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The Dock Brief

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Director  James Hill
Music director  Ron Grainer
6.6/10 IMDb

Genre  Comedy, Drama
Screenplay  Pierre Rouve
Language  English
The Dock Brief movie poster

Release date  20 September 1962 (World Premiere, LondonDVD 26 January 1999
Writer  John Mortimer (play), Pierre Rouve (screenplay)
Initial release  September 25, 1962 (United Kingdom)
Cast  Peter Sellers (Wilfred Morgenhall), Richard Attenborough (Herbert Fowle), Beryl Reid (Doris Fowle), David Lodge (Frank Bateson), Frank Pettingell (Tuppy Morgan), Audrey Nicholson (Morgenhall's Girl)
Similar movies  Peter Sellers appears in The Dock Brief and The Millionairess
Tagline  This is NOT the Birdman of Alcatraz!..It's only Peter Sellers with his sly, sneaky style of humor that creeps up on you and the leaves you wanting more.

Trial and error 1962 aka the dock brief

The Dock Brief (US title Trial and Error) is a 1962 black-and-white British legal satire directed by James Hill, starring Peter Sellers and Richard Attenborough, and based on the play of the same name written by John Mortimer (creator of Horace Rumpole).


The Dock Brief movie scenes

The film had its world premiere on 20 September 1962 at the Plaza Theatre in London's West End.

The Dock Brief movie scenes

Richard Attenborough was nominated for the 1963 BAFTA Award for best British actor for his role.

The Dock Brief movie scenes

An excerpt of the dock brief play by john mortimer


The Dock Brief movie scenes

In a cell under the Old Bailey, two men meet. One is Wilfred Morgenhall, an unmarried barrister who never gets any cases and is overjoyed to have won this dock brief, the defense of an accused individual with no lawyer (at public expense). The other is his client Herbert Fowle, an insignificant man who just wants to plead guilty to murdering his wife and get it all over.

Flashbacks show that the wife was impossible to live with and Fowle, who avoided her as much as possible, hatched a plot to get rid of her by taking in a male lodger. The lodger found her amusing and attractive, until one day he went too far and Mrs Fowle threw him out of the house. In despair at his plot having failed, Fowle killed her.

Morgenhall role plays various defenses, in the process raising Fowle's will to fight. But when the case is called, he botches it and Fowle is found guilty. Morgenhall goes to visit him in prison, where he learns that Fowle has been reprieved because his defense was so poor. The two leave together, two lonely and inadequate men who have become friends.


  • Peter Sellers as Wilfred Morgenhall, Barrister
  • Richard Attenborough as Herbert Fowle, the Accused Murderer
  • Beryl Reid as Doris Fowle, his late wife
  • David Lodge as Frank Bateson, the Lodger
  • Frank Pettingell as Tuppy Morgan, Solicitor
  • Audrey Nicholson as Morgenhall's Girl (In Flashback)
  • Tristram Jellinek as Mr. Perkins, the Prosecutor
  • Eric Woodburn as Judge Banter
  • John Waite as Clerk of the Court
  • Patrick Newell as 1st Warder
  • Henry Kay as 2nd Warder
  • Frank Thornton as Photographer at the Fowle Wedding
  • Eric Dodson as Examiner
  • Reception

    According to MGM records, the film made a profit of $141,000.

    1957 Radio Play

    The BBC produced a radio version of the play in 1957 for the third program. Michael Hordern and David Kossoff played the parts.

    1960 Australian TV Version

    The play was filmed for Australian TV in 1960 directed by Ray Menmuir and starring Reg Lye and Moray Powell.


    Morgenhall: "Now you're the only case I've got, and the most difficult."

    The New York Times: "Charming, comic...robustly amusing." (quoted from the DVD cover)


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