It is around a quarter to six in the morning, not the time of day you want an officer of the law to disturb you, but that's what happens to Josef K (Anthony Perkins). He is woken by two plain clothes policemen who begin asking him leading questions as he wonders why they are there, not that he's going to get any answers. He dresses quickly but cannot think of any reasons why he might be arrested, and the officers are not about to tell him, simply noting down his responses in a notebook - including the threat that Josef makes to have them reported. He doesn't know what he's getting into...
And perhaps neither will you, as precisely what is happening to the main character is obscure at best. This is writer and director Orson Welles' version of Franz Kafka's celebrated novel of paranoia The Trial, so you probably shouldn't expect to get much sense out of the plotline, and although the original is embellished by Welles, he does work up a sense of the nightmare situation of the novel. The main difference is that this Josef K is a rebellious, defiant presence who throws himself into the impenetrable legal process he is caught in.
This is a Josef K who refuses to lie down and take whatever the authorities have in store for him, so there are numerous scenes of Perkins arguing his point and protesting his fate. None of which make any difference to his plight, but at least you have the sense that he is making moves to stand up to his oppressors. Guilt is the overriding theme here, whether it be guilt for having sexual thoughts (not even acting on them) or a more nebulous feeling of having done wrong but having no one willing to discuss what exactly it is that you may or may not have done.
We never do find out why Josef is on trial, and he never actually stands before a court. Welles captures some of the insane geography of the novel with stark black and white images of offices, storerooms, corridors and spaces that range from the cramped to the vast and cavernous. Perkins makes for a nervy but dogged protagonist, surrounded by a cast of European names whose characters make life difficult for Josef. Jeanne Moreau appears early on as a neighbour who wants nothing to do with him once she finds out the police have been here, and Romy Schneider is a nurse who attends to Welles' bedridden advocate.
They all put across the quality of knowing more about events than they are willing to admit, and the atmosphere is a suffocating one. There are excellent visuals: Josef gets his chance to state his case to a huge room filled with men, but predictably gets nowhere, his office is equally enormous and packed with workers at desks, and when he visits the court artist the man's home is a ramshackle place surrounded by little girls spying on them. Unfortunately, that's all very well but the film is maddening otherwise, like having a conversation with someone who takes ages to reach their point and even then isn't clear. Josef may withstand the grinding down of the system, but he still loses. Apparently Welles considered The Trial a comedy, but I'd suggest that if you laugh heartily at this film then you're the sort of person who laughs heartily at Shakespeare plays.