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Presumed Innocent is a 1990 film adaptation of the best-selling novel of the same name by Scott Turow, which tells the story of a prosecutor charged with the murder of his female colleague and mistress.

Directed by Alan J. Pakula, the film stars Harrison Ford, John Spencer, Brian Dennehy, Raul Julia, Bonnie Bedelia, Paul Winfield and Greta Scacchi.



Rozat "Rusty" Sabich (Harrison Ford) is a prosecutor in Kindle County and the right-hand man of Kindle County Prosecuting Attorney Raymond Horgan (Brian Dennehy). Sabich is married with a young son. He arrives at work one day to learn that his colleague Carolyn Polhemus (Greta Scacchi) has been found tortured and murdered in her apartment. Horgan insists that Sabich take charge of the investigation, especially since the election for County PA is due in a few days' time and that Tommy Molto (Joe Grifasi), the acting head of Homicide, has left to join the rival campaign of Nico Della Guardia (Tom Mardirosian).

Sabich faces a conflict of interest since he had an affair with Polhemus. She dumped him when he showed little in the way of ambition — such as taking over from Horgan — and would therefore be of little use to her and her own career. Sabich has since made up with his wife, Barbara (Bonnie Bedelia), though he is still obsessed with Polhemus and finds it hard to get her out of his mind.

Although Detective Harold Greer (Tucker Smallwood) is initially in charge of the case, Sabich instead calls in his friend Detective Lipranzer (John Spencer) and persuades him to narrow the enquiry in order that details of him and Polhemus are left out. Sabich soon realises that Molto is making enquiries into the case himself.

Aspects of the crime suggest that the killer knew something of the way police gather evidence and covered it up accordingly — suggesting a cop or a private detective or even a PA. Semen has been found in the victim's body but contains no sperm. The killer's blood type was A, which is the same as Sabich's blood type.

A Prosecutor is Prosecuted

When Della Guardia wins the election for County PA, he and Molto are quick to accuse Sabich himself of the crime and pull out all the stops to get evidence against him, including the way he conducted the investigation. They have a beer glass from Polhemus' apartment with Sabich's fingerprints on it, and fibres from his carpet at home match ones found on the body.

Things aren't helped by the fact that Horgan suddenly turns against his friend and former protégé and claims that Sabich insisted on handling the investigation — when in fact he didn't — thus confirming the prosecution's claim of a cover-up.

Sabich calls on Sandy Stern (Raul Julia), a top defence attorney with whom he has often clashed in court. Stern acknowledges Sabich as his "toughest adversary" but agrees to take the case. When it comes to trial, however, it is revealed that the beer glass has gone missing. This was a crucial piece of the prosecution's case and Stern persuades Judge Larren Lyttle (Paul Winfield) to keep this from the jury.

In the course of his investigation, Sabich discovered that Polhemus had acquired a B-file from Horgan which dealt with a bribery case involving law-enforcement officials. It concerned a man called Leon (Leland Gantt) who paid a bribe to get his case of public indecency thrown out of court. His probation officer, who set the whole thing up, was Carolyn Polhemus (prior to her joining the PA's office) and the deputy prosecutor in charge of the case was Tommy Molto.

The main thrust of Stern's defence is that Molto and Della Guardia have set Sabich up due to their personal loathing for him or, Stern hints, as part of a cover-up of the bribery case since it involves Molto. But then Lipranzer tracks Leon down and he reveals that the official who took the bribe was in fact Larren Lyttle, the judge handling Sabich's trial.

During the cross-examination of the coroner (Sab Shimono), it is revealed that Polhemus had undergone a tubal ligation. This would make it impossible for a woman to become pregnant, so logically she would have no reason to use a spermicidal contraceptive which was found on her. Stern asserts that the only explanation for this discrepancy is that the incriminating fluid sample was not actually taken from Polhemus' body.

Based on the disappearance of the beer glass, the lack of motive (since the prosecutor was unable to present proof of the affair), and the fact that the fluid sample was rendered meaningless, there is little direct evidence to tie Sabich to the murder. In a fair ruling, Lyttle dismisses the charges and Sabich is let off.


Pressed by Sabich, Stern later admits, in private, that both he and Horgan knew that Lyttle was taking bribes and that Polhemus was his courier. Lyttle was going through a bad period due to his recent divorce. He offered his resignation but Horgan believed that he was in fact a brilliant judge and should be given another chance. Stern appears to have kept the bribery issue hanging over Lyttle's head during the trial. On the other hand, Lyttle handled Sabich's case with integrity.

Lipranzer reveals to Sabich that he has the beer glass, which he never returned to the evidence room due to bureaucratic mishandling on Molto's part. Molto signed it as "returned to evidence" when in fact it was still at the lab and, when it was returned to Lipranzer, he had already been taken off the case. Since nobody asked for it back he simply kept it in the drawer of his desk. As far as the cop is concerned "the lady was bad news." Sabich throws the beer glass into the river.

Sabich is not too pleased about how he was exonerated, especially since it is implicitly shown that Stern and Lipranzer (though they do not actually say so) appear to believe that he killed Polhemus.

Some time later, while doing some work in his garden, Sabich comes across a small hatchet with blood and hair fibres on it and realises that they are Polhemus'. He then confronts his wife. Somewhat demented, referring to herself in the third person (in a manner similar to the manner in which Sabich reenacts criminal motives and events), Barbara confesses that, following his affair, she fell into a state of depression and even considered suicide before deciding that it would be better to destroy the "destroyer," Polhemus. She did so by buying beer glasses similar to some given to Polhemus as a house-warming gift. She got Sabich's fingerprints on them and, after killing Polhemus, set up other evidence in order to make it look like a man attacked and raped her. Barbara saved the sperm in a basement freezer after having intercourse with Sabich. She claims that she did not actually intend to frame her husband: she assumed that he would soon realize it was her and would file it under unsolved cases.

Sabich cannot bring himself to separate his son from his mother and destroys the evidence.


Harrison Ford ... Rozat "Rusty" Sabich

Brian Dennehy ... Raymond Horgan

Raul Julia ... Sandy Stern

Bonnie Bedelia ... Barbara Sabich

Paul Winfield ... Judge Larren Lyttle

Greta Scacchi ... Carolyn Polhemus

John Spencer ... Det. Lipranzer

Joe Grifasi ... Tommy Molto

Tom Mardirosian ... Nico Della Guardia

Sab Shimono ... 'Painless' Kumagai

Bradley Whitford ... Jamie Kemp

Christine Estabrook ... Lydia 'Mac' MacDougall

Michael Tolan ... Mr. Polhemus

Madison Arnold ... Sgt. Lionel Kenneally

Ron Frazier ... Stew Dubinsky

Jesse Bradford ... Nat Sabich

Joseph Mazzello ... Wendell McGaffen

Tucker Smallwood ... Det. Harold Greer

Leland Gantt ... Leon Wells

David Wohl ... Morrie Dickerman

Location Of Events

While the city where the film takes place is never mentioned, it was filmed in Detroit. In the scene after Raymond hands Rusty the B-file, it cuts to a scene where the first camera shot is of the B-file itself. The top of the file's page says "Michigan." According to commentary on the DVD, 11 Midwestern cities were scouted for filming and Detroit was chosen to be unfamiliar but representative to most Americans.

Also, there is a skyline view of the city very early in the film clearly shows the Renaissance Centermarker in downtown Detroit, filmed across the river in Windsor, Ontariomarker. The place where Rusty boards and unboards the ferry is located in Reaume Park, also in Windsor. In addition, the family station wagon has a distinctive Michigan license plate.

Many scenes from the movie were filmed around Newark, New Jerseymarker. They include Newark City Hall and the Newark morgue. In both the meeting room and the courthouse scenes, the Michigan state flag is displayed in the backdrop. Carolyn Polhemus' funeral was filmed at the North Reformed Church on Broad Street. In a bizarre coincidence, the first preacher of the church was Abraham Polhemus who died in 1857. There is a plaque commemorating him on the outside of the church. A housing project that was scheduled for demolition was used for the scene were Ford and Spencer's characters confront Leon. The courtroom in the film was built on a backlot.

A home in Allendale, New Jerseymarker was used for the interior and exterior settings for the Sabich suburban home.


On the film review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes, Presumed Innocent received a 91% approval rating, based on 27 reviews, with an average rating of 7.2/10.


John Spencer, Bradley Whitford, and Jesse Bradford later worked together on Aaron Sorkin's The West Wing TV series


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