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|Index||200 reviews in total|
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Anatomy of a Murder is among the best courtroom drama films. James Stewart excels as the country lawyer defending the accused. George Scott, in one of his early roles ,is scintillating as the big city prosecutor sent to teach the country bumpkins how to conduct a murder trial. The bleakness of upper peninsular Michigan is faithfully captured by the black and white filming. Eve Arden and Authur O'Connell provide excellent supporting roles. One of my favorite character actors, Murray Hamilton, plays a key part (Al Pacquette) to perfection. Murray had a role in Jaws as the smarmy mayor, and in The Graduate as the cuckolded Mr. Robinson; both jobs he managed with great aplomb. This film was shocking and controversial when it came out and still packs a dramatic punch.
"Anatomy of a Murder"(1959) is a riveting courtroom drama that has kept
my interest for 160 minutes. Jimmy Stewart was a shining star as a
small town lawyer. A former ADA, he took a job as a defender for a
jealous army lieutenant (Ben Gazarra - now, he WAS a revelation and an
extremely attractive man back in 1959) who pleads innocent in murdering
the rapist of his very seductive young wife (Lee Remick). There is no
doubt that he did the killing. The question is what strategy and
tactics his lawyer will choose for his defense?
The other joy of "Anatomy of a Murder" is George C. Scott in a role of ADA Claude Dancer. The gripping exchanges between Scott and Stewart literally keep the viewers on the edge of their seats. Both actors received well deserved Oscar nominations as well as Arthur O'Connell who played Stewart's drinking loyal friend, Parnell. The film is masterfully shot by Otto Preminger and features a brilliant music by Duke Ellington. "Anatomy of a Murder" is based on a seemingly simple story of a real life 1952 slaying at the Lumberjack Tavern in Big Bay, Michigan. It is packed with excitement, controversy, passion and intrigue where nothing and no one are what they seem.
Until Reindeer Games a few years ago, Anatomy of a Murder had to be the
only film that ever had as a locale, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
It's a pretty woodsy area as shown in the film with lots of tiny towns
and villages and very right wing in its politics.
A homicide occurred in one of those towns, an army lieutenant killed the owner of a nightspot who he says raped his wife. The lieutenant played by Ben Gazzara is in need of a good lawyer and he hires James Stewart who was the former prosecutor in the county. Stewart's team such as it is consists of secretary Eve Arden and former mentor Arthur O'Connell, a reformed alcoholic whose hold on reform is shaky to say the least.
The prosecution consists of Brooks West and a hired gun from the attorney general's office George C. Scott. There's a lot of resentment against Scott in that maybe the locals don't like the inference their own prosecutor isn't up to the job.
Anatomy of a Murder gets James Stewart into a courtroom for the only time in his film career though he did play lawyers in other films. He exudes the same kind of down home folksiness that characterized his later Hawkins TV series in the seventies.
Otto Preminger took his cast and they operated like a finely tuned machine, they could have all been from the same repertoire company and played with each other for years. Anatomy of a Murder got seven Oscar nominations including one for James Stewart as Best Actor and George C. Scott and Arthur O'Connell in the Supporting Actor category. Unfortunately this was the year of Ben-Hur which blanked just about everyone else out of any awards which also included Best Picture and Best Director for Otto Preminger.
Charlton Heston tells a story in his memoirs that Stewart on the night of the Oscars the following year told Heston he had voted for him and was pulling for him as he had already won one in The Philadelphia Story. Only a man of real class would have done that. Stewart was named Best Actor for 1959 by the New York Film Critics though.
Besides all those previously mentioned, kudos should go to Lee Remick as Gazzara's slatternly wife and Kathryn Crosby as the deceased's roadhouse manager who provides some key last minute evidence at the trial.
Anatomy of a Murder is one of the best courtroom dramas ever put on film, catch it by all means.
Clearly, Preminger intended this film to be morally ambiguous; the less than
sympathetic accused, his slatternly wife etc. As other reviewers observed,
the film's treatment of sensitive issues/taboos were quite groundbreaking,
perhaps not so apparent in this modern day & age when such issues are so
The film is almost procedural in its courtroom scenes, hence the film's length which perhaps hinders its overall dramatic intensity. The drama revolves less around a simplistic portrayal of good & evil, but is about the cynical uses/abuses of the legal system. I liked the manner in which the lawyers, both Beigler (Stewart) and Dancer (George C Scott) raise questions that are dubious, are warned by the Judge and apologise profusely for their indiscretions, only to reveal that this is a key technique used to plant doubt into the jurors' minds.
However, I found too many anomalies in the film. Laura Manion (Lee Remick) plays a woman who has allegedly been raped yet a few days later, her character is flirting with every man around. The plot slips into the proceedings doubts' such as the location of the rape, a known lovers-lane'. Yet I found Remick's depiction of a rape victim slightly disturbing. It is clear that rape victims suffer from shock and mental trauma, often withdrawing into themselves. Watching Remick, one is reminded of Jodie Foster's much more emotionally charged portrayal as a victim of a sex assault in the Accused'. However, the lack of flashbacks in this film work to its advantage and maintain its air of ambiguity.
My second main criticism is that Beigler is never really certain about his client's innocence and whether anyone told the truth at all. The end is ironic after Manion (Ben Gazzara) exits suddenly, by saying that he had an irresistible urge to leave', a witty play on the Army psychiatrist's explanation for his crime. In the film, James Stewart's character never really confronts the moral doubts that he maybe defending a man who is less than innocent. Perhaps we are expected to view Stewart's lawyer as a professional, like a doctor, both of whom treat cases with professional detachment.
The film's performances are outstanding including the supporting roles. I expect Stewart's role as a jazz-loving, idiosyncratic lawyer must have shocked his fans with his home-spun image suddenly confronted with the issue of rape and explicit post-mortems. I particularly liked George C. Scott, a complete contrast to Stewart's home-spun folksiness. Intense & belligerent, the courtroom scenes really do come alive when he cross-examines the witnesses. His expression of sudden disbelief after a key revelation one that literally ends his case is great to behold.
Justice must not only be done, but must be seen to be done. Here, indeed,
see the process of justice being done, but would the author of that
statement be any happier as a result? At one level this movie is a
straightforward good guy (defence attorney Biegler (Stewart)) versus bad
(prosecutor Dancer (Scott)). But this simplicity masks a deeper question
that Preminger poses - how is true justice obtained?
As portrayed here justice is achieved through verbal pyrotechnics between articulate lawyers with a judge acting as umpire. Sadly, of course, this might well be nearer the truth than those who see justice as a finer concept might allow.
We, of course, must side with the good guy and, aw shucks, it has to be Biegler. But even the most dedicated Jimmy Stewart fan will be uneasy with his army client, Lt Manion (coolly played by Gazarra), on a murder charge. Showing no emotion, except for one courtroom outburst, we can penetrate neither his mind nor his idea of the truth. We are never allowed to feel sympathy for him, nor indeed, for his sluttish wife (Remick) who alleges rape against the murder victim. Our reaction to the outcome is based solely on our affection for the good guy, rather than any feeling that justice has been done.
In a sense the film is marred by the caricatures of the lawyers. Dancer is a hard-nosed, successful, big city lawyer (Scott well and truly deserved his Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor). His defence assistant, the local prosecutor, who hands the case over to him is a buffoon. On the other hand we have good old homespun Jimmy Stewart enjoying fishing expeditions, playing jazz piano, and happily bearing the financial implications of being ousted from the post of Prosecutor by the aforementioned buffoon. How much more challenging the film might have been if the prosecuting team had been less caricatured as bad guys.
However, such reservations do not detract from a movie deserving of our utmost respect, especially with its sensitive, yet precise, handling of the details of the rape allegation. Mention of semen must have represented a major step forward in 1959, although clearly `orgasm' was a tad too far and we have to settle for `completion'. Neither is the film devoid of humour, despite its dark subject matter. The scene in which the judge and three lawyers discuss, with acute mutual embarrassment, the use of the word `panties' is a gem.
Interesting that Preminger opted for black and white. Maybe he wants us to recognise that there is no such thing as black and white, especially when it comes to justice. Like the movies, it's just shades of grey. All this and great music by (and a cameo from) Duke Ellington. Highly recommended.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I'm not the one for courtroom movies. I also do not watch Law & Order.
But I wanted to see this movie for a couple of reasons: it's high
rating and James Stewart.
The movie was moving along well enough until the ending, which I was like, "that's it?". After building the climax for two and half hours, I was expecting some dramatic twist. They keep you into this courtroom trial, though interesting, seemingly forever and then give you a little trite and predictable ending. Seems like such a waste. Also you don't really get to know Manion, the guy who's fate is being determined, so you don't care much for him. Character development has come a long way since this film. Also some of the crowd laughter was overdone and not necessary. However the centerpieces of the film is of course, Stewart and Scott, who gives strong performances.
This is one of the all-time great movies and raises eternal questions left
unanswered since the Bible. A woman is brutally raped and has the bruises to
prove it. Her husband goes out and kills the rapist.
But did it really happen like that? Perhaps it happened a different way. A man comes home and catches his wife in bed with another man. The other man flees. The man beats up his wife and then chases and kills the man whom he caught sleeping with his wife.
Lee Remick is beautiful, sexy and obviously attractive to men. Was she really raped, or was she a seductress and a temptress? Jimmy Stewart is the defense lawyer who defends his client, but is never sure whether his client is guilty or not. Any who is that sexy girl who shared a motel room with the murder victim. Was she a prostitute or a good girl? Was he her lover, or was he really her father? Sam Sloan
This picture was nominated for seven Oscars. I would have nominated it for one more--the most boring picture of 1959. 2.5 hours of black and white boredom despite the always remarkable Jimmy Stewart but I will say this: the real Joseph Welch, the lawyer who got crazy Sen.Joe McCarthy in front of millions of TV watchers and disemboweled him, was an absolute pleasure to watch.A terrific actor and a terrific American. This film was all about missing panties which self-admittedly Lee Remick wore but not always. By the way, the film does not deal with the garment industry but rather with sexual violation. Ben Gazzara shoots and kills a bar owner who raped his wife; clear cut premeditated murder but Ben can't remember "nuthin.'Jimmy Stewart is a laid back lawyer having a miserable practice who's called on to save the day. George C. Scott is great as a hotshot prosecuting attorney but alas...the movie was the lousiest courtroom drama I ever saw.
ANATOMY OF A MURDER is a mystery courtroom drama, which, in one
explicit manner, deals with issues of sex and rape. The film was based
on the 1958 novel of the same name by Michigan Supreme Court Justice
John D. Voelker.
One former local prosecutor has taken a peculiar case. Specifically, an army lieutenant has confessed to killing his wife's rapist. The lieutenant, with the help of his new defense attorney, claims that he does not remember the murder. The main feature of the defendant is temporary mental incapacity. However, some visible facts are not on his side....
The story is interesting and somewhat realistic. It was complemented with a sharp dialogue and explicit themes. Mr. Preminger has presented a dramatic, but a proper and comprehensive judicial process. He has pointed, through some notable scenes, the difference between law and justice. The protagonists are shifty characters in an uncertain courtroom drama. The conflict is reduced to a battle between prosecutors and defense counsel, through comic theatricality and mutual insinuations.
James Stewart as Paul Biegler is a clever and resourceful lawyer. The protagonist who, with his petty bourgeois, regularly draws aces from the hole. Mr. Stewart has offered, as usual, very good performance. Lee Remick as Laura Manion is rather unconvincing as a faithful and flirty wife at the same time. The complexity is perhaps the biggest flaw of her character. However, I think that Mr. Preminger has wanted to provoke an ironic attitude towards her character by the audience. George C. Scott as Claude Dancer is a skilled and consistent prosecutor, who has become a sort of antagonist. Ben Gazzara as Lt. Frederick Manion is a cold and nervous defendant. Joseph N. Welch as Judge Weaver, despite his sporadic cynicism, is too stereotypical character.
This is a bit tiring, but very interesting trial, which, through ironic and cynical attitudes, solves the mystery.
The plot of this film focuses on lawyer Biegler, played by Stewart, and a new case he has taken on. One night after going to a bar, Laura Manion is raped by Barney Quill, the bartender of that bar. After her husband Lt. Manion learns of this attack, he goes to the bar and calmly shoots and kills Quill. Biegler is hesitant to take the case at first but decides to take it, with Lt. Manion pleading insanity. The plot is straightforward which was nice to see, with spectacular acting by the entire cast. I especially liked the performances by Stewart and George C. Scott and I thought the scenes with them going against each other in court were very good. With all that said however, I felt that the ending was quite weak. After spending more than two hours in the courtroom, I was hoping for a better conclusion to the story. Although that was disappointing, I think that this is a worthwhile film to see, primarily because this is Jimmy Stewart at one of his best.
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