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Back in the late 1950s and early 1960s, there was a cluster of
courtroom dramas that would come to define the sub-genre. Anatomy of a
Murder is a quite cut-and-dry film with its very basic slow burn
presentation of the proceedings. But with the great performances, deep
focus photography blended with the jazz score, the blunt approach to
some very taboo topics for the time and the hold of the question of
morality as to when murder is justifiable keeps you engaged through all
its 160 minutes. The way the film talks about rape and murder often
feels jarring, but it gives the film a weight that's very admirable.
James Stewart is a highlight as always with a performance that's
reminiscent to his iconic performance in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington,
but what makes his character more interesting is his wise-cracking
sense of humour that often goes unappreciated by other characters. It's
a great fascinating film although its payoff are quite weak. I prefer
Judgment at Nuremberg by a wide margin of course, but it beats Inherit
the Wind, To Kill A Mockingbird and Witness for the Prosecution for
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
ANATOMY OF A MURDER raises prickly and complex questions about legal
ethics, while challenging the audience to decide for itself the tricky
issues of justice and truth. There are no clear-cut good guys and bad
guys, and the film's resolution has an ironic edge. ANATOMY OF A MURDER
is a movie based on the best-selling book by Michigan Supreme Court
justice John D. Voelker, who served as technical adviser on the film
and was the defense attorney on the real-life case on which his novel
was based. The murder occurred in a small town in the Upper Peninsula
of Michigan on July 31, 1952. The client never paid the attorney his
fee, so he wrote this story to make up for it. ANATOMY OF A MURDER
stars James Stewart as a seat-of-the-pants Michigan lawyer. Through the
intervention of his alcoholic mentor, played by Arthur O'Connell, he
accepts the case of one army Lieutenant played by Ben Gazzara in only
his second film, an unlovable lout with a sexy wife played by Lee
Remick. Faced with the formidable opposition of big-city prosecutor
George C. Scott (starring in his first film), Stewart hopes to win
freedom for his client. Also featured in the cast is Eve Arden as
Stewart's know-it-all secretary and Katherine Grant as the young woman
who may benefit from the murder. ANATOMY OF A MURDER may seem like it
has the perfect cast -- once you've seen it, but originally they tried
to get Gregory Peck as the lawyer, Lana Turner as the wife, and Richard
Widmark as the jealous husband. In his autobiography, Preminger stated
that he wanted Spencer Tracy or Burl Ives for the role of "Judge
Weaver." But Tracy turned it down as too small a part. Burl Ives also
passed on the offer but then someone, came up with a great suggestion -
why not use a real judge? The director soon found the perfect 'actor'
to play the ever-patient judge. Joseph Welch, the lawyer who helped to
bring down Senator Joseph McCarthy's witch hunt by asking him on
national television, "Have you no sense of decency?" ANATOMY OF A
MURDER was filmed on location in two small towns in the upper-peninsula
of Michigan. The courtroom, jail and hospital scenes were shot in their
actual counterparts. Stewart's office in the film was Voelker's actual
law office. Preminger liked the unique effect the real locations had on
the actors causing them to give even more authentic performances.
Intercourse. Contraceptive. Sperm. Sex. Climax. Panties. These were not
the sort of words movie theatre audiences were used to hearing on the
screen in 1959 but director Otto Preminger changed all that with his
controversial courtroom drama, Anatomy of a Murder. It was a sure bet
that the film's questionable dialogue would not pass through the
Production Code office unnoticed but it wouldn't be the first time that
Preminger had pushed the envelope with censorship issues in his movies.
In 1951 he successfully challenged the Code over using the word
'virgin' in The Moon is Blue, and in 1955, he overcame opposition to
his depiction of heroin addiction in The Man With The Golden Arm. The
more serious and compelling aspects of Anatomy of a Murder were
overshadowed by the publicity surrounding the production which played
up the more unsavory aspects of the rape/murder trial and
sensationalized them. Stewart's father, a hardware store owner back in
the small town of Indiana, Pennsylvania even ran in ad in the local
paper apologizing for the film and warning folks to stay away from it.
And it was even briefly banned in Chicago for using words like,
"contraception." Yet, despite the adult subject matter, the film
arrived on screens with its dialogue mostly intact and became one of
the biggest box office hits of that year. In his autobiography,
Preminger wrote, "Our presence created great excitement in those little
towns. The special train carrying cast, crew, and equipment arrived and
half the population was at the station to greet us. Duke Ellington
arrived a few days after we had begun to shoot. I find it useful to
have the composer with me on the set. By watching the progress of the
shooting, seeing the dailies....he becomes part of the film." The
director even cast him in a bit part - as a pianist named 'Pie-Eye,'
working at the local roadhouse. The soundtrack marked Ellington's first
feature film score. Of all the film's many virtues, Jimmy Stewart's
portrayal of attorney Paul Biegler is a key factor in the film's
success. According to the actor, he considered it his most challenging
role since Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life. "It was worth all the
extra effort," Stewart said in one interview, "I spent a lot of time
memorizing my lines for that movie. The picture demanded an awful lot
of time and thought. As the defense attorney I knew I had to be glibber
than usual. Trial lawyers are neither shy nor inarticulate. I read my
script each night until I fell asleep." Not surprisingly, Jimmy
received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for his performance
in Anatomy of a Murder. In addition to Stewart, ANATOMY OF A MURDER
received Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Supporting Actors (Arthur
O'Connell and George C. Scott), Screenplay, Film Editing, and
Cinematography. The film's unusual trailer opens with a bailiff calling
the court to order and announcing that "there is a new movie coming to
this town. All those involved will now be sworn in." Preminger then
stands up and swears in the principal actors, asking each if they
"swear to have done their job in the picture to the best of their
ability." When Preminger calls on Voelker, the writer protests that
there cannot be a trial without a jury. Preminger then replies, "the
judge and jury sits out there, the millions and millions of people in
I hope you find this film GUILTY of belonging on the National Film Registry. --- Thanks.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is a superior courtroom story that was considered pretty shocking
at the time of its release -- young Lee Remick wriggling around in her
tight slacks, words like "spermatogenesis," a pair of torn "panties".
Now we might see the very rape that precipitates the murder of Barney
Quill by Remick's shady soldier husband, Ben Gazzara.
Three elements raise this above many other films about crime, the law, and the justice system.
One is the story itself. Let's face facts, he said. What's the usual trajectory in courtroom dramas? An innocent man or woman is framed or otherwise unjustly tried for a crime and the defense counsel comes to his or her aid and, only at the last minute, after much tribulation, saves the innocent from conviction.
Or, conversely, the murderer is about to go free but only at the last minute is exposed through the heroic efforts of the tormented and self-sacrificing prosecutor. The guilty party may break down on the stand, pounding his fists against his temples, shrieking, "Okay, I did it. I DID IT! But I only wanted to scare her." There is no such clear opposition between good and bad in this case. Barney Quill probably did rape Gazarra's wife, but we can't be sure, what with her hanging around Barney's bar while Gazarra is home asleep, nudging Quill with her rear end, belting down shots. And Gazarra may in fact have been in a state of dissociation when he pulled the trigger on Barney but Gazarra gives us ample reason to believe he's lying about his mental condition during the incident.
It's a grown-up look at guilt and the justice system, lacking in cartoon characters.
Another feature that raises this film above most other examples of the genre is the acting. The performances by all the principles are exemplary. George C. Scott in an early role is almost perfect, in the way that a Smithfield ham can be perfect.
Finally, this story is set in Thunder Bay on the upper peninsula of Michigan. These are northern latitudes we're talking about. Even in early Fall the nights are chilly. The trees look as if they're shuddering with revulsion at the notion that another winter is around the corner. The streets and mostly vacant holiday spots look bleak. Townspeople talk about the bears being harmless as they rummage through the garbage for scraps. You can see the northern lights in the middle of July. The local color is precisely pinned down.
There are several comic exchanges too. It's about rape, beatings, and a revenge murder, but it's not a heavy drama. Arthur O'Connell is worth a few smiles as an elderly Irish lawyer friend of James Stewart's, trying to stay off the bottle and burping his way through the trial. Eve Arden adds some welcome wise cracks and some trenchant and funny observations.
Two slight turn offs. One is Saul Bass's razzle-dazzle titles. Sometimes that man's ego tripped him up. There should have been a credit: SAUL BASS PRESENTS SPECTACULAR TITLES. And then there's the musical score. I love some of Duke Ellington's work but this is not among his best efforts and it would have worked better as source music. That is, it could easily have added to the atmosphere of Barney Quill's bar if the Duke's music had been played on the juke box.
Overall, a superior job. Better than John D. Voelker's novel, which badly needed a perceptive and ruthless copy editor.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
One of the most risqué movies ever made --- up until 1959. James
Stewart is a small-town lawyer hired to defend military man Ben
Gazzara, who's accused of murdering a local who may or may not have
raped his wife. Otto Preminger stages a dissection of the case and it's
surprising at each turn.
ANATOMY OF A MURDER is suspenseful, funny and brilliantly acted by an unusually strong cast: Stewart is excellent and Gazzara is great. Lee Remick, as Gazzara's wife, plays her role to the hilt. She's a sex kitten who graduated to black widow! The dependable Arthur O'Connell and Eve Arden make up Stewart's legal team and George C. Scott is the prosecuting attorney. The scenes between Scott and Stewart are dynamite. The scenes between Stewart and Remick are squirm-inducing. McCarthy judge Joseph Welch plays the judge and he brings his sublime humor to bear. The great music score is by Duke Ellington and the titles by Saul Bass are among his best.
This is one of Jimmy Stewart's best performances. He plays Paul
Beigler, a small-town lawyer who defends a man on a charge that he
murdered a man whom his wife accused of having raped her. Stewart
leaves his stutter and naively cheerful personality behind to create a
believable character who is to be taken seriously, although we wind up
knowing very little about him personally. Lee Remick plays Laura
Manion, the woman making the rape charge. Laura is more than a bit of a
flirt and, even though that is essential to the story, she seems to
overplay it. That she should come on to Beigler, a man a generation
older and the defense lawyer for her husband, I found incongruous. It
is good to see a young George C. Scott turn in an Oscar-nominated
performance as one of the prosecuting attorneys. And Joseph N. Welch,
who plays the judge, is one of the highlights.
There is a subplot concerning Paul and his older lawyer friend Parnell Emmett McCarthy (Arthur O'Connell). Parnell seems to have a lot of regrets about his career and sees Beigler as a representation of what he was before he took some wrong turns, one such being a turn toward drink. But Paul induces Parnell to become involved with the case and Parnell is transformed by being wanted and being able to contribute. I found this little commentary on how important it is to be valued to be moving and true.
The movie is long, playing to 160 minutes, but the leisurely pacing is one of its good points. We get to know the personalities of the characters well and get much background information about the case before the extended courtroom battle.
The black and white photography is some of the best and well deserving of its Oscar nomination. There are some great nighttime shots with the lighting just perfect.
I suppose the detailed discussion of the rape was sensational at the time, but that aspect of the film will be lost on contemporary audiences. I doubt that the thought of this being in any way controversial in the context of being sexually explicit would even occur to a younger audience.
Biegler is somewhat accomplished at the piano and it is a treat to see Stewart playing a duet with Duke Ellington in one scene. Ellington contributed the music and, although interesting, it did not always create the right mood for me.
I would like to read a review by a lawyer. I know little about the law, but I think even in the 50s the prosecution could not have introduced a surprise witness at the last minute during the trial. And it is not clear at all why the dog was brought into the courtroom.
*Spoiler* If I had been on the jury I would have voted guilty, so I found its verdict surprising. However, in movies of the era it was not at all common that the guilty were set free, or the innocent found guilty. The verdict somewhat undercuts Parnell's soliloquy about the beauty of juries, but he did say "in most instances" they do it right.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Compare this to a courtroom drama today. You can't really see much
difference. Sure, it's in black and white, some of the courtroom banter
seems a little too tame and not an f- or s-word in it. But you can't
really say that this is less engrossing than "A Few Good Men", a movie
made several decades after.
In fact, this is a much more intelligent study of court trial because we are not told, like Roger Ebert wrote in his review of A Few Good Men: What they are gonna do (meaning the defense), how they are gonna do it and when. Almost everything is left to the imagination up until the end.
Also, a truly fascinating performance by Ben Gazzara. You can't peg his character. One moment he looks guilty as sin, the other he looks like a victim of circumstance. If you have seen the movie, you know what he did, but like both the defense and prosecuting attorneys argue: The circumstances make the case.
James Stewart is his usual quirky self but it doesn't hurt the character he plays. He is in a movie with a pretty heavy subject matter for its time, but he doesn't hold back on the Jimmy Stewart "aw shucks" charm that he was famous for, and you know, it fits the character perfectly.
Lee Remick is also brilliant. At first, you think she's a bit of a floozy and I hate to admit it, I thought exactly what the prosecutors set her up to be: A woman who had it coming. She turns it all around in one crucial scene between her and Stewart. Look at the change of expression. That's brilliant acting.
Of course, you can't forget George C. Scott. Has there ever been a lawyer as cool as him? Not by a long shot. I could go on and on. All the performances are brilliant. Even by the judge (forget his name).
The one little flaw is the verdict. I would have liked to see a little hint of the jury's deliberation. Also, the movie does seem to gloss over the psychiatric aspects of the case. The book was more in depth at that argument. By the way, the combined age of the jury looks to be 1200 years. Look at all of those craggy faces. Certainly a great difference from 12 Angry Men where there was a little more age variety.
Anyway, if you haven't seen this do yourself a favour if you are into this genre, look it up and see it. It's brilliant.
This book and film were so important to me as I was growing up. I think the book was the first truly adult novel I ever read. The book was around 600 pages and I couldn't put it down. When the movie came out I saw it with my friends. They didn't get it. This is a taut courtroom drama with a cast of characters that we grow to love or hate. The crime itself is quite foggy. It involves the revenge killing of a man who supposedly raped the defendant's wife. Lee Remick is the consummate party girl, married to a military man. This also throws a little monkey wrench into things. JImmy Stewart is the wisecracking attorney who is confronting an equally colorful prosecutor. There are numerous twists and turns that need to be watched. We are never sure of Ben Gazzara's innocence or guilt or that of his wife. That's what propels us forward. I watched this film at least ten times and I find it fresh and relevant even today (I just watched it on TCM a few day's ago). If you've not seen it, sit down and be entertained.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
When Laura Manion (Lee Remick) comes home and tells her husband that
she has been raped, he instantly goes and kills the man who raped his
wife. Paul Biegler (James Stewart) a humble small-town lawyer, is asked
to defend him. Biegler originally wants to plead guilty, but soon
discovers the idea that they might have a shot for insanity. But this
case will not be an easy one. Biegler finds himself up against the
State's Deputy Attorney General (George C. Scott), and Biegler must
search everywhere for evidence to prove that Laura was raped, and
possibly win the case.
Anatomy of a Murder was one of the most brilliant courtroom dramas I have ever seen. The story was pretty similar to a lot of movies such as these, but the direction by Otto Preminger was fantastic. Despite the long length of this film, unlike many courtroom dramas Anatomy of a Murder really keeps you interested throughout the entire film. The screenplay was also very good. I laughed out loud several times in the film, and I can tell you there is no better battle then James Stewart and George C. Scott for a courtroom drama.
The acting was superb by everyone. I found no one in the film to be a bad actor, and I really loved some of the performances. James Stewart delivered one of the best I have ever seen him. I still believe that It's a Wonderful Life was his career performance, but this was definitely up there in his best. This is one of the only films I have seen with George C. Scott, but he was amazing in this film. The most interesting parts of the film was hearing James Stewart and George C. Scott yell "objection!" every single time one of them would say something.
Overall, Anatomy of a Murder is probably the greatest, or at least one of the greatest, courtroom dramas I have ever seen. With perfect direction, and great acting by some of the greatest actors ever, this movie quickly became one of my favorites in film history.
An Army Officer murderous coldly the rapist to his wife. After being
arrested, is brought to trial, where they reflect all types of human
emotions, from the jealousy rabies. One of the films of trials more
acclaimed in the history of cinema
Magnificent judicial drama, one of those films with force, staggering precision and longevity. A special indent blending his part of intrigue, its share of comedy and its part of drama... Particularly in the dose fair and appropriate. A script full of deception, double senses and looks a dash of those who are few.
Magnificent interpretation of James Stewart, in his role as a lawyer brazen, in the courtroom, but always unsure of itself. The more than two and a half hours of film, after a long and meticulous introduction of the main characters, we wrapped in the growing tension of the judicial process, with witnesses, interrogations and fierce mourning dialectic between the defense, the prosecution and the judge, scattered throughout with steps and sound dose of humor. But, ultimately, the virtue of the content of the film is in your story, in the intricacies judicial, in the treatment of the characters and in the doubts raised about the effectiveness against the duality of the truth and falsehood, more than any other thing, but arrive at any time to lift if the accused (Ben Gazzara) and its seductive wife (Lee Remick) deceive us or are sincere It is precisely this ambiguity which gives the film of one of its best charms leaving at the end something to think about.
Duke Ellington, in addition to get a small cameo in this movie ingeniously led by Otto Preminger, knew give the background music appropriate to the history with the composition of jazz ending taking this year the Grammy..
James Stewart plays a lawyer trying to build a defense for a man who's
committed a murder. The details of the crime remain fuzzy, and as a
viewer you're never quite sure which way the verdict will swing.
The film seems to capture the whole trial experience, from preparing a case to swearing in the jurors to cross-examining witnesses to objecting to lines of questioning to meeting informally in the judge's chambers, etc. Neither side is the "bad guy", they're just doing their best to play the game and outsmart each other. It's about strategy. (After jurors are asked to disregard Stewart's objectionable questioning, the defendant asks Stewart how people can just forget something they've already heard. "They can't," he replies.)
The movie isn't a typical melodramatic courtroom spectacle; it manages to carry a more enjoyable light-hearted air, with some bits of humor. The acting is good and the characters are unique. Jimmy Stewart's easygoing lawyer character is a fisherman and a jazz enthusiast. The judge is even-tempered and personable and loves the legal process. Lee Remick plays a wife who doesn't like being tied down. George C. Scott plays a cunning big city lawyer brought in to assist the D.A. Eve Arden (Principal McGee from "Grease") plays Stewart's secretary. The music (where it appears) is done by the great Duke Ellington, who also cameos as a jazz pianist.
Made in 1959, the film surprised me with some of its content. Talk of sexual matters, casual treatment of rape (a main plot point) and some PG-13 words. I'm curious how this film would've been rated back in the day.
At 2 hours and 40 minutes, this film might be longer than you're willing to spend watching a trial unfold, so keep that in mind. But it's not your typical legal drama, and has a certain character all its own.
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