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Television shows like "CSI" exist today because books and films like
"Anatomy of a Murder" existed first.
"Murder" was somewhat different from courtroom thrillers that had come before it, because it focused almost exclusively on dissecting the forensic evidence (much of it quite graphic and frank for its time) that the two sides use to build their cases, and less on the attorney histrionics and impassioned speeches that comprise most movies set in courtrooms.
The film casts that benevolent everyman James Stewart as an attorney charged with defending a man (Ben Gazarra) accused of murder, who in turn claims that the murder was an act brought about by temporary insanity over the rape of his wife (a sultry Lee Remick). Stewart's benign presence no doubt helped audiences at the time to more easily navigate the rough waters of this film's language and mental images. I don't know that a major Hollywood film before this had addressed the subject of rape so candidly. It's no surprise that Otto Preminger, that most provocative of provocative directors, helmed this one.
George C. Scott has a lot of fun with his role as the cocky, snarky prosecuting attorney. He brings a predatory, menacing edge to the film, an edge enhanced by stark black and white photography and a jazzy score.
In the end, whether or not Stewart wins his case is beside the point; in this film, the ride is more important than the destination.
After recently serving on a jury for the first time, I found the movie more interesting than I may have other wise. I enjoy old movies and this was a classic. Great casting and lots of familiar faces. Even at the end of the movie you are left still pondering "Who Done It?" We know what the juries verdict was, but through it all I was not convinced that they had made the right decision. We must remember that this is an older movie and put ourselves back in time to appreciate the courtroom drama. Those who pick this movie apart probably are not classic movie lovers and should probably stick to the newer movies. I personally liked the movie music score and think it added to the time period of the piece. I do think we are conditioned by the current movies to always expect a twist to the plot, and this was just a straight forward court drama, with no twists. Great viewing for a classic movie buff.
Long but engrossing drama about a man (Gazzara) accused of murdering the man who raped his wife (Remick). Enter lawyer Stewart to defend the accused. Stewart is in top form as the easy-going, folksy lawyer although the film created a stir in its time because the wholesome Stewart was talking about panties. Remick is alluring as the owner of the said panties, a somewhat shady woman who seems to be hiding something. The fine cast includes O'Connell as Stewart's alcoholic assistant, Arden as his secretary, and Scott as the prosecuting attorney. The jazzy score by Duke Ellington creates the right mood. Along with "Laura," this is Preminger's best.
This is one of the best courtroom dramas ever filmed, and one of Jimmy
Stewart's best performances, including some jazz piano work with Duke
Ellington's band. The most dramatic moment of the movie, involving
George C Scott, illustrates that classic "lawyer's rule": don't ask a
witness a question unless you KNOW the answer already. George's
character gets a big surprise when he asks Mary Pilant "What was Barney
Quill to you?" Interestingly, there was a somewhat different
relationship between Mary Pilant and Barney Quill in the book. Also in
the book, a key article of clothing does not figure in the same way it
does in the movie. All in all, IMO, the movie is better than the book
it was based on. All changes were improvements in plot and dramatic
Another highlight of this movie is the performance by real-life attorney and judge Joseph N Welch as Judge Weaver. No stranger to drama in real life, Welch was the one who had berated Sen Joseph McCarthy earlier in the 50s with the question "Have you no sense of decency, sir?"
Joseph Welch, and actual Judge, who plays the role of Judge Weaver in
the film, brought a level of realism and humor to the courtroom scenes
that I have not seen in any other films. In the real world, Judges are
in essence the police of the courtroom, there to make sure everyone
follows the rules, leaving the decision of guilt or innocence to the
jury. There is a reason why even court TV condenses the court coverage
to short snippets, courtrooms are generally very boring, and overcome
by process and rules. In this film, Welch brings enough of this
process, some very dry wit, and balance to what would otherwise be
material not suitable for a film.
On top of the excellent courtroom sequences, Jimmy Stewart, Ben Gazzara and the larger than life George C. Scott, combine to keep this film powerfully entertaining.
I highly recommend this film for the excellent acting, interesting dialogue, a precocious, young, sexy Lee Remick. Don't listen to the nay sayers, this one is a solid classic.
(There are Spoilers) The 1958 best selling crime novel gets the star
treatment in the Otto Preminger directed block buster "Anatomy of a
Murder" that besides having James Stewart playing the lead role as
ex-Iron City district attorney Paul Biegler the movie has that really
wild and jazzy soundtrack that grabs you as soon as the opening credits
start to roll down the screen by Duke Ellington and his band. Being
retired from the courts since he was defeated as Iron City's D.A Paul
Bieglar has been looking to get back practicing law and finally sees a
case, and client, he'd like to represent. Paul represents US Army
Let.Frederick Manion,Ben Gazzara, Manion murder case in the murder of
local Thunder Bay Inn owner Barney Quill whom Lt. Manion shot five
Talking to Lt. Manion's wife Laura, Lee Remick, Paul finds out that she was raped by Barney the night Lt.Manion shot and killed him which give him an opening for a temporary insanity defense for his client Lt. Manion.Paul by having his friend and old time country lawyer Parrnell McCarthy, Arthur O'Connell, help him out in doing the leg work on the case turned out to be the best thing he could have come up with in getting Let. Manion off. It looked at first that Paul was going to lose the murder case with all the evidence staked against Lt. Manion.
Old man Parnell, against Paul's wishes, nursing a bottle of bourbon drives all the way up north across the USA Michian/Canadian border almost getting himself killed in a car crash to get some very important information that in the end will break the trial wide open and totally dismiss the very solid and almost air-tight case that the prosecution had against Let. Marion.
Trying to get Let. Marion to cooperate was somewhat difficult for Paul with his very negative and defeatist attitude toward himself and the civilian courts, this guy was GI Joe all the way. Lt. Marion's hair-trigger temper didn't help him either in him almost strangling one of his fellow convicts Duke Miller (Don Ross), who would later be called by the prosecution to testify in it's behalf, for making snide remarks about his very sexy wife Laura.
Lt. Manion wife's Laura was also anything but cooperative with Paul spending all her nights in bars being picked up, or picking up, men and getting drunk made her look anything but the innocent rape victim that she claimed to be that lead to her husband ending up behind bars for first-degree murder for killing her alleged rapist Barney Quill.
By far the best parts of the movie "Anatomy of a Murder" are the ones in the courtroom with both Paul and Asst. D.A Claude Dancer, George C. Scott,skillfully sparring with each other over the facts and evidence in the case. With the case against Let. Manion hanging on the very slim facts, that Paul was desperately trying to prove, that he wasn't in full control of his mental faculties at the time of the shooting and also, what looked like prosecutor Dancer's ace in the hole where Dancer was scoring his biggest points, that Mrs. Manion wasn't all that forthcoming about her husbands violent temper and that it was Let. Manion, not the alleged rapist Barney Quill, who was responsible for the marks and bruises on her face and body. The trial finally came down to the lost panties that Lara Manion claimed that Quill ripped off her during his sexual assault.
With the very aggressive and no holds bars, and take no prisoners, Dancer sees an opening when Paul brought in the waitress Mary Pilant, Kathryn Grant, of the late Barney Quill's Thunder Bay Inn as a surprise witness. Dancer smelling blood, mistaking just what her relationship to Barney Quill really was, quickly came in for the kill not realizing that he was falling right into a trap that Paul set for him. In a dramatic theatrical-like show of righteous indignation, against the beleaguered Mary Pilant, Dancer got the surprise of his life getting clobbered so hard between the eyes that he just slowly and embarrassingly slinked, like the snake in the grass that he is, away hoping that everyone in the courtroom, especially the jury, would forget what a complete fool he just made of himself.
Also in the cast is the late Judge Joseph N. Welch as the presiding , what else, judge in the case Judge Weaver. Welch the real life hero of the 1954 Army/McCarthy Hearings really was enjoying himself playing more or less himself with some of the funniest and note-worthy, in regards to the law, lines in the entire movie.
"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.
I went into this movie expecting another good movie by the standards of
its time, but I was gladly mistaken. Anatomy of a Murder can be
considered very good even among today's standards.
Jimmy Stewart plays one of his best roles in this movie, and probably the best that I've seen so far. He plays a country-boy defense attorney that is hired to defend a husband who killed the man that raped his wife. His character feels, at times, like Travolta's character in A Civil Action, and at others, it feels like Damon's character in The Rainmaker. Very well done and a very complete performance.
The execution of this movie was just about spot-on, but aside from Jimmy Stewart, most of the cast only delivers an average performance. The comical lines are delivered in such a way that they are actually FUNNY; unlike a lot of the movies from that time.
I give it a 9/10, if for no other reason than the court scene where George C. Scott keeps blocking Stewart's view of his witness (very, very funny).
If you like courtroom dramas, don't miss this!
Anatomy of a Murder (1959)
A classic, step by step, humorous but seriously acted crime and courtroom drama.
But that's only a tenth of it. Otto Preminger was pushing forward in many ways with this innocuous looking movie.
Take the jazz score, for starters, by Duke Ellington, which merges with the movie world in the scene where Ellington and a small combo (the real players) are in a roadhouse "juke joint" playing it up. Or watch a slightly aging Jimmy Stewart as a down on his luck lawyer confront a new America, a modern age where girdles are being replaced with panties, much to the scandal of this quaint little Midwest city.
Or catch the rather brilliant, slightly too taut, pitch perfect performances by three side characters, all of which are exaggerated into believable caricatures for good reason: Lee Remick as the modern liberated woman, Ben Gazzara as the last of that kind of WWII soldier used so often in film noirs (he served in Korea), and Arthur O'Connell as a throwback even earlier, the man saddled with a drinking problem, the original drug of addiction. Throw in a sharp, acerbic George C. Scott as an opposing lawyer, and you see what you might be in for.
This is a compactly molded story, the variables carefully limited, the details honed down to what matters, even the comic details like the fly fishing, added in little ways throughout the story. I went to school in this area, near where this fictional place would be, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and the honest folksiness is close enough to work (though the locals lack the accent, the yup instead of yes casual vocabulary). It's a great story, almost a stage play in its small ensemble interplay, but beautifully photographed, and expansive visually.
It's also a great movie for what it was bucking against. All that talk about panties is making fun, behind the serious faces, of the Hays code, which was preventing reality from entering the movies of the 1950s. Of course, culture keeps going anyway, and the code fell apart, and Preminger played an important, brave role in helping that along. This movie was challenged for using words like "sperm" and "rape" and yet Preminger insisted, and the board gave it its seal of approval in the end. Even the general topic of rape and, uh, sex, was pushing the limits, for the late 1950s.
Thankfully, it's still an artful film, not shock for shock's sake, and not racy by any means. But you can feel its edginess even so. There are hints of a sexist edge--the movie takes a male view of everything, even as it does make the public face the horrors of sex crimes--but overall Stewart is a model of respect, old school.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Gregory, the movie cat, had the same mixed feelings about this film as
I did. He yawned and left after 15 minutes, his whiskers twitching in
boredom. However, he did return for the last hour or so and purred
intermittently. A solid 6 from both of us.
There are a few reasons about why this film just doesn't quite work. I'll get the first out of the way quickly--the score. Somehow, jazz for a rural courtroom drama just seems wrong--and like most jazz, it's a cacophonous noise. However, realizing that this is in part my idiosyncratic reaction, that just looses 1 point of 10.
The rating of 6 builds up from the performances--particularly James Stewart, as good as he ever has been (except perhaps for Vertigo). Joseph Welch, as the judge, and Arthur O'Connell, as Stewart's colleague, both provide textbook examples of superior character performances. Lee Remick enjoys a star turn as the wife who may (or may not?) have been raped; Ben Gazzara is solid as the murderer who may, or may not, have been acting under "irresistible impulse"; and George C. Scott gives a memorably showy performance as a reptilian prosecuting attorney. And how can you not love Eve Arden, even if she were only to read the phone book?
And the gap? Frankly, the film is just plain too long and the pacing too languid. Much of the first hour seems like filler. The trial, which occupies the last hour and forty minutes, is far better, but still is more than a little prolix.
I'm not going to comment on some of the attitudes towards the attitudes towards rape; they are of their time and need to be seen as such without pious feminist posturing.
Call this one a near miss. When you watch, be forewarned. If only you could filter out the soundtrack.....
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