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University Communications

January 27, 2010

Reel to Real: La Salle University Course “Film and Law” to Feature Attorneys to Share Insights on Courtroom Dramas

All sit down; the film class is now in session. This semester, La Salle University students will not only see great actors in the court room, but also hear lawyers in the classroom for “Film and Law.”

Taught by communication professor and film scholar Br. Gerry Molyneaux, the class will screen a dozen films dealing with the legal system and have attorneys discuss the points of law raised in each of them.

“One writer said, ‘Scratch a lawyer, and you'll find a film buff,’” said Molyneaux. “Film and lawyers share an interest in telling the story.  With this (course), students interested in going to law school will also get to meet and interact with some role models.” 

The films, said Molyneaux, will give students insights into the workings of law and film as well as the relationship between real law and law as presented in the popular media.  The course will also examine the ways in which images of the law affect perception of the reality and vice versa.  “I am counting on the lawyers to help us see these films from the point of view of key practitioners,” said Molyneaux. “I had no trouble convincing them to take part in the course.”

One of the films will be screened at the Philadelphia law offices of Montgomery, McCracken, Walker & Rhoads, LLP.  “We are doing the class there because the students will see an actual law firm office, not to mention it was used in the movie Trading Places,” said Molyneaux. 

The films are: A Few Good Men; To Kill a Mockingbird; Anatomy of a Murder; 12 Angry Men; A Man for All Seasons; The Verdict: Michael Clayton; The Paper Chase; Chicago; The Caine Mutiny; My Cousin Vinny; and Erin Brockovich. Films were chosen by Molyneaux and the attorneys.

A niece of Molyneaux, who is an attorney, took a course in film and law to maintain her certification and suggested to him that it might be a good topic for a film course. “I started Googling and found there are several books and sites dealing with the topic. I now have seven or eight books on my shelf,” said Molyneaux. “There were also a lot of my favorite films on the rating list prepared by American Bar Association.” Most of the attorneys are La Salle alums.

Br. Edward Sheehy, a La Salle history professor whose specialty is maritime studies, will discuss The Caine Mutiny (which culminates in a court martial hearing).

“One of our themes in the "America and the Sea" honors class is leadership,” said Sheehy. “We also show Billy Budd and Moby Dick, and one of our discussion topics involves sea captains being obeyed under all circumstances. What option did the crew of the Caine have?  If they obeyed the captain, they might have sunk, if they disobeyed, it was mutiny. The theme also resonates through other films such as Crimson Tide. Basically, you're damned if you do and damned if you don't.”