A Fever in the Blood is a 1961 American drama film directed by Vincent Sherman.
The film features a roster of Warner Bros. television contract players, often miscast according to the film's producer and screenwriter Roy Huggins in his Archive of American Television interview. It is based on the 1959 novel of the same name by William Pearson.
Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. plays a judge and the rest of the cast includes Angie Dickinson, Jack Kelly, Don Ameche, Ray Danton, Herbert Marshall, Rhodes Reason, Robert Colbert, Carroll O'Connor (in his film debut), Parley Baer, and Saundra Edwards. The picture was directed by Vincent Sherman, with music by Ernest Gold, cinematography by J. Peverell Marley, and editing by William H. Ziegler.
A man murders a woman who has rejected him, then creates a fire to make the death look accidental. The district attorney, Dan Callahan, on a hunting trip with Judge Leland Hoffman, is summoned back to the city to handle the murder investigation. Callahan and Hoffman both have political ambitions, eyeing the upcoming election for governor.
The high-profile nature of the murder case persuades Callahan that it could vault him to the governor's office if he prosecutes it himself. He personally arrests the prime suspect, Thornwall, a wealthy man with political connections, the husband of the murdered woman.
Hoffman is assigned to be the judge in the case, which could impact his own political future. A senator, Alex Simon, informs both the judge and the D.A. that he intends to pursue the governor's office himself, claiming he wishes to come home after serving in Washington, D.C., after many years. His wife, Cathy, was once romantically involved with Judge Hoffman, to whom Simon offers the bribe of appointment to the federal bench if he agrees to not oppose Simon for governor.
Callahan turns ruthless and vindictive in achieving his political aims, determined to win a conviction at any cost. Called by the defense, his right-hand man unethically blurts on the witness stand that the defendant had once before threatened his wife and the defense attorney moves for a mistrial. Denying the motion will aid Callahan.
To demonstrate to Simon that he has not been swayed by the bribe offer (a mistrial would hurt Callahan and help Simon), Hoffman denies the motion. Although the evidence is inadmissible hearsay and ordered stricken from the record, the jury, armed with this knowledge, convicts the defendant of murder anyway, thus paving the way for Callahan's candidacy.
Hoffman's guilty conscience forces him to go public with the revelation that Simon offered him a bribe. The senator dies of a heart attack but makes a deathbed confession of the bribe attempt. With proof of Callahan's unethical conduct, Hoffman then tries to discredit him using unethical methods of his own, but conscience stops him from doing so. In the backwash of all the maneuvering, Hoffman's career as a judge is ruined, but Cathy is proud of him for standing by his convictions.
A gardener who committed the murder flees town in a panic, is apprehended by police and confesses to the crime. Callahan uses it to free Thornwall, again to promote himself. However the gubernatorial convention now distrusts him and Callahan fails to win a majority. Cathy urges Hoffman to have faith in the people and go to the convention, where he is swept up by the admiring crowd to the party's nomination.
Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. ... Judge Leland Hoffman
Angie Dickinson ... Cathy Simon
Jack Kelly ... Dan Callahan
Don Ameche ... Sen. Alex Simon
Ray Danton ... Clem Marker (lawyer)
Herbert Marshall ... Gov. Oliver Thornwall
Andra Martin ... Laura Mayberry
Jesse White ... Mickey Beers
Rhodes Reason ... Walter Thornwall
Robert Colbert ... Thomas J. Morely
Carroll O'Connor ... Matt Keenan
Parley Baer ... Charles 'Charlie' Bosworth
Saundra Edwards ... Lucy Callahan