rules.
  3. Life is resourceful and creative. Man's thoughtfulness has access to it. The determinant is the ruling force, here it is false prestige tyrannizing over hapless victims through the power of money, organisation, modern communication, treacherous spying and ultimately the hero's capacity to bite the bait each time.


  1. Power of Intention:
  • At one point Frank's partner Mick says that things looked hopeless -- and indeed -- they did at one point. Mick also suggested that there would be other cases in the future. Frank insisted that no, THIS was the case. THIS was the case, he repeated over and over.
  • The power of intention was so great that shortly thereafter he discovered the missing witness in the form of the former nurse that would win him the case.
  • Also, the betrayal by the woman who was his lover was suddenly revealed. It was double good fortune for Frank. This was life responding to the release of these powerful inner energies of Will.
  • His power of intention was so great that it overwhelmed all else. His whole existence which till that point had been a failure in his mind was behind that staggering last-gap intention. He then attracted Truth to his side, that nearly everyone recognized, even, in the end, the crooked judge.

Impact of Human Character

  1. Frank: The fallen victim takes to alcohol. Had Frank been a strong idealist and used to normal drinking, he might have vowed not to touch alcohol until he won, as Henchard did in the Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy. Frank has ruined himself, his wife left him.
  2. Frank's wife, had she been a GOOD woman, would have stood by him. Neither her own conscience, nor social opinion is helpful to truth. Society is mercenary as she could marry again. Some man would marry her. Obviously, she had no compunction. It is a mercenary society where individual ethics is unborn.
  3. Such a goodness survived in individual human beings of the profession. Mick was its representation. Mick is the only person who evinces sympathy towards him. Mick's goodwill means that in this society, Truth is NOT dead. Had it died or not yet been born, that one friend too would have deserted him.
  4. It is society where a big law firm was not ashamed of spying. A qualified lawyer was a willing spy. The goal is success. The judge is a blatant version of career success. Compunction was NOT in evidence anywhere except in the SPY at a later stage. The client himself was mercenary. The repentance of Laura was enough to get slapped and thrown away, an exact parallel to Frank's going to jail.
  5. The USA of that period is like many developing countries today. A leading doctor gleefully disappears accepting a bribe. The black doctor was no help to Frank. It means the reputed layer of the profession is corrupt. Only those without name or skill are not corrupt. The ruling idea is to get rich quick. Corruption is an acceptable, welcome means to all organised sectors.
  6. Laura's withholding her sympathy, egging Frank to fight is an occasion where the negative motive leads to positive results. In the society it means the social conscience is thinly present to overrule corrupt judge, deceitful doctors and lawyers and even corrupt victims.
  7. That Frank successfully reached the admitting nurse indicates that justice is not totally dead in the society or the initial flickering birth of justice is witnessed.
  8. Mick, Laura's repentance, the availability of the nurse for witnessing, the fairness of the jury all, though feebly, are determined indications of possible future justice. Or, justice is determined to be born.
  9. In this story, a spy was consciously planted. In a more corrupt society, LIFE will consciously or unconsciously introduce a spy. Note, such events are a measuring tool for the society' maturity in Truth.
  10. Frank's work took off after he broke with Laura. It is an act of character that he has NOT gone back to her. Everyone will have a Laura in a partner, a brother, a wife, a friend, etc. There lies the key to man's existence in consciousness. A man can be precisely evaluated for his accomplishment in his behaviour towards that person.
  11. Love of a gravedigger is the outstanding virtue of falsehood. A far greater misfortune is the human capacity to avoid the source of luck, as its appearance is unacceptable or unintelligible.
  12. Love of a gravedigger and the conscious avoidance of a bringer of luck remains the bane of human nature.
  13. Worse than that is the capacity to happily repeat previous errors. The architect of Ignorance prides in his loyalty to the past inherited ways. It is physical mind enjoying its ideals of tradition.
  14. The same ideal in consciousness is falsehood organised. It has a further capacity to "follow" Truth ardently. At the most crucial moments, such people will be creative in destruction. The more alert innovate ahead of time ways that can neutralize the entire work.
  15. Stinginess is a perfect vehicle to preserve ways of life that are directly detrimental to Truth. Such people always swear by Truth. At crucial times, they have an urge to do the very opposite.
  16. In analysing low consciousness, one can see all these ways ingrained in the personality.
    • Money is a powerful preservative of low consciousness.
    • Prestige outdoes Money in this mission.
    • Selfishness is a more organised centripetal force than money or prestige.
    • Self-giving from the depths of consciousness can neutralize all these tendencies.
    • Knowing Mother is to know Mother's self-giving to us.
    • Every such theme is explained in the Agenda as an experiment of the universal vibration in Her material consciousness.