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Anatomy of a Murder
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2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

one fine courtroom drama: epic, cool, extremely well-plotted and acted

Author: MisterWhiplash from United States
9 March 2008

Otto Preminger's Anatomy of a Murder features a cast of some big stars (Jimmy Stewart, George C. Scott), and some notable character players (Ben Gazarra, Lee Remick, the underrated Murray Hamilton and Orson Bean), but the real big attraction for audience's is its 100% absorbing story and whole lot of characters (and, sometimes, those aforementioned actors playing them). It might remind some younger viewers of Law & Order, with it bearing a resemblance to Dick Wolf's show that is beat for beat as its sole fixation on the Facts In The Case. But unlike L&O, where any characterization is pretty much one-dimensional, Anatomy of a Murder is chock-full of development on the personalities, even for characters that appear on the witness stand for no more than five minutes.

Preminger also has the daring to add some touches of comedy, or at least some (for the time) risqué humor and language that rises it not simply above other more standard pictures, but into a realm of truth that reflects what it's like to be in a court-room for a case such as this (i.e. when the judge addresses the courtroom about the use of the word "panties", he's also addressing the audience- don't giggle, it's a serious word... even if you might giggle for it being almost self-conscious). The premise itself, 'the core' of it for lack of a better term as from what Stewart's lawyer uses at one point, is something out of vintage L&O: an ex army lieutenant (Gazarra) with a possible penchant for tempers and jealousy, kills a man who raped his wife one night driving her home from a bar. Guilty of the murder? Not quite, says Stewart's defense attorney and jazzman Biegler, who goes for the temporary insanity defense.

But past this premise, Preminger crafts a fascinating study of how character reflects everything during a trial, including (maybe even especially) that of the attorneys in question, who start to "provide the wisecracks" as the Judge says in deadpan. At first the case looks open and shut, but there's a lot more to it than meets the eye, and not just in the traditional form of a courtroom drama where there's a last-minute twist and some surprises in store for the jury and other attendees in the courtroom. And, sure, there is the former of those, but everything builds up not based solely on the facts, but on what is revealed, the underlying tension and anxiety for all parties involved. Stewart, of course, is up to task in one of his quintessential performances. But least not forget Gazarra in a role that should've nabbed him an Oscar, and for Remick who's Laura is both sultry and vulnerable. And who can't love seeing Hamilton (the mayor from Jaws) on the stand, or George C. Scott give a somewhat subdued portrayal that provides one of the slickest, most cunning prosecution parts in movies. He literally oozes his character's big-city gumption.

Chock-full of snappy dialog that doesn't feel like it's been written for the usual MOVIE crowds (i.e. it is still a movie, but there's a lot that doesn't feel forced or contrived), and scenes that deliver on shifting tones between comedy and melodrama on a dime, Anatomy of a Murder is a near masterpiece. It even goes so far as to appear to have a happy ending, and then give just the hint of ambiguity, or inasmuch that we as the audience, unlike the jury, can't be totally sure what the outcome really is. It has its cake and eats it too, all to one of the great jazz scores in cinema by Mr. Ellington.

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2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

irresistible impulse

Author: tomloft2000 from United States
7 February 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

i've now seen this movie about half a dozen times,and still enjoy it immensely.James Stewart gives a fine performance as country lawyer Paul Biegler who uses every trick in the book(mostly legal)to outfox the city slickers.the story itself seems like something out of everyday life,with the usual vagaries among the various characters.yes,Lee Remick's character seems to be overblown at times,but even the prosecution mentions her attractiveness at one with most of the other parties involved,she comes across as neither entirely good or bad,but simply human.this film is over 21/2 hours but even with the deliberate pacing it seems to fly by.the jazz score by Duke Ellington seemed out of place(although i liked it)and began a trend in seemingly serious films(e.g.In Cold Blood)there was much controversy upon it's release,probably about the frank sexual language,but also about it's somewhat cynical view of our legal system.of course this is all passé nowadays but doesn't really matter.this is a film whose weaknesses are easy to overlook because of the passionate performances from everyone.i find this one guilty by reason of inspiration.

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2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

Not a mystery:)

Author: Diana Chavdarova from Sofia, Bulgaria
22 January 2007

This is a brilliant film from Preminger; however, wrongly qualified as a "mystery"; while in fact it is closer to film noir. You've got a case of supposed rape, a trailer-thrash slut of a wife, and a dark suave husband who couldn't be trusted. The wife, "raped and bruised" by a bartender she fooled around with, the jealous husband kills him in rage, and a naive lawyer takes upon his defense. The film doesn't keep you guessing too much - do not expect twists and turns. The pleasure is elsewhere. The music by Duke Ellington adds greatly to it; you will even see him appearing. And I just loved a final line (remember, "gentlemen drink gin"): "I knew there was something wrong with that guy. I've never met a gin drinker yet you could trust!". 10 out of 10.

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2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

Stylish, Filled With Strong Characters; Realistic, Fascinating Courtoom Drama

Author: silverscreen888
27 August 2005

This film is about sensational case tried in a rural courtroom. Robert Traver, real name John D. Voelker, had been a D.A. in an upper Michigan area populated by ethnic types such as Finns, Poles, etc. he wrote several popular books, "Small Town D.A.", "Laughing Whitefish", and this, his masterpiece. In this famous best seller he envisioned himself as Paul "Polly" Biegler, a man defeated for a political office and eager to try a sensational case. He is enjoying fishing with his old friend, but when an opportunity comes, he seizes it, after asking some penetrating questions. The case is peculiar because the man accused seems so calm, self-possessed; yet his defense has to be temporary insanity or impulsive loss-of-control. There is some evidence to suggest his wife is promiscuous, and that he, a man with a temper, might have been the one who damaged her before killing her sexual partner rather than the case being a rape. This is an old-style film, meaning highly-competent, movie narrative, complete with discoveries, insights, strong characters, interesting motivations and courtroom pyrotechnics. It is one of three Otto Preminger films that were shockers, by far the most successful. The difference here is the very fine cast. James Stewart was the attorney, Arthur O'Connell his skilled but alcoholic partner and Eve Arden his dynamic secretary. The opposition in the courtroom were Brooks West, Arden's husband in real life, and George C. Scott, in his first major role; the arrested man was Ben Gazzarra, his wife Lee Remick, the judge real-life jurist Joseph N. Welch. Also showing well in this powerful aggregation were Kathryn Grant, Orson Bean, Murray Hamilton, Howard McNear, Ken Lynch, Ross Brown, John Qualen, Irv Kucinet and Joseph Kearns. Technically, this B/W drama is first-rate all around, I suggest. With a script by Wendell Mayes that follows the novel closely, it boasted cinematography by Sam Leavitt and music borrowed from Duke Ellington who also appeared briefly; Boris Leven designed the stylish production; Howard Leven was the set dresser. The subject matter of the case was explicit for its time; so was the suggestion that Stewart took the case knowing his client was probably guilty and the incident perhaps not a rape at all. The language was unusual for its time; and the case's effect non the local area was magnified because the accused was a serving military officer. it has been suggested lee Remick is played against a pseudo-Christian standard, the one that was applied to Hollywood situations before the 1960s secretly; the rule was any woman that had or invited sexual relations outside of wedlock had to come to a bad end. Here the implication is that if Remick had not had sex with someone other than her husband, she wanted to do so. So the defense is as much of her rights to equal legal liberty with any male as about the truth of her assertion., at least in plot terms. The device of employing a "big city" type like Scott as Stanley Dancer brought in to oppose Biegler (Stewart) is an interesting one; we have spent time in the small town, so we resent his intrusion along with Stewart. the film is in no way dated; it is about a time when adults were a lot more intelligent, less cynical, and more confident their fellows' abilities to control themselves, male or female. The time of the film, 1959, made it a precedent-setting and very-often-copied sort of movie. it is long at 160 minutes but I suggest never flags and is never less than fascinating.

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2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

Classic Courtroom Drama With Terrific Cast

Author: ShootingShark from Dundee, Scotland
1 May 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

A small-time lawyer takes on a big case - an army lieutenant accused of murdering a man who raped his wife - and hopes to get him off on a temporary insanity plea. A hotshot prosecutor however has other ideas ...

Along with Inherit The Wind, this is the archetypal courtroom drama, full of wonderful badinage, great performances and nail-biting tension. Brilliantly scripted by Wendell Mayes, it was quite daring for its day (much is made of the significance of Remick's underwear) and plays a beautifully balanced line between witty point-scoring and a sobering adherence to judicial prosecution. What makes it so good is the excellent cast, with virtually every performance near flawless. The triumvirate of Stewart (as a traditional gone-fishing small-town good guy), Scott (as a peerless, hard-edged character assassin) and the wonderful Welch (as a replacement judge who specialises in spitting barbed comments at pontificating lawyers) are a joy to watch, but Remick (as a trailer-trash hottie), Hamilton and Arden are all terrific as well. The movie features a great big-band jazz score by the legendary Duke Ellington, who also has a cameo role dueting on the piano with Stewart. A great courtroom movie, with a finely-judged perspective on the legal process - when Stewart asks if a dog can be admitted as a defence witness, the long-suffering Welch sighs heavily but then agrees, because at least, unlike the lawyers, it's incapable of speech.

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3 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

A film with no firm answer at the end

Author: walsh-22 from United Kingdom
17 June 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The film is about a lawyer Paul Biegler (James Stewart) who takes the case of a Lieutenant in the Army Frederick Manion (Ben Gazzara) who shot and killed a bartender by the name of Barney Quill who his wife (Lee Remick) said raped her. It seems like a no win case because there is a witness to the murder and the Lieutenant only has his wife's word that she was raped. Stewart must show that the Lieutenant was temporary insane, a task that is not made easy by the overzealous of the prosecution team.

What Otto Preminger does with this film is give no affirmative answer at the end of it, it is left up to the audience to decide what is the truth and he doesn't tell the audience one side is lier's and the other isn't, there is evidence that supports both the rape happening and the Lieutenant being temporary insane when he killed Quill and evidence that contradicts the story the Lieutenant and his wife has given the court.

The supported evidence is the bruises the wife had after the attack. Tourists heard the screams. The police believed the wife. The police saw car tracks and dog tracks where the wife said the attack happened. Also, they find where her glass case fell, near to the rape. She took a lie detector test. Her ripped panties are found in the laundry, right next to Quill's room. The doctor can't be certain, one way or the other that she was raped. At that time 1959, it was hard to determine this especially with a mature married woman. The Army doctor said Manion was temporary insane. The dead man was a very good marksman and had guns behind the bar.

The evidence that doesn't support the wife and Manion is there were no witnesses to the rape. The wife's conduct before and after the rape, she is very flirty. She wore tight clothes and seemed to touch the dead man in some sexual way. When she is telling Stewart her story, there is no emotion, she is not upset talking about it. There are the hidden looks between the husband and wife that seem to say there is more to the story then they are telling. The wife is obviously scared of her husband and she has been hit by her husband before. She swore on a crucifix so her husband would believe her and that seems to say that he didn't believe her before she swore on it. The prosecution doctor says Manion wasn't temporary insane and the eye witness backs this up by saying he was calm and cool when he killed Quill and even threatened him. Manion is clearly jealous of men who show his wife any attention.

In the end, Manion is found Not guilty but there is no overall thing that says what truly happened and it makes a refreshing difference that the audience watching the film has to think what might have been the true events.

I don't agree this was James Stewart's last best film, he carried on his stealer performances in other films and TV roles after this film. Lee Remick is brilliant as Laura Manion who has two sides to her personality, she likes men and can come across as a tigress and then she has a vulnerable side who is lonely at times. George C. Scott has a small role as a state Attorney who is trying to help the prosecuting attorney convict the Lieutenant.

The music fits so well with the film, music by Duke Ellington who plays a cameo in the film as Pie eye.

The film keeps the audience guessing and makes you pay attention throughout to get you to think and decide what you believe. I can understand why the film was considered racy at the time because it mentions sperm, contraceptive, climax, penetration, bitch and slut and it shows the ripped panties but it is pretty tame compared to the films that have followed such as The Accused but I say well done to all the people who worked on it as they didn't try to shy away from any aspect of the rape and that must have been a hard thing to do with the society being what is was when the film was being made.

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4 out of 7 people found the following review useful:

The prosecution would like to separate the motive from the act. Well, that's like trying to take the core from an apple without breaking the skin.

Author: Spikeopath from United Kingdom
18 September 2009

Bachelor lawyer Paul Biegler is hired to defend Lt. Frederick Manion, who has admitted murdering the man who raped his wife. The defence,? that Manion acted during temporary insanity.

Few, if any courtroom dramas have the panache, daring and outright quality that Otto Preminger's genre bar raiser Anatomy Of A Murder has. Hiring Wendell Mayes for screenplay duties and entrusting the role of Biegler to James Stewart, Preminger's picture is still today influencing as much as it enthrals.

Adapted from the novel of the same name by John D. Voelker {alias Robert Traver}, Anatomy Of A Murder is based around the real life 1952 Big Bay Lumberjack Tavern murder trial in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Choosing to shoot much of the film up in that neck of the woods, Preminger was determined to add authenticity to his excellently structured story. With some scenes even shot a short walk away from the actual Lumberjack Tavern in the Thunder Bay Inn. Aiding the authenticity is that Preminger cast Joseph N. Welch, a real life lawyer, in the role of Judge Weaver {tho Burl Ives and Spencer Tracy did turn down the job first}. Welch had made a notable name for himself when representing the U.S. Army in hearings conducted by Senator Joseph McCarthy.

A number of things make Anatomy Of A Murder a classic among classics. From the snazzy Saul Bass opening title credits and the Duke Ellington jazzy score, it's clear this is no ordinary movie. Preminger had to fight tooth and nail with the Hays Code Censors to get his film the way he wanted, the result of which brings frank and daring dialogue featuring words such as "panties," "rape," "contraceptives" and "spermatogenesis". But perhaps most notable, and something of a masterstroke from big Otto, is that we are never shown the crime or influential points of reference. While you will search in vain for shots of the jury reactions during the trial. We as the viewers are part of that jury, much like them we are in the hands of the lawyers and witnesses, only difference being that we are privy to character back story with the principals. Yet it actually makes things harder for us such is the performances from the cast.

Three of the male cast garnered Oscar nominations for their work in the film. James Stewart rewarded Preminger's faith with a fabulous show, his Biegler is gritty and determined, yet engagingly off beat as well. Up against him in the prosecution is a powerful and convincing George C. Scott as Asst. State Atty. Gen. Claude Dancer, whilst Arthur O'Connell as Parnell Emmett McCarthy delivers a memorable performance of substance. But it's with the warring Manions that the piece, played by Ben Gazzara as Frederick {tough, slick and shifty} and Lee Remick as Laura {slutty and duplicitous} achieves its crucial intrigue. Both actors are so good we all are not sure quite what to believe. With the intrigued capped off by a tantalisingly brilliant finale that drips with ambiguity and cheek.

The film was also nominated for awards in the departments of adapted screenplay, cinematography and editing. That it won none is irrelevant {this was the year that Ben-Hur swept the board}, because Anatomy Of A Murder's lasting legacy is that it is still today held up as one of the genre's leading lights, and then some. 10/10

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4 out of 7 people found the following review useful:

Grossly overrated...

Author: sang-5 from Tampa, FL
8 April 2000

I don't get it! This movie was one I truly wanted to enjoy. I was waiting & waiting & waiting for the "twist." When it came, I felt totally gipped. For over 2 1/2 hours (yeah, it's a very long movie), my wife & I were anticipating that gut-wrenching plot twist that characterize the best courtroom genre movies. If you are honest with yourself, you will find that this movie really is overrated.

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10 out of 19 people found the following review useful:

The Good & Bad Of 'Anatomy Of A Murder'

Author: ccthemovieman-1 from United States
8 August 2007

This is another one of these Liberals' favorites for several reasons. - ahead of its politically- correct era, actually - in which the writers conveniently overlook justice in favor of style with the let's-sympathize-with-the-criminal mentality. It also had a topic and some language that was new and "daring" for its era, which gained it more favor from the critics. Today, this would be like a Disney movie.

It's a courtroom drama film that lasts almost three hours, but in its day did such a good job of entertaining and shocking people that time was not a problem. I mean, audiences back then were not used to hearing details of women's panties! The story bogs down, panties aside, big-time in the middle, which was tolerated 50 years ago but wouldn't be today.

I found it fascinating, myself, but that was years ago. You can thank great acting and an interesting script for that. What it lacks, of course, is credibility (and justice).....but, hey, it's just a movie, right?

Jimmy Stewart and George C. Scott are terrific as competing attorneys. Liberal Hollywood always takes the side of the accused so you know Stewart's role is going to be the likable one, a la Perry Mason, Matlock, Atticus Finch, etc. Nonetheless, acting from everyone in here makes you riveted to the screen. The language also was quite shocking for a 1959 film, in addition to rape details. A few examples were hearing the words "bitch" and "sperm."

This story might have inspired all the "insanity pleas" that became popular afterward. If so, the film provided a negative service to this country. No one ever points out in the movie that - rage or not - you can't grab a gun and shoot somebody you're angry with and get away with it! Sometimes, that seems to be the message here.....that, somehow, that's okay. Well, as we know, it is permissible if your trial is in California.

Ben Gazzara plays "Frederick Manion," the accused and a very fortunate man. His flirtatious wife "Laura" (Lee Remick) claims she was raped. She isn't our normal idea of an innocent victim, and she's one that's hard to evoke sympathy from, but that's part of the dramatics. By the way, speaking of dramatics, Lana Turner was supposed to play that role but reportedly got into a big tiff with director Otto Preminger and left the project. (The two wound up slapping each other, reportedly.)

Back to the story: "Manion" says he was in a "trance" when he killed the guy and I guess that's good enough to believe if you talking to a jury filled with morons or you have the wonderful and always witty Jimmy Stewart defending you.

We also get the normal Hollywood exaggeration of the good-guy defense attorney doing all this work out of the goodness of his heart or for just a minimum fee. (I've never heard of one real-life lawyer like that. They want the money - all of it!) And we get longtime alcoholic who can suddenly stop his habit and help the defense attorney. You can nitpick this film to death with all the legal proceedings that would never be allowed, but are in here for dramatic reasons, but you can do that for almost any movie.

One other reason this film gets rated so highly by Left Wing critics is that the man who played the judge in the film was Joseph Welch, who was the actual judge who asked Sen. Joseph McCarthy if "he had no shame," making him instantly a hero to all Hollywood Liberals and film critics forever, all of whom hate McCarthy and his anti-Communism stance.

Believability and bias aside, it's still an entertaining film, especially for one so talky, and is recommended for people who love courtroom dramas and don't care how long it goes on, and appreciate acting at its best.

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Suave and charismatic courtroom drama

Author: Anssi Vartiainen from Helsinki
25 May 2017

This film is helmed by the great James Stewart, one of the most cherished actors in history and one with the most distinctive drawls. And, this being one of his most well-known roles, it stands to reason that it would be a pretty good film in general. It certainly doesn't disappoint.

The plot, based on true events, goes that a former district attorney (Stewart) gets pulled in to defend a man charged with first-degree murder. Alright, all in day's work, except that the man really did commit the killing, no way around that. But his wife also claims that the murder victim had raped her beforehand, offering mitigating circumstances. So our hapless DA protagonist faces a true uphill battle to get a no guilty verdict for his client.

Anatomy of a Murder isn't all that different from all other courtroom dramas you might have seen. At least story-wise, that is. It's the all-star cast and the great script which elevate it above its peers. Stewart especially, but the film also includes names such as Arthur O'Connell, Ben Gazzara and George C. Scott, all powerful actors in their own right. The score featuring one and only Duke Ellington doesn't exactly hurt the film either.

Not that the story doesn't have some good things going for it as well. It's pretty rare to see a film crime case where the accused defended by the protagonist is actually guilty. And also a pretty unlikable person as a whole. But the whole point of the film is that it shouldn't matter. If there is a case to be made within the law that he is not guilty due to the circumstances, then not guilty he should be. And that's something you don't see in every film.

Anatomy of a Murder is one of my favourite courtroom dramas and a great film by any standard worth setting. Definitely worth your time.

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