It was somewhat of a busman's holiday last night at the American Film Institute, where about 200 members of the AFI's Film Club, many of them lawyers, got a chance to preview the movie "The Verdict."

"It was very well done," said Washington lawyer David Taylor, delivering his own decision on the film. "But it was a little bit overdone on the part of the lawyers -- you know, the good lawyer, the bad lawyer."

After the screening, the crowd adjourned to Four Ways restaurant, breaking from the customary question-and-answer session with the producers.

"I know that we were to answer questions directly following the film , but I haven't eaten since lunch," coproducer David Brown told the audience, which responded to the move for dinner with spontaneous applause.

At the restaurant, guests in black tie ate and drank on their feet, spilling throughout three floors and snatching chances to talk with the movie's star, James Mason, producers Brown and Richard Zanuck and 20th Century-Fox president Sherry Lansing.

"I'm Charles Percy," said the Illinois senator, greeting Lansing.

"I know," said Lansing, embracing Percy, who is on the board of the Kennedy Center.

"I think he was marvelous," said AFI patron Esther Gerber, watching Mason across the room. "He looks wonderful for his age. And Paul Newman!" she said, with no further explanation.

"There are good men and there are bad men," said Mason, who played the bad lawyer next to Paul Newman's down-and-out good guy. "And I think I behaved like a perfect gentleman."

The film, which is due to open in New York tomorrow, has already received a great deal of attention, much of it due to Mason and Newman. But coproducer Zanuck hopes for even more.

"I hope we get a lot of reaction from lawyers and doctors," said Zanuck, fielding a question about the negative professional stereotypes portrayed in the film. "But most of all, it is the story of a man's redemption and I hope that most people see it that way."

Asked about critics' claims that the movie would take Newman and perhaps himself to the Oscars, Mason said, "I am neither critic nor audience. We will have to see."