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|Index||183 reviews in total|
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.....
I read something on this site about Jimmy Stewart being a racist. Well
I would like to know what he was doing in Anatomy of a Murder sitting
and talking with the very African-American Duke Ellington! If people
are going to go on these sites I would appreciate it if they would tell
the truth. Jimmy Stewart was no more a racist than I am. They said he
went into a producer and said, "Do we have to act with these n-----?"
Or something of that sort.
Apparently this could have never happened. It could not have happened if he is patting Duke Ellington on the shoulder like they are the best of friends. Is there a way this site can be monitored so that lies like this don't get written?
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.
I loved the characters of this film; every one of them was interesting,
except for one: the prosecuting attorney. This guy was portrayed as being
virtually incapable of doing anything right. I didn't buy that; if he were
so inept, why would he ever have been hired in the first place? Good grief,
your average debate team member from a high school could handle himself
better than _that_. Otherwise, though, the cast was fabulous; I wanted to
know them all better. The only other character who gave me any cause to
grumble was George C. Scott's, who was generally wonderfully snaky, but when
he became practically terrified of what to do with a little dog when it
jumped up on his lap, I had to say, now come on guys... just because he's
the emotional/dramatic "villain" character here, that doesn't make him
inhuman. It's hard to believe that bit was based on reality; it felt
extremely Hollywood, and clashed badly with the rest of the film, which
really drew me in.
As far as the plot goes, I ended up being terribly confused as to what had actually happened in the original situation. The trial resolved nothing for me, really. At first that irritated me, but now I wonder if that was the intent of the author/director all along. If so, I suppose it was brilliantly executed. ;-)
8/10 for me, despite the fascinatingly anachronistic hubbub over the word "panties".
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This movie did not fulfill a single one of my expectations, although I don't mean that in a necessarily negative way. It was just different from what I anticipated when I began watching. I figured on a straightforward courtroom drama where everything is much more clean-cut than it is in real life. Well, that's not what you get with this movie. The people are human; the situations are ambiguous, and you don't end up necessarily rooting for anyone, let alone for the person you thought you would root for (that would be Jimmy Stewart and his client). Here we have a lawyer, played masterfully by Stewart, who actually doubts his client's case, and yet defends him, which is a surprising bit of realism; a husband who's terribly jealous either of the rape or the affair (or both?) of his wife; a wife who goes around "free and easy" (or "free and sleazy" as the case may be) -- but does she deserve to be raped? DOES she get raped? Who beat her? And then the end is a shock, in that it's NOT the end. It's not typical Hollywood, and at first I didn't like that, but I think I'm changing my mind. This may just ruin me for typical courtroom dramas. :)
Another "undecided": the music. At times I loved it, and at others it was definitely a negative distraction from the movie.
(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut
to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it
Otto Preminger, who produced and directed this fine courtroom drama starring James Stewart, Lee Remick, George C. Scott and Ben Gazzara, had a knack for translating best-selling mid-cult novels to the screen (The Man with the Golden Arm (1955); Exodus (1960); Advise and Consent (1962) and others) usually in a nervy manner, sometimes heavy-handed, sometimes pretentious, but always worth a look. Part of his secret was star power. Like Hitchcock, he liked to go with big names supported by fine character actors.
And part of his secret was his long experience in both the theater and films going back to the silent film era. He knew how to put together a movie. But more than anything it was his near-dictatorial control over the production (something directors seldom have today, and never in big budget films--Preminger's were big budget for his day) that allowed him to successfully capture the movie-going audience at midcentury.
This and Laura (1944) are two of his films that go beyond the merely commercial and achieve something that can be called art. Seeing this for the first time forty-three years after it was released I was struck by the fine acting all around and the sturdy, well-constructed direction. James Stewart's performance as the Michigan north country lawyer Paul Biegler might shine even more luminously than it does except for a certain performance by Gregory Peck three years later as a southern country lawyer in the unforgettable To Kill a Mockingbird (1962). Lee Remick, in a frank, but imperfect imitation of Marilyn Monroe, co-stars as Laura Manion, the wife of army Lt. Frederick Manion (Gazzara) whom Bielger is defending on a murder charge. The defense is temporary insanity because the man he shot raped his wife. Bielger slyly gains sympathy for his client by deliberately allowing it to come out that Laura is sexy and flirtatious enough to drive any man crazy. Indeed, he tricks the prosecution into doing his work for him. George C. Scott plays Claude Dancer, a big city prosecutor, with snake-like precision while Gazzara manages to combine introspection and cockiness as the young lieutenant. Fine support comes from Eve Arden (best known as Our Miss Brooks on TV and in the movie of that name) as Biegler's loyal secretary and Arthur O'Connell as his alcoholic mentor. Kathryn Grant, who gave up a promising film career to marry Bing Crosby and have children, has a modest role as the murdered man's daughter.
I've seen many courtroom dramas, some real, some fictional, since this film first appeared, but I have to say it stands up well. The action (for the most part) feels realistic and the tension is nicely created and maintained.
The resolution is satisfying and the ending is as sly and subtle as any country lawyer might want. Incidentally, if this movie had more total votes cast at IMDb, it would rank in the top one hundred of all time, which is where it belongs.
See this for James Stewart whose easy, adroit style under Preminger's direction found full range. Although he gave many fine performances, I don't think Stewart was ever better than he was here.
*** 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 review may contain spoilers ***
I may have seen this film 3 or 4 times now. Yes, it's dated. 1959. BUT.
There are multiple layers to the story and the filming! No flashbacks, long tracking shots. Jazz by Duke Ellington no less.
Well filmed, beautifully acted, and painstakingly directed, this film deserves the highest praise.
James Stewart brings his aw shucks nature to his role. But it masks his thwarted ambition and revenge towards the DA who now has his job.
Lee Remick plays her seduction card and again, what lies beneath her come hither demeanour? What's in it for her? Ben Gazzara, in his first major role, shows many sides to his personality, so much so, one wonders. He is violent, charming, protective by turn. One can't pin him down.
This film is noteworthy for breaking a lot of taboos mentioning "panties" "rape" "sperm" etc., often to the titters of the courtroom. And then putting the morals of the victim under the microscope.
I especially like the lack of black and white in the characters this film offers a greyness, a depth particularly in the victim who is seen as quite monstrous (a "wolf") and then as a loving father.
We are challenged again and again throughout as our sympathy and investment in the characters gets shaken and we question our very thoughts on what constitutes justifiable homicide, or was it? And the ending? Quite perfect and totally unpredictable.
8 out of 10.
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