With a title like “The Star Chamber” one has visions of a science fiction movie. Sadly, this thriller starring Michael Douglas has little celestial about it. Having emerged this weekend, August 3rd, and fallen flatly on it’s face it’s no wonder why it falls into the forgotten movie bin, people heard Star Chamber and wanted a sci-fi movie and got a tepid thriller. 

Michael Douglas stars as a judge disgusted by the number of guilty men he’s forced to let free on legal technicalities. His disgust is turned to vengeance when a veteran judge played by Hal Holbrook informs him of ‘The Star Chamber,’ a secret cabal of judges who mete out their own brand of justice upon those who escape the law. 

Douglas’ Judge Steven Hardin is invited to present his case and when the verdict is rendered a hitman is hired to kill the suspects Douglas believes are guilty. Naturally, the suspects really aren’t guilty of the crime, it wouldn’t have been very dramatic if they were, and Douglas’s troubled conscience thus becomes the driving force of the remaining plot. 

“The Star Chamber” was directed by Peter Hyams who happens to be a terrible director. Hyams’ cinematic crimes include such abysmal efforts as “Outland,” “Sudden Death,” and the utterly inept sci-fi flick “A Sound of Thunder.” “The Star Chamber” was directed during what I will refer to as Hyams’ ‘competent period.’ Here  he is a passable scenarist able to keep his plot straight and his camera pointed correctly; just watch “A Sound of Thunder” and you will know why I say Hyams achieved only a ‘period’ of competence. 

“The Star Chamber” was actually relatively well-liked by critics. Of the reviews that remain from 30 years ago the majority are positive and the look backs accumulated at Rottentomatoes.com are mostly satisfied with the film. One hold out is Roger Ebert who gave the film a modest 2 stars and expressed his disappointment with the film’s mediocre ending. 

“The Star Chamber” was a box office bomb having cost 8 milion to produce and grossed only just over 5 million. The film was a minor speed bump for star Michael Douglas, a few years removed from a hit TV show, “Streets of San Francisco,” and an unlikely Best Picture Oscar for producing :”One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest.” Douglas would recover quickly moving into his blockbuster phase in 1984 with the release of “Romancing the Stone” followed by the sequel “Jewel of the Nile,” and then “A Chorus Line” and his magnum opus “Fatal Attraction.” 

So why is “The Star Chamber” forgotten today? Is it the terrible title? Tepid reviews? A mediocre ending? 30 years later I would say all of those factors play a role in “The Star Chamber’s” status as a forgotten film. The true bottom line however is that it simply wasn’t very good. Yes, critics generally favored it but the film inspired no passion. It was competent and mildly entertaining but simply not memorable. Image

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