Frederick Manion (Ben Gazzara), a lieutenant in the army, is arrested for the murder of a bartender, Barney Quill. He claims, in his defense, that the victim had raped and beaten up his wife Laura (Lee Remick). Although Laura supports her husband's story, the police surgeon can find no evidence that she has been raped. Manion is defended by Paul Biegler (James Stewart), a rather humble small-town lawyer. During the course of interviews, Biegler discovers that Manion is violently possessive and jealous, and also that his wife has a reputation for giving her favors to other men. Biegler realizes that the prosecution will try to make the court believe that Laura was the lover of the bartender and than Manion killed him and beat her up when he discovered them together. Manion pleads "not guilty" and Biegler, who knows that his case is weak, sets his assistants to try to find a witness who will save Manion. Written by
James Stewart's character Biegler is generally cited as being the reason why he was cast as smalltown West Virginia lawyer Billy Jim Hawkins in the 1973-74 TV series Hawkins (1973). See more »
When McCarthy is driving back at night, his car is shown approaching a fork in the road, with a large white sign in the area where the road divides, and taking the left-side (from the driver's viewpoint) fork. The shot immediately shifts to McCarthy in the car, driving, squinting ahead, passing other cars whose horns are heard and headlights seen. The scene then shifts again, back to the very same shot of the car approaching the same fork in the road, even though by then the car would have been well beyond this area, having already passed it several moments earlier. See more »
[as Biegler leaves the courtroom momentarily]
Judge Weaver... let's not make a Federal Case out of this.
[followed by impish grin]
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Classy courtroom drama that trades on it's cynical edge
Lawyer Paul Biegler takes the case of Lt. Manion who killed a man after he discovered he had raped his wife, Laura. Biegler realises that the cards are not all in his favour and begins to ensure that the facts are spun in his favour as much as possible during the trial.
This film caused a stir back when it was released supposedly over the dialogue that contained words not used before in a motion picture. However it was more likely that the furore was over the cynical view of the legal profession that the film has. The story is good, but if you're looking for a John Grisham type film with shouting and ridiculous twists in the final reel then you're in the wrong place. What we have here is a clever, interesting story that moves slowly focusing on Biegler rather than twists and turns in the actual plot.
Biegler is sort of clean cut, but he seems like a real lawyer he twists facts and prompts lies in order to improve his case. The various tricks and theatrical shenanigans during the trail are also well observed. The characters are all interesting with only the judge seeming like a dull stereotype.
James Stewart is excellent and helps make the shifty lawyer more likeable and relatable. Remick is excellent as the flirtatious Laura while Gazzara is cool as the accused. George C Scott doesn't have much to do, but does well anyway.
Overall a very enjoyable courtroom thriller it lacks the fireworks of modern legal dramas but has a nice cynical edge to it that shows it isn't as in awe of the law as Grisham is.
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