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Kill Me If You Can (1977)

The story of Caryl Chessman, a convicted California rapist who spent 12 years on death row before finally being executed.


Buzz Kulik


John Gay
Nominated for 1 Primetime Emmy. See more awards »


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Cast overview, first billed only:
Alan Alda ... Caryl W. Chessman
Talia Shire ... Rosalie Asher
John Hillerman ... George Davis
Barnard Hughes ... Judge Fricke
Virginia Kiser ... Virginia Gibbons
Edward Mallory Edward Mallory
Walter McGinn Walter McGinn ... J. Miller Leavy
Ben Piazza ... Bill Edmunds
John Randolph ... Judge Lewis Goodman
John P. Ryan ... Johnson
Rose Portillo ... Sarah Loper
Maxine Stuart ... Mrs. Asher
Brian Byers ... Harris
James Sikking ... Mr. Lea
George Sperdakos ... Court Clerk


The story of Caryl Chessman, a convicted California rapist who spent 12 years on death row before finally being executed.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Biography | Drama







Release Date:

25 September 1977 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

The Caryl Chessman Story See more »

Filming Locations:

Los Angeles, California, USA

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:




Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


The film's final credits do name the character played by Tony Burton as "Price," but this character seems to be based on Robert Otis *Pierce* who was executed at San Quentin on April 6, 1956 and the disturbing circumstances of whose execution as reported in various sources fit in many particulars with what is depicted in the movie. Since the actual names of other real-life persons portrayed in this movie--not the least of which Chessman's are accurately reproduced, it may be surmised that "Price" in the credits is an error for "Pierce." See more »

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User Reviews

Ninth Life
13 August 2004 | by sol-kaySee all my reviews

****SPOILERS**** I as well as many other people feel that Caryl Chessman, Alan Alda, would not have received the death penalty and then later be executed if it wasn't for his brazen and obnoxious actions during and after his trial for the Red Light Bandit crimes that shocked the city of L.A back in the winter of 1948.

Chessman had a genius IQ of over 150 and self-taught himself law behind bars so well that he used the same law that put him on death row to hold off his pending execution for 12 years. That resulted in 8 stays of execution that ended on Chessman's last stay where he proved that like a cat he only had nine lives to use up.

While behind bars Chessman was also able to write smuggle out with the help of his lawyer Rosalie Asher, Talia Shier, and have published his autobiography "Cell 2455 Death Row" in 1954 which later became a major motion picture the next year. It was a shame that Caryl Chessman couldn't use his above average intelligence to be a law abiding and productive citizen but used it to become a criminal in which he proved to be a total failure. One major, and indisputable, fact that came out of Caryl Chessman's execution was that it destroyed in the mind of the public the notion that justice is truly blind. With Chessman being executed more for his arrogance and abrasive attitude then for the crimes that he was convicted of which really weren't capital crimes.

It was by the presiding judge using the little known section 209 of the California Penal Code that had to do with kidnapping and injuring a person kidnapped but not murdered, which Chessman wasn't convicted or even accused of, that ended up putting Chessman on death row. There's also the fact that the two women whom Chessman was convicted of kidnapping were not physically injured even though they were raped and sodomized. Gov. Brown who was a staunch opponent of the death penalty and who was governor when Chessman was executed once was reported saying "I'm all for eliminating the death penalty only after Caryl Chessman is executed". That's just how turn offish Chessman was to everyone who dealt with him during his trial and later 12 year stay on San Quentin's death row.

Alan Alda is eerily convincing in his appearance as well as in his actions as the infamous Caryl Chessman. Talia Shier is also very good as Chessman's long suffering lawyer Rosalie Asher in this made for TV movie about Crime & Punishment. You can't help but notice how the wheels of justice were greased against Chessman in order to strap him into the San Quentin gas chamber and at the same time how Chessman did everything possible, consciously or sub-consciously, to put himself there. From his conviction on June 25, 1948 to his execution on May 2, 1960 Chessman became a Cause Celebre all over the world against the death penalty. He also had people from all walks of life from world leaders and movie stars to the average man or woman on the street protesting to save his life.

"Kill Me If You Can" is a lot like the previous movie "Cell 2455 Death Row" about the violent life and later-eight years after the book was published-highly publicized execution and death of Caryl Chessman. The movie does bring out the feelings of that time of the controversy that swirled around Chessman in the USA as well as all over the world. I always felt that Caryl Chessman was a super ego-maniac who lapped up all the attention and publicity that he got in regard to the fight for his life against the death penalty. He really didn't seem to care for or want a pardon from his trip to the San Quentin gas chamber. Chessman just loved the publicity too much to permanently cancel his appointment with death.

The movie also brings out this one important fact about Caryl Chessman: The story of Chessman's crimes would have never gotten past the front pages of the L.A newspapers in January 1948 and would have long been forgotten by everyone, with the exception of his victims. What really made Chessman famous was his both brazen and skillful way of first getting himself convicted of kidnapping and then skillfully fighting off the eight execution dates for twelve years. By doing that Chessman made a name for himself that has people talking writing and producing books and movies about him during his life as well as over forty years after his death. In this one single effort Caryl Chessman was indeed a success, in spite of his long string of failures, in life.

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