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I watched "witness for the prosecution" out of the blue and was
instantly hooked to courtroom dramas. So I tried to dig up the best
courtroom drama movies. I consulted a few lists and am I glad I did. I
found four movies that are generally accepted by all. Anatomy of a
murder was one of them; other three being, witness for the prosecution,
to kill a mocking bird and Michael Clayton.
James Stewart has done a great job on the portrayal of the "humble country lawyer". The character become so alive that they make you want to be one of them. George Scott has done a wonderful job as Asst. State Attorney General Claude Dancer. He is bang on the target as the shrewd lawyer who knows how to skirmish around in the courtroom.
If you love to talk, argue and everything; then this genre is for you and the movie is the best start. It makes witness for the prosecution look pale at times with the tension in the environment at times.
The wonderful earthy, gritty, black-and-white photography only adds to the natural feel of this film. The Ellington score's contribution cannot be overestimated. The acting is so consistently good and natural - beyond the scope of consistency of most films - that it becomes totally compelling and demands many viewings. The biggest and most notable fault is Preminger's typical carelessness as far as filming equipment and personnel appearing in the film - compare to his "In Harm's Way" for example, where there are shadows, stills, reflections of crew and equipment in the film. This is also evident in this film, and one has to either reject or accept the director's faults in view of the total effect. There are so many moments of visual detail and stunningly subdued acting that it seems hard not to place this as one of the great - and happily not grand - films of all time.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Who knew you could find Duke Ellington appearing in a saloon in the
upper peninsula of Michigan? His score for the film was wonderful. Just
in case you were expecting the law office of James Stewart, Arthur
O'Connell, and Eve Arden to consist of hicks from the sticks, Duke
Ellington's score reminds us otherwise. The quintessence of
sophistication, Ellington gives us a score that perfectly suits
Stewart's small town lawyer, who turns out to be sharp, knowing, and
And it perfectly suits a story that is about the rape of a woman who (in one critic's phrasing) "would flirt with a fire hydrant," her husband, a defendant who is perfectly capable of beating her, and the woman's missing panties, not something that is normally talked about in 1950s movies, let alone as often as they are in this picture.
Once again James Stewart makes acting look so easy that one may well overlook the fact that he was a truly fine actor--subtle yet commanding, familiar to all as a screen persona yet resourceful and versatile.
George C. Scott gives new meaning to the words "slick," "cynical," and even "despicable." Ben Gazzara and Lee Remick are both fully credible, and in the end, when Gazzara is acquitted, we know that neither person deserves our sympathy. The triumph goes to Stewart's character and his colleagues, played by two wonderful character actors,Arthur O'Connell, and Eve Arden.
It's a really great courtroom drama that stands up well 50 years later.
The Late James(Jimmy) Stewart puts on a powerful performance in what I
think is his best film to date.
The director of the film, Otto Preminger, is in complete control of all the aspects of the film from the introduction of the main characters in the film and the eventual courtroom drama.
Small-town lawyer Paul Biegler (James Stewart), a former district attorney, lands a case that involves the defense of US Army Lieutenant Manny Manion, who killed Quill, the alleged rapist of his wife Laura.
Even with such a motivation, it would be difficult to get Manion cleared of murder, so Biegler pushes him into a position where he claims to have no memory of the event, thus giving them a chance of winning his freedom with a defense of irresistible impulse a version of a temporary insanity defense.
As he sets about preparing his case, Biegler catches Laura Manion flirting with other army officers during a roadhouse party. He has to practically order her to stay away from "men, juke joints, booze, and pinball machines" and wear a girdle in order to play the part of a "meek little housewife" rather than that of a happy-go-lucky party girl. She also agrees to give up her tight-fitting clothes and wears a formal dress, glasses, a hat and a woman's suit in court.
Biegler's folksy speech and laid-back demeanor hides a sharp legal mind and a propensity for courtroom theatrics that has the judge busy keeping things under control. However, the case for the defense does not go well, especially since the local D.A. (Brooks West) is assisted by a high-powered big city prosecutor named Dancer (George C. Scott). Furthermore, the prosecution goes all the way to block any mention of Manion's motive for killing Quill, i.e. the raping of Laura. Biegler eventually manages to get the rape issue into the record and Judge Weaver (Joseph N. Welch) agrees to allow the matter to be part of the deliberations. However, Dancer's cross-examination of Laura effectively portrays her as a woman who was not satisfied with her marriage and openly flirted with other men, including the one she claimed raped her.
What happens next in the courtroom is for you to find out.
As a proud owner of this DVD, I highly recommend this film to you, as it will keep you glued to your seats till the end.
Score: 10/10. A timeless masterpiece by a master director.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The story of Anatomy of a murder is based on a real-life murder trial,
that was written up in a book by the defense lawyer. The book then
became the basis of the script for the movie.
It is a gripping story, it held me glued to my TV for the entire length of the film. It combines the suspense of a whodunit with the authenticity of a documentary. The movie was shot entirely on location where the actual murder and trial took place, including the inn and the courtroom.
On reflection it is also a most disturbing movie, at least for this foreigner. It ruthlessly exposes the cynicism of the prosecution who from the very start of the investigation was more concerned about winning the case than establishing what truly happened. All the initial investigations that were meant to benefit the DA, the obstruction to admit the aspect of the rape in the trial, the "hot shot" from Lansing whose expertise seemed to be character assassination rather than some legal aspect, down to the "witness" Miller who makes a sudden appearance at the very end.
Luckily the defense is led by a former prosecutor who knows all the tricks in the book (and may have applied them himself in his time). Makes you wonder why the judge was played by Joseph Welch, the national hero who a few years earlier brought down senator Joe McCarthy.
Apparently the movie didn't go down well with the public back then and I think that has everything to do with the picture it paints of the practice of a criminal prosecution. Forget about the panties.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
ANATOMY OF A MURDER can easily be mistaken for a Hitchcock movie; but it is Otto Preminger directing James Stewart as Paul Biegler, a small-town country lawyer that is hired to defend Lt. Frederick Manion(Ben Gazzara), a moody young officer charged of murdering a local barkeep that raped his flirty wife(Lee Remick). Biegler employs a temporary insanity defense hoping to outmaneuver a high profile prosecuting attorney Claude Dancer(George C. Scott). The courtroom scenes provide a realistic atmosphere and the supporting cast is top notch: Arthur O'Connell, Eve Arden, Murray Hamilton, John Qualen, Kathryn Grant, Howard McNear, Orson Bean and the music legend Duke Ellington makes a guest appearance. Stewart shows the top of his skills and Remick is smoldering hot.
This movie doesn't try to get too complicated or smart with its themes
or issues and the case in this movie, along with its characters seem
like very random and standard ones. This is what mostly makes "Anatomy
of a Murder" such a simple, great and effective one.
What I like about this movie is that it's a movie without any high morals or a strong message in it. It's just a movie about a random case and the lawyer just takes the case because it's a case. He doesn't feel that strong to, at the cost of everything, try to proof the innocence of his client and he doesn't get emotionally involved with the case or any of its key players, like often movies normally try to attempt. Movies more often try to get you behind the defendant, or else at least his attorney and feel strongly for the case. But in this case the murder suspect isn't presented as being either totally innocent or not. He even isn't that sympathetic of a character and you question his motives and his defense, during his trail, at times throughout the movie.
It's a movie that doesn't really sidetrack with its story and it's being kept as straight-forward as possible all. So no odd occurrences happening in this movie, that are unlikely to ever happen in real life. This, together with its absence sense of morality, together with guilt and compassion, make this movie a mostly throughout realistic one. This works really pleasant for the movie and really helps to get you drawn into the story and its characters.
I basically love all court room themed movies and this movie has pretty much everything present I want from such a movie. Granted that this is the sort of movie that would had not been as good or interesting to watch if it had a completely unknown and bad cast in it.
So yes, the movie definitely benefits from the presence of James Stewart, as the movie its defense attorney and it also has a quite solid supporting cast. Quite fun to also see George C. Scott and Ben Gazzara in some of the more early roles out of their career. Seems that Scott was still holding back a bit, since he didn't had of course that much of a status yet as an actor. It's probably one of the more sophisticated and 'clean, quiet', roles out of his career but it was also really great to see him like that for a change and it at the same time also shows his range and versatility as an actor, since he was great in this movie as well, playing this sort of character.
For its time it also was a quite daring movie, regarding some of its, still at the time controversial subjects. The story is also a rape case, so it features lines regarding that subject as well. Of course rape was an already known issue at the time but it wasn't something that really got featured that explicitly yet in any sort of movie at the time, simply because it was something at the time that you just didn't really talked about. Again an example of how simple and effectively straight-forward the movie was being.
Just like its story, the movie is also being kept simple in its style. No fancy tricks or out of the ordinary sequences and set up here, just some plain, good old average film-making, like you would learn at film-school.
One great and effective movie within its genre.
WE never really understood the meaning of the title when the film first
hit the movie houses. Of course; that was 1959 and "we", being the
'Editorial We', were a most definite pre-adolescent 13 years old and
understood little. No matter how "grown-up" and sophisticated we may
have thought of ourselves, we were scarcely little more than children
STARTINGLY true, yet some way so very amusing is the glaringly inept misconceptions that were so rapidly cultivated in our little heads. Having read somebody's movie review of it in THE CHICAGO American that the story revolved around a most delicate subject, namely R-A-P-E; many of us (the "Editorial Us") and our peers mistakenly jumped to the conclusion that 'ANATOMY' in the title referred to the female form.
WELL, that was then.
THIS is now and we've just viewed the film, beginning to end and uninterrupted. We now know just a tad more about life than we did during those days of nearly half a century ago. This period has been time well spent in rendering our understanding to fully spread and mature. We hope that this will also apply to the rest of our intellectual and emotional makeup.
SO it has come to pass that today's special guest of honor, Otto Preminger 's ANATONOMY OF A MURDER (Carlyle Productions/Columbia Pictures, 1959) we are presented with a fine drama that makes high grades in all areas on its report card and more than passes in all areas. In the film, we have a rare combination of realism and artistic license; dramatically driven sequences counter-balanced with characterizations that could come right out of life.
PERHAPS Mr. Preminger's approach was predicated by his own life experience with not American Jurisprudence; but with the behaviour of people caught up in a crime anywhere. People are people and react in some universally similar manner; their particular cultures notwithstanding.
MR. PREMINGER'S father had been the Attorney-General to Emperor Franz Josef von Hapsburg in his role of dual Monarch of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Whereas we don't know if the Elder Preminger had young Otto (Ain't he cute?) study law in preparation of following in Herr Preminger's foot-shtops or not; however it is reasonable that the young Master Preminger was indeed familiar with the rudimentary practical application of law, at least as a family's livelihood.
OUTSTANDING is the cast that the director has to work with, he manages to get the very best from all involved. Stem to stern, each and every performer gives the best that they have in them; culminating with what can only be described with one superlative after another; all being fit to be elevated to the best examples of type casting available. As top quality each characterization is, there is an amazingly uniform sort of calm and balance maintained throughout its nearly 2 ½ hours on the screen.
MR. JAMES STEWART heads up a fine cast, yet fails to "Star" in his lead; for in the best Shakespearian Tradition. "The Play is the Most Important Thing." All others featured make the most of their screen time and manage to contribute their maximum to the final product. This none too shabby a cast includes: eyeful Lee Remick (Woo,woo,woo,woo!), a young Ben Gazarra, Eve Arden ("Miss Brooks" herself in a sort of Della Street-esquire portrayal), Murray Hamilton, brilliant George C. Scott (pre THE HUSTLER & PATTON), Arthur O'Connell ('Grandfather' from Central Casting), jack of all trades Orson Bean, Ken Lynch (eternally the Cop); as well as veterans such as Jimmy Conlin, John Qualen and Joseph Kearns.
THE whole story is done in a ground-breaking manner; having the discussion of Rape as an on screen topic. The production team manages to pave the way for more serious topics to follow. For example, prior to this Film, the word "Sperm" wouldn't be used unless it had "Whale" following it in a sentence; as in: "Avast! Tis the Great Sperm Whale, Moby Dick!" WE are furthermore treated to the Original Score composed by none other than Duke Ellington; who makes an uncredited and all too brief an appearance as a Cabaret Key Board, Honky-Tonk type piano player-singer, The theme and the incidental music are the ultimate ingredient in knotting the whole masterpiece together.
OUR ("my") own experience as a Chicago Cop for 35 years stands as a testimony to another aspect of this Otto Preminger.all time masterpiece; that being a work of fiction which is truly grounded in a reality. Without this anchoring in a world that at least could be, the story and film, could well be relegated to the status of "B" Movie Pot Boiler.
NOTE: This is the first time in a month of Sundays that Schultz and myself didn't have a Footnote for your edification and enjoyment.
When it was made, "Anatomy of a Murder" had a cast of all-stars, some of whom have faded into obscurity. The judge, for example, Joe Welch, was the attorney at the Army-McCarthy hearings who punctured McCarthy's balloon once and for all and afterward enjoyed a brief career in films. Jimmy Stewart and George Scott are, perhaps, the only stars of the time whose reputations endure. But Lee Remick and Ben Gazzara and Eve Arden were also well-known in their day, and each of them displays the talent that made them box-office attractions. The strength of the cast is what elevates this fairly routine crime and court-room drama into the classic category. Stewart, the shrewd folksy lawyer for the cucumber-cool defendant, Ben Garzarra, Scott as the "big-time" co-prosecutor from Lansing, Lee Remick as provocative sex symbol and rape victim, Eve Arden as the wise-cracking secretary all handle their parts with aplomb, and the score by Duke Ellington, who makes a cameo appearance, is also wonderful. Shot in black and white by Otto Preminger, a big-time director (not one of my favorites), this film has a faintly musty aroma. However, it serves as a reminder of what Hollywood films were like a half-century ago, and they were pretty darn good. It might want to make you see more of them.
Now this is a classic courtroom dramas unlike the modern battles where
there are professional law firms, team of lawyers ,big money involved,
repeated rehearsal of the witness and the panache.
The story is about a lawyer Paul Biegler played by James Stewart who on recommendation of his mentor and friend takes the case of an army man who has been convicted of killing a bar owner on the context of bar owner having raped his wife. The viewer doesn't see the murder and the circumstances but all facts are revealed through the engaging courtroom battle between biegler and a big city lawyer Claude Dancer played by George Scott.
The classic courtroom set up and the verbal battle between the two lawyers is the highlight of the movie. The way james stewart engages the courtroom through his recital, dramatics and wisecracks is worth repeated viewings. One who has a penchant for exciting courtroom battles will be gratified after watching it.
Although AFI lists this one at # 7, i will rate this one highly than to kill a mocking bird, the verdict.
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