Dean Stockwell did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite winning Cannes, for portraying Judd Steiner in Compulsion.
Leopold and Loeb had previously been fictionalized in film through the 1948 Alfred Hitchcock film Rope. That film took place all in one room and attempted to tell the story of the two men through the setup of a thriller. Compulsion is far more reaching in its version covering the story closer to the actual facts as well as going into the aftermath of the murder, rather than merely depicting the time between the murder and then where they were caught. Both films start in a very similair fashion in that both begin when the murder has just occurred, although in this version instead of killing a classmate they murder a child which was factual to the real case. In both though it focuses in from there onto the relationship of the two young men who decided to commit the murder because they believed themselves superior, and decided that they were basically entitled to a murder since they were supermen who were above the law. This leads them to commit the murder which they believe will be a perfect one which they will get away with since they've worked out every detail it seems.
Dean Stockwell is an actor with a rather odd career to recount as he started as a cutesy child actor in many high profile films, then successfully bridges over the gap into adulthood with a few prominent leading turns. Stockwell's brief stint as a leading man in high profile films seemed strange but likely it was caused by him apparently getting into the hippie counterculture, since after his gap in his filmography his leading turns came in the form of a rather different sort of films although he certainly found success as a character actor. Repulsion stands as one of his most notable leading performances from that brief period as he plays one of the young murderers. Stockwell plays Judd, much like with Farley Granger in Rope, Judd is the submissive of the two men. Farley Granger played this as meekly as possible, but Stockwell is far more interesting in his approach as seen in the opening sequence. Stockwell does not depict it as an overarching quality rather something more specifically attached to their crime. When Judd states his acceptance of this position Stockwell conveys why as he seems to suggest a certain almost sexual thrill in Judd over the prospect.
The other young man is Artie Strauss played by Bradford Dillman takes a similair approach, although I would done in a far more effective manner, as John Dall in Rope as they both present their man is particularly remorseless, but really he'd have to be if he goes about taunting fate by even trying to help in the investigation personally. With Judd is a bit less exact in his behavior. In more official settings such as in the classroom, or in a discussion with other students Stockwell portrays Judd in being very close to Artie in terms of personality. Stockwell is quite good in expressing the sheer pompousness of this pervasive attitude in Judd as he reveals his philosophy about the right of a superior man. Stockwell does not hide just how unlikable the whole idea is, or how unlikable Judd is when he is talking about, but what he does show is the strong conviction in Judd when he speaks these words. There is an affirmative belief and absolute conviction that Stockwell gives every word, the sort of conviction that would be needed to take the philosophy to the next step which would be to actually commit murder to put the philosophy into action.
Judd though does not bring this same conviction though when he is outside an academic setting, and in the real world. Stockwell does well to provide an awkwardness to Judd as he basically has to be a normal person trying to interact with others without his philosophy to hide behind, or with Artie to interact with. There is far less certainty to the man, and Stockwell effectively conveys the weaknesses within him. When a situation causes Judd to reveal some violent and psychotic tendencies Stockwell does not portray it as coming from the super man of his philosophy, but rather just a deranged and pathetic individual. Judd's believability as a "superman" becomes even more into question once it is discovered that they left a pair of glasses at the scene of the crime. Stockwell is terrific as he reveals far less than a master criminal in the scenes where the two men begin to hear about the evidence that suggests they'll likely become suspects sooner rather than later. Stockwell delivers in finding the sort of visceral gut reactions in these scenes fitting for someone whose going back through his mind, and realized they've made a terrible mistake.
Their "perfect" murder comes crashing down in front of their faces as Judd is soon brought in for questioning due to his glasses. Stockwell is great in these scenes because he shows Judd attempting to be the superior being again as he goes face to face with the district attorney. Now outside of just stating his own personal theories Stockwell brings a considerable desperation in the act as it is obvious Judd is not nearly as confident about the matter as he claims to be. This makes it wholly naturally when he quickly breaks down into an emotional mess when it is revealed they know it is his glasses, and later when Artie quickly confesses to the crime after they are both formally brought in. The two fall apart to reveal far less than they every pretended to be and Stockwell is excellent in realizing Judd as the mess he truly is. Stockwell and Dillman take a back seat in the last act of the film once they two men are brought to trial as the film more closely follows on the actions of their defense attorney named Jonathan Wilk clearly based on Clarence Darrow and played by Orson Welles. Stockwell still delivers in the few moments that he has but his impact is diminished. This really does not matter much though as the proceeding scenes allowed him create compelling portrayal of the rather unique derangement of this young man.