In the post-war 1940s, Desmond Spellacy is a young and ambitious Roman Catholic monsignor in the Los Angeles archdiocese. His older brother Tom is a hard-working homicide detective with the L.A. police department. They are fond of each other, but spend little time together.
Des is the pride and joy of aging Cardinal Danaher because of his skill at developing church projects while keeping down costs. He cuts a corner now and then, overlooking the shady side of construction mogul Jack Amsterdam, a lay Catholic who uses his ties to the Monsignor for the congregation’s benefit but mainly for his own.
One day in L.A., a young woman is found brutally murdered, her body cut in two in a vacant lot. Tom Spellacy and his partner, Frank Crotty, are put in charge of the case. The woman, Lois Fazenda, is labeled “the Virgin Tramp” by the local press for apparently being a Catholic as well as a prostitute, turning it into a sensational case.
Tom Spellacy’s investigation leads him to a local madam, Brenda Samuels. Tom was well acquainted with Brenda years earlier while working as a bagman for Amsterdam, whose corruption extends to the local prostitution ring.
Brenda has called the police to report the death of a Catholic priest while he was engaging the services of one of her girls. While there, Brenda reproaches Tom for doing nothing for her while she was sent to prison for running one of Jack’s whorehouses. Tom later believes the dead girl appeared in a stag film and obtains a copy. He and Frank notice that one of the girls in the movie was present at Brenda’s brothel on the day they came to retrieve the philandering priest.
Tom now wants Brenda’s help in tracking down the girl who made the movie with the murdered girl. Frank spots the girl a few days later being taken into the jail entrance after a roundup. They learn that the dead girl was a favorite of a local porno movie director named Standard because of her tattoo. Tom learns that Standard did his filming in a deserted army post in the foothills outside L.A.
At lunch with his brother, Tom provokes Amsterdam with secret facts about Amsterdam’s dark side, which makes the Monsignor increasingly uncomfortable. Des tells the Cardinal the time has come to cut church ties with Amsterdam for good. Des discusses “getting rid of Jack” with his cronies who remind him that such a thing would not be easily done. Sonny, a corrupt local city council member and local mortician, proposes that they give Jack a salutation dinner.
True Confessions is a 1981 crime film directed by Ulu Grosbard, loosely based on the Black Dahlia murder case of 1947. The film stars Robert De Niro and Robert Duvall as the brothers Spellacy, was produced by Chartoff-Winkler Productions and is adapted from the novel of the same name by John Gregory Dunne: he wrote the screenplay with his wife, Joan Didion.
True Confessions (1981)
Directed by: Ulu Grosbard
Starring: Robert De Niro, Robert Duvall, Charles Durning, Kenneth McMillan, Ed Flanders, Cyril Cusack, Burgess Meredith, Rose Gregorio, Gwen Van Dam
Screenplay by: John Gregory Dunne
Production Design by: Stephen B. Grimes
Cinematography by: Owen Roizman
Film Editing by: Lynzee Klingman
Costume Design by: Joe I. Tompkins
Set Decoration by: Marvin March
Art Direction by: W. Stewart Campbell
Music by: Georges Delerue
Distributed by: United Artists
Release Date: September 25, 1981