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Law and Popular Culture

A Course Book (2nd Edition)


Michael Asimow and Shannon Mader

Both law and popular culture pervade our lives. Popular culture constructs our perceptions of law and changes the way that players in the legal system behave. Now in its second edition, Law and Popular Culture: A Course Book explores the interface between two subjects of enormous importance to everyone – law and popular culture.
Each chapter takes a particular legally themed film or television show, such as Philadelphia, Dead Man Walking, or Law and Order, treating it as both a cultural text and a legal text.
The new edition has been updated with new photos and includes greater emphasis on television than in the first edition because there are so many DVDs of older TV shows now available.
Law and Popular Culture is written in an accessible and engaging style, without theoretical jargon, and can serve as a basic text for undergraduates or graduate courses and be taught by anyone who enjoys pop culture and is interested in law. An instructor’s manual is available on request from the publisher and author.
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5. The Life of Lawyers: Assigned Film: Counsellor at Law (1933)


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The Life of Lawyers

Assigned Film: Counsellor at Law (1933)

5.01 Elmer Rice and William Wyler1

5.01.1 Elmer Rice

Elmer Rice wrote the stage play Counsellor-at-Law (1931) and adapted the play into the 1933 film. Rice (1892–1967) was a prominent, successful, and innovative Jewish American dramatist who worked during the first third of the twentieth century. Born Elmer Reitzenstein, he grew up in poverty in New York, dropped out of high school, then took evening courses at New York Law School from which he graduated in 1912 (he found it extremely boring and mostly read plays during class). While attending law school, he clerked in a Manhattan law office (where a relative of his was a partner). After being dismissed from the firm, he wrote his first play, On Trial (1914), which introduced flashbacks to the theater and was a sensational success. This accomplishment enabled Rice to quit his $15 per week job and devote the rest of his working life to the theater. On Trial was adapted into one of the first sound films in 1928 and was remade in 1939. He wrote numerous plays about law and lawyers,

Rice was a very inventive dramatist. In Street Scene (1929), he recreated the life of a tenement neighborhood, representing its multicultural population with 75 characters. After the complex play was abandoned by its director, Rice directed ← 85 | 86 → it himself, and the play...

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