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First of all be patient as the following information is getting to a
point that might add to your appreciation of the movie. I became aware
of the following information while attending Northern Michigan
University in Marquette, MI over a few tall drinks with John D. Volker,
the author, years ago.
This great courtroom drama is set in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. To be more specific the cities of Marquette, Negaunee and Ishpeming and the village of Big Bay and is based on a true murder case that took place there. The names of the cities and people are changed in the movie but it is filmed on the same locations that the murder case took place. The screenplay was written by John D. Volker (who wrote his novels under the pen name Robert Travers) and was based on his first novel. He was from Ishpeming (Iron City in the movie) and a Michigan Supreme Court Justice when he reviewed the appeal of this case and turned it into a detailed novel and then screenplay. The movie is given an extra dose of authenticity by using the unique people of the Upper Peninsula as extras and in minor roles.
The point of all this historical information is that along with a hard hitting realistic style by director Otto Premenger, great score by Duke Ellington, plus top notch true to life performances by the excellent cast (Jimmy Stewart, Ben Gazara, Lee Remick, George C. Scott, et.al) this black and white film is more reality than fiction and being aware of this adds to impact of this psychological courtroom drama. This is a true human experience written by an author from the area directly from the original court transcripts, filmed where it happened in a style that fits the subject matter where it actually happened with a cast that really knows what they are doing.
If you like ripped from reality courtroom dramas, does it get better?
Well filmed, beautifully acted, and painstakingly directed, this film
deserves the highest praise.
James Stewart brings his customary stammering, quirky charm to a role that could have easily become overwhelmingly serious. Lee Remick is seen establishing her early image as the somehow fragile, undeniably seductive pawn (see also "A Face in The Crowd"), while Gazzara wavers intensely somewhere between heartless murderer and protective husband. The supporting cast is strong, creating a human backdrop for the senior players, keeping the story in the real world, effectively preventing this from becoming an exercise in legal theory.
This film is noteworthy for a myriad of reasons, but most specifically because it addresses the still controversial issue of acquaintance rape, and presents us with a victim of questionable morals. At the same time our murder victim is seen as a monster, then a friend and father. There really are no heroes here, no noble defenders, no pristine heroines, no completely innocent bystanders...both sides take their turns pointing fingers, each claiming that the other only got what they deserved.
We are forced to re-evaluate our thoughts on what constitutes justifiable homicide--the unwritten law that Manion speaks of in the film versus the law as written that Biegler must now interpret. This manipulation of intended meaning sets a somewhat tragic precedent evident in the legal system we work within today.
This film is highly entertaining, and excellent for discussion. Watch it with some of your more philosophical friends.
Anatomy of an excellent movie:
Begin with an extremely tight and well written script, from the novel by the same name. While reportedly the story is based on a real-life case it is nevertheless a timeless story, almost biblical, presenting age-old questions of human conflicts and human dilemmas.
Add to that a sensational cast, starting of course with the leads, Jimmy Stewart, George C. Scott, Lee Remick, and Ben Gazarra, but also the rest of the cast, filled as it is with numerous accomplished and veteran stage actors and radio performers from days of yore. Character parts played by actors Arthur O'Connell, Eve Arden, Ken Lynch, Joseph Kearns, and Howard McNear. Someone paid careful attention to the casting for this film.
Perhaps the most masterful stroke as far as casting goes was the casting Joseph Welch as the judge. Welch was an experienced and renowned lawyer in real life. Welch turns in a very good and a very believable performance.
With the collision of those elements, a great script and a great cast, adding Otto Preminger as director, an overseer who knew exactly what to do with it all, you then have a very fine film.
More than any other movie or play, including modern day presentations like the television series Law & Order, this 1959 movie, Anatomy of a Murder, even though it is now 46 years old, is by far the most realistic and technically accurate courtroom drama ever produced. The conduct of the trial, the examination of the witnesses, the colloquy and bantering back and forth between the lawyers and between the lawyers and the judge, is spot-on. Every bit of it. Every question from the lawyers, every objection, every ruling by the judge, every admonishment from the judge, and the testimony of the witnesses, every bit of it, is realistic and believable, lines that were accurately written with care, and then flawlessly delivered.
Beyond the technical accuracies of the legal proceedings, some other aspects of the overall story were also spot on. The ambiguous ambivalence of lawyers, their motivations, their ethics, their relative honesty. Nothing is all black or all white. Shades of gray abound. Legal cases as sport. Being a "good lawyer" means pushing the envelope too far, bending the rules until you're told to stop. Not for justice. No, not that. To win. That's why. To win. Then sanctimoniously telling themselves that the system really works better this way. The movie accurately captures the fact that real-life legal cases are very often comprised of upside down Alice in Wonderland features. Innocent people are guilty, and guilty people are innocent. Good is bad, and bad is good. Everything is relative. Some call it cynicism. Others, cynically, call it realism. Anatomy of a Murder captures all of these and more.
I've read the criticism that Lee Remick was not believable, that as an actress she failed at nailing the portrayal of how a true rape victim would appear and behave, and that her character, Laura Manion, just didn't seem to have the proper affect nor strike the right emotional chord of a woman who had been raped. All I can say is that such criticism misses a humongous part of the point. It is almost mind-boggling that there are viewers out there who, after viewing this film, somehow managed to miss it. Let me clear it up: we the viewers WERE SUPPOSED to have serious doubts about whether Laura Manion had actually been raped. The question of whether she was really raped or not is central to the plot and story line. That's why Lee Remick played the part the way she did. And then, in turn, it was part of the story for the Jimmy Stewart character, Paul Biegler, to recognize this problem, and the problem that it presented to his defense. He worried that the jury would see it and would also doubt that she had been raped, and so that's why he propped her up in court, dressed up all prim and proper, with a hat over her voluptuously cascading hair, and with horned-rim glasses. So, yes, Lee Remick nailed it. Bull's eye.
Speaking of Lee Remick, some say that this was the movie that put Lee Remick on the map. She was stunningly beautiful here, at the ripe young age of 24. Even though the film is in black and white, her red hair, blue eyes, and porcelain skin still manage to jump right off the screen and out at you. Has any other actress ever played the role of the beautiful and sexy lady looking to get laid any better than Lee Remick? It was a woman she reprised several times in her career, sometimes with greater subtlety and understatement than others. This was her first rendition of it, and it may have been the best.
Anatomy of a Murder is a very complex movie, with multitudes of layers and texturing, where much is deftly explored, but precious little is resolved. It's a movie that leaves you thinking and wondering. I highly recommend it.
Anatomy Of a Murder is probably Otto Preminger's best film. It's certainly
my favorite. Adapted from a novel by Robert Traver, it tells the story of a
lawyer in northern Michigan and his defense of a particularly surly and
violent murderer. As is always the case with Preminger, scenes are filmed
mostly with all the characters present in the frame. There is no
cross-cutting to speak of, which is to say the drama plays out with the
assorted characters confronting one another, or at any rate with one
another, and the effect is one of surprising warmth and good feeling in the
movie's cosier scenes, which for once enhance rather than detract from the
drama. I would have been quite happy to have spent much more time in lawyer
Biegler's house and study, with its books, old furniture and broken
typewriter, but alas this is a murder case so one has to get down to
The question of whether the defendant, an army officer, was temporarily insane, is in fact insane, or is merely putting on a good show, is never fully resolved. The lawyer is by no means perfect. He's a little lazy, though he gets over it. One senses he's cheap. He enjoys his shabby genteel bachelor's life and isn't always responsive to the needs of his secretary, who would like to get paid more regularly. In the end he proves far more dedicated and brilliant than we might have first imagined him to be, but the fly in the buttermilk is that the better he gets the more complicated the case becomes, and the more ambiguous everything gets the more he finds out about his client and the man he killed. In this respect the movie is a masterpiece of ambiguity. Beautifully shot on location in black and white, it is more gray than anything else. Morally gray. No one is quite what he appears to be at first. And people change; or rather we learn more about them. The bartender at the resort where his boss was killed at first comes off as a jerk; in time he comes to seem more of a jerk. Then he seems maybe not so bad after all; and then he's a jerk once more, but a jerk we understand. The lawyer's assistant, an on-again, off-again recovering alcoholic, is also a mixed bag. He is dogged but sloppy, and always (or so it appears) on the verge of breakdown. Or at least this is how Arthur O'Connell plays him. The prosecuting attorney is a dolt, but he is aided by a legal bigwig the state has brought in, but this hotshot is no match for the cunning country lawyer. The defendant's wife, who 'started the whole thing' is gorgeous, sexy and provocative. She makes a play for her husband's lawyer, but he doesn't bite. One wonders about her. And one wonders about the marriage she and her hot-tempered spouse really have, and whether it will last.
This is a very sophisticated and adult movie for 1959, or for that matter today. The location filming greatly enhances the mood, chilly and very upper midwestern. Yet indoors one feels different, and the tone is often playful. The actors are superb. James Stewart is gritty, lovable, homespun, physically slow and mentally quick; and for all the familiarity there is about his screen persona, out of character, that is, in character he manages continually to surprise and delight. He was a true actor. Ben Gazzara is very Method actorish, which suits him well in his role as the volatile military man. Lee Remick is stunning as his wife, and one can well imagine a man killing for her, many times over. She is also a good actress. George C. Scott plays the state's bulldog prosecutor well, though he's an acquired taste at best. His hamminess contrasts with Stewart's folksy naturalism in interesting ways not ungermane to the plot, but he is out-acted and outclassed by the old pro he is presumably upstaging in this film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
'Anatomy of a Murder' illustrates vividly how one lawyer repeatedly
faces the heat of a controversial rape-case courtroom battle... The
film might be Stewart's finest performance... For his magnificent
achievement, Stewart was nominated for an Academy Award... The film
itself received a total of seven Oscars in various categories, but was
overtaken by William Wyler's 'Ben-Hur', the blockbuster of that year,
whose star, Charlton Heston, beat out Stewart for best actor...
'Anatomy of a Murder' is one of the few great racy courtroom melodramas ever put on the screen... It is a study of characters superbly detailed, in which a simple country lawyer zealously defends a young Army lieutenant charged with clearly gunning down a bar-owner who, he alleges, raped his young wife... The murder takes place some time after Remick tells her husband (Gazzara) she was rapedenough time to suggest that the killing was not done in the heat of passion but with some deliberation...
Stewart, a warm bachelor lawyer with an old-fashioned grace of manner, is wonderfully believable as the qualified defense attorney, who tries to establish whether or not Lee Remick has been raped... He masterfully guides his defendant to the most exciting climax, repeatedly drawing forth evidence which he knows to be inadmissible, but which he wants the jury to hear...
Stewart smokes cheap cigars, plays jazz piano, and restrains beautifully Remick's flirtatious overtures, but his benevolence is never in question... We see him hauling the provocative Remick from out of the bar telling her to be a good, and submissive housewife for the court...
Stewart studies with a cynical eye the peculiar traits of the accused, tolerates, with amused resignation, his friend's drunken lapses, and competently makes his point to the judge and jury...
Ben Gazzara proves to be a problematic client, close to uncooperative with his lawyer... Also, it is very clear that he is a jealously possessive man, which is enough to question the validity of the rape charge, he claims that he acted in a moment of insane anger... The film raises fascinating legal highlights on disorders of jealousy...
Lee Remick gives a sensational performance as the sexy wife whose missing panties form a vital part of the evidence...
Remick knows how to attract and seduce... She is so coquettish that she drives her angry husband to murder... The trial poses tricky questions: Was the Remick character in advanced levels of seduction during her wanderings at the neighborhood bar? Did her bruises come from the man whom she claimed raped her, or from her jealous husband?
George C. Scott plays the sly, sardonic prosecuting attorney who offers the character a wonderful air of arrogance and superiority, unnerving with his aggressive antagonism witnesses and defense attorney...
Arthur O'Connell rises to the occasion when his lawyer-hero needs him...
Eve Arden is Stewart's faithful and efficient secretary eager that the Manion case might bring her a long-overdue paycheck...
The courtroom fencing between Stewart and Scott is so convincing with the casting of Joseph N. Welch as the delightful ever-patient judge, Harlan Weaver... Judge Weaver, whose patience is repeatedly tried by the grotesque gestures of the lawyers in the case, appears too kindly to be much of a courtroom disciplinarian... But in the tension between the shrewd old judge and the lawyer for defense, the film raises a crucial issue on the rules of advocacy: To what extent a lawyer should represent a client zealously within the rules and norms of courtroom etiquette?
Preminger's penchant for long takes and a mobile camera, rather than cuts and conversational reaction shots, here serves both to illuminate the crucial ambiguities in the characters, and to facilitate an objective appraisal of the mechanics of the legal process...
Preminger challenges the American censors over the candid sexual terminology and explicit examination of rape in his courtroom drama... Ellington's score brilliantly captures the tension and the moral ambiguity that characterize the movie... Sam Leavitt's black-and-white photography is particularly impressive, setting as it does the stark mood of the authentic Michigan locations...
Based on the famous Traver novel, ANATOMY OF A MURDER is an extremely
complex film that defeats easy definition. In some respects it is a
social document of the era in which it was made; primarily, however, it
is a detailed portrait of the law at work and the mechanizations and
motivations of the individuals involved in a seemingly straight-forward
case. In the process it raises certain ethical issues re attorney
behavior and the lengths to which an attorney might go to win a case.
Paul Biegler (James Stewart) is a small-town lawyer who has recently lost a re-election for the position of District Attorney and who is down on his luck--when a headline-making case involving assault, alleged rape, and murder drops into his lap. As the case evolves, there is no question about the identity of the killer. But a smart lawyer might be able to get him off just the same and redeem his own career in the process, and with the aid of an old friend (Arthur O'Connell) and his formidable secretary (Eve Arden), Biegler sets out to do precisely that. Opposing him in the courtroom is Claude Dancer (George C. Scott), a high powered prosecutor who is equally determined to get a conviction... and who is no more adverse to coaching a witness than Biegler himself. The two square off in a constantly shifting battle for the jury, a battle that often consists of underhanded tactics on both sides.
The performances are impressive, with James Stewart ideally cast as the attorney for the defense, Ben Gazzara as his unsavory client, and a truly brilliant Lee Remick as the sexy and disreputable wife who screams rape where just possibly none occurred; O'Connell, Arden, and Scott also offer superior performances. The script is sharp, cool, and meticulous, the direction and cinematography both effective and completely unobtrusive, and the famous jazz score adds quite a bit to the film as a whole.
Although we can't help rooting for Stewart, as the film progresses it seems more and more likely that Remick is lying through her teeth and Gazzara is as guilty as sin--but the film balances its elements in such a way as to achieve a disturbing ambiguity that continues right through to the end. If you expect a courtroom thriller with sudden revelations and twists you'll likely be disappointed in ANATOMY OF A MURDER, but if you want a thought-provoking take on the law you'd be hard pressed to find one better. Recommended.
Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer
The legendary James Stewart has worked for several of Hollywood's most legendary directors including Frank Capra and Alfred Hitchcock but his films for them can not reach the level of this 1959 Columbia Pictures release that he did for Otto Preminger. Stewart gives his all time greatest performance in a gem of a courtroom drama that is often overlooked. Released on the heels of several other courtroom drama classics such as "Twelve Angry Men" and "Witness For The Prosecution", "Anatomy Of A Murder" tells the story of a small town Michigan lawyer (Stewart) who takes on the case of an army officer who is standing trial for murdering a man who he believes had raped his wife. A little risque and controversial for its time but still a classic and time has served it well. A triumph for all of the talent involved.
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.
An excellent ballet of film direction and courtroom procedure, Anatomy is
one of the best courtroom movies ever produced. With a great cast and three
dimensional characters, highlighted by Jimmy Stewart and his usual "likeable
everyman" character, the film moves briskly and intelligently, thanks to
Premminger's fine direction.
Ben Gazzara plays an army soldier who shoots a man who raped his wife, then pleads insanity. Stewart is his lawyer and Lee Remick is great as the suggestive, somewhat slutty wife who leaves you questioning her motives throughout. Whether or not you agree with the final verdict (personally, I don't), you will agree that this is a great film, worth repeated viewings.
As a courtroom drama, "Anatomy of a Murder" would be hard to surpass.
It is a first-class production with an interesting and unpredictable
story plus a strong cast. It works admirably, both as a story and as a
portrayal of the workings of the law. It avoids the labored dramatics
and contrived resolutions in which so many movies of the genre indulge,
and it also declines to shy away from pointing out the more
ill-conceived features of the legal system.
From his first scene, James Stewart pulls the viewer right into the world of lawyer Paul Biegler. It takes little time before you come to know him and to get a pretty good idea of what his life is like. His scenes with Arthur O'Connell work well in rounding out the picture. The two are neither heroic nor brilliant, but simply sympathetic and believable.
Into Biegler's world then come the characters played by Ben Gazzara and Lee Remick, a married couple with more than their share of faults. By making them less than ideal clients, the movie takes a chance on losing the audience's sympathy, but it adds credibility and complexity to the story. Both roles are played well - again, it seems as if you know a lot more about them than is specifically stated.
When George C. Scott enters the picture, he adds yet another dimension. His character arrives at just the right time to complicate the plot, and his legal skirmishing with Stewart makes some dry material come to life in an interesting way. Eve Arden also has some good moments, and her character is used in just the right amount to add some amusement without causing a distraction from the main story. It's also interesting to see Joseph Welch as the judge, and his portrayal works well enough.
Otto Preminger holds everything together nicely, with the right amount of detail and a pace that keeps the story moving steadily. The result is a very nice contrast to the many run-of-the mill legal/courtroom movies that present such an idealized view of the justice system. It maintains a careful balance, making clear the flaws and unpleasant realities of the system, yet never taking cheap shots either. And it's also an interesting and involved story, one of the most carefully-crafted of its kind.
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