We analyze corrupt attorneys in ''True Believer,'' ''The Verdict,'' ''Body Heat,'' and others

By Peter Gerstenzang
Updated October 18, 1996 at 04:00 AM EDT

With a charming smile, a wink, and questionable legal ethics, Richard Gere is irresistibly sleazy in Primal Fear. But the evidence points to a long line of celluloid shysters. Here’s a casebook of corrupt movie attorneys that are almost criminally entertaining.

True Believer
Lawyer: Edward Dodd (James Woods), a former hippie idealist, who now defends drug dealers. Philosophy: ”I’m going back to defending scumbags. Not just dope peddlers anymore, no. Porno merchants…repeat drunk drivers. Send Eddie Dodd your contract killers. None of ’em ever does time again.” Verdict: Takes on the case of an innocent Korean gang member. By defending him, Dodd resurrects his career and his soul.

The Verdict
Lawyer: Francis Galvin (Paul Newman), a hard-drinking ambulance chaser who gives out his business card at the funerals of strangers. Philosophy: ”So much of the time we’re just lost. We say, ‘There’s no justice. The rich win. The poor are powerless….’ We doubt our institutions. We doubt the law.” Verdict: Tries a medical-malpractice suit. Takes on Boston’s Catholic archdiocese and a team of lawyers and wins! He quits drinking and puts his life back together.

Lawyer: Ned Racine (William Hurt) specializes in malpractice suits — and plots to help his girlfriend (Kathleen Turner) kill her rich husband (Richard Crenna). Philosophy: ”That man is going to die. For no other reason but that we want him dead. We’re doing it for us, and you’ll inherit half of everything he owns.” Verdict: He goes to prison for murder. The girlfriend skates away with the money.

Carlito’s Way
Lawyer: Dave Kleinfeld (Sean Penn), a coke-snorting, gun-toting lawyer whose clients are mostly mobsters. Philosophy: ”F— you and your f—ing code of the goddamn street. Did it get you out of a 30-year stint in 5 years? No, I did. Your whole goddamn world is this big, and there’s only one rule: You save your own ass.” Verdict: The son of a mobster client, upset at Kleinfeld stealing his money, expresses his unhappiness by shooting him in the head several times.

Presumed Innocent
Lawyer: Carolyn Polhemus (Greta Scacchi), a bed-hopping careerist, whose sexual wiles help get her promoted in the DA’s office. Philosophy: ”I didn’t get this [prosecutor’s] job by going through the normal channels like everybody else!” Verdict: The wife (Bonnie Bedelia) of her former lover hits her on the head several times with a hammer. This effectively ends Polhemus’ chances for advancement.