James Hart (Bottoms) is a first year student at Harvard Law School, arguably the most prestigious law school in the world. Not content with the already difficult course load, he takes a class in contract law taught by his idol, the notoriously demanding Professor Charles Kingsfield Jr. (Houseman). Hart gets off to the worst possible start, assuming that Kingsfield will spend the first day giving a course outline. He is therefore totally unprepared when the professor dives right into the material and chooses him to answer a question about the posted assignment. Hart has to work extremely hard to overcome this inauspicious beginning, but he is actually quite brilliant and diligent, so he is up to the challenge (unlike at least one doomed member of his study group).
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Further complications arise when he gets a girlfriend, Susan Fields (Wagner). He later learns that she is Kingsfield's daughter. Their relationship is strained by her fear that he will lose his humanity in turning himself into a lawyer. (She is in fact in the process of getting divorced from a lawyer.) At the end, to convince her that it will never happen to him, when he receives his grades in the mail, he takes the unopened envelope, folds it into a paper airplane and tosses it away into the ocean.
Best part of story, including ending:
Professor Kingsfield is utterly unforgettable; Houseman richly deserved his Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.
Best scene in story:
The first day in Kingsfield's class because of his opening, superbly enunciated remarks.
Opinion about the main character:
Bottoms does a reasonable job at portraying the Midwestern fish-slightly-out-of water, but who cares really? Kingsfield dominates the picture. Everything plays off of him, even when he isn't on the screen.