Guilty as Sin (1993) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

When film enthusiasts debate the great screen actors, Don Johnson's name is rarely mentioned, but I doubt if Kenneth Branagh or Robert DeNiro could have done any more with this schlocky thriller than Johnson did. The role required smooth, stunning looks, smug self-centeredness, insincerity, and the heart of a snake masked by a thin patina of sexy and superficial charm. You might say Johnson was born to play this part. I don't know anything about what Mr Johnson is really like, but when it comes to his screen persona, Johnson is to snaky insincerity as Robin Williams is to gooey sentiment, and he has a special type of ophidian charm different from that exhibited by similar actors. Hugh Grant, for example, plays "insincere and shallow" with the best of them, but we always suspect that beneath his superficial, womanizing, immature persona there is a nice person at the core, one who masks his innate vulnerability with his quips and his aloof facade. There is no such indication with Johnson's characters. We suspect that beneath his serpentine exterior is a real serpent.

Johnson plays a gigolo who is accused of killing his incredibly rich wife. Still being sought by police, he strolls boldly into a brilliant female lawyer's office and cajoles her into defending him. She believes in his innocence at first, but as she progresses through the case, she realizes that Johnson is guilty, and is some kind of dangerous psychotic who kills women when he's finished with them. Worst of all, she sees that she is setting herself up to be his next target. She tries to resign as his lawyer, but the process is so far along that the court orders her to stay and provide the best defense possible. Ostensibly, she does, but behind the scenes she calculates how the crime was committed and recreates the evidence Johnson has destroyed. Johnson is floored when the police find evidence that he knows he destroyed, but when he thinks it through, he deduces exactly what has happened, because there is an incorrect detail in the physical evidence, forcing the conclusion that the evidence is manufactured, not discovered. Not having been there, the lawyer was not able to think through every little detail, and her mistake leads Johnson to realize where the evidence must have come from, and to formulate a counter-plan.

The suspense in the movie is from the cat and mouse game played by the lawyer (Rebecca DeMornay) and Johnson, each of whom must constantly try to think a step ahead of the other, or die. If she hopes to stay alive, DeMornay has a lot of catching up to do, since it turns out that Johnson has been planning the entire sequence of events for years, including her own participation.

Although it is a typical A-list Hollywood courtroom thriller with contrived plotting and characterizations (5.4 at IMDb) and is largely forgotten after only a decade, it is certainly slick enough. This film was directed by the great Sydney Lumet who, for the thirty years from 1959 to 1988, directed some of the most important American films, including two of the greatest courtroom dramas (12 Angry Men, and The Verdict), and has three films in the IMDb Top 250.

  1. (8.59) - 12 Angry Men (1957) (#24 of all time!)
  2. (7.99) - Dog Day Afternoon (1975) (#180)
  3. (7.99) - Network (1976)  (#198)
  4. (7.77) - Fail-Safe (1964)
  5. (7.72) - Long Day's Journey Into Night (1962)
  6. (7.57) - Verdict, The (1982)
  7. (7.54) - Hill, The (1965)
  8. (7.48) - Serpico (1973)
  9. (7.43) - Pawnbroker, The (1964)
  10. (7.27) - Running on Empty (1988)
  11. (7.19) - Prince of the City (1981)
  12. (6.99) - Murder on the Orient Express (1974)
  13. (6.69) - Deathtrap (1982)
  14. (6.66) - Equus (1977)
  15. (6.61) - Deadly Affair, The (1966)
  16. (6.56) - Offence, The (1973)
  17. (6.40) - Anderson Tapes, The (1971)
  18. (6.32) - Fugitive Kind, The (1959)

Guilty as Sin is rated 30th of Lumet's 35 graded films. (For trivia buffs, The Wiz is rated lowest.)

If you are wondering why Guilty as Sin isn't better with Lumet behind it, well, look no farther than some of the other scripts from screenwriter Larry Cohen:

While Guilty as Sin was a career lapse for Lumet, it was on Cohen's highlight reel. Lumet has never directed any film rated below 4.6, but Cohen has written 16 below 5.0, including all the It's Alive films and all the Maniac Cop films. Astoundingly, Cohen scripted a film rated 7.6 (Phone Booth) in 2002, despite never having scripted a film rated higher than 6.2 in his previous forty years in the industry.

DVD info from Amazon

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 1.85:1.



The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: two and a half stars. Ebert 3/4, Berardinelli 2/4.

The People Vote ...

  • It grossed $22 million domestically.


The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C. Typical Hollywood formula suspense story, in which characters often do things contrary to their own self-interest, simply because the script requires them to do so, but watchable because of Sydney Lumet's direction and Don Johnson's oily "man you love to hate" portrayal.

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