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Hailed by law professors as "probably the finest pure trial movie ever
made", Anatomy of a Murder is an interesting observation of the
research that goes into the development of a case, especially from the
defence point of view, and also highlights some of the loopholes
present in the judiciary system that may be taken advantage of to alter
the jury's final decision.
The story concerns the trial of an army lieutenant who is being tried for murdering the town's innkeeper, a crime he doesn't deny committing but also seems to have no recollection of it and gives his act a sense of justification by stating that the victim raped his wife. The plot covers the defence attorney's attempt to convince the jury that his client's act was temporary insanity.
Directed by Otto Preminger, the film is based on a book which itself was inspired from a real-life case and is a work of expert craftsmanship. Meticulously researched as well, it presents an authentic atmosphere of a courtroom & is also pretty sound in the depiction of the investigation carried out by the lawyers themselves in the preparation of their cases.
The black-n-white cinematography plays its part rather well while editing keeps the whole story tightly arranged & finely moving from start to finish. The cast comprises of James Stewart, Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara, George C. Scott & Brooks West amongst which both Stewart & Scott manage to stand out, thanks to their verbal energy & charismatic on-screen presence.
On an overall scale, Anatomy of a Murder features just the right dose of comedy, mystery & drama to go with its act and also offers an insight into the role an impressive showmanship can play inside the courtroom. Notorious for its language which was quite explicit for its time & brilliantly painting the morally ambiguous portrait of its characters, this classic courtroom drama is one of the finest examples of its genre that comes thoroughly recommended.
A soldier murders the man who raped his wife. His attorney says his
best chance is to claim temporary insanity.
We see the movie through the attorney, Paul Biegler's (James Stewart) perspective. We know only what he knows, his guesses are ours and what comes as unexpected to him is unexpected to us. But he is a seasoned lawyer and most of the viewers are not. Thus, he is able to view the case objectively while we are swayed by our emotions a little. Biegler is not an unreliable narrator, he is a gentleman, yet we see things differently from him. The movie does a great job in pulling off this subtle effect and uses it raise some ethical questions.
We all know it is legally and ethically wrong to kill a man for revenge, especially if it is premeditated. But, the defendant, Lt. Frederick Manion (Ben Gazzara) is a handsome war-hero. The man he killed was rather uncouth and committed a heinous crime on the soldier's wife. We sympathize with Lt. Manion and want him acquitted, weather or not he went insane before committing the murder.
Our sentiments are acknowledged by the movie; Biegler reasons that the jury were likely to feel the same way as we, the viewers, do. The claim of insanity is only an excuse for the law to be followed to the letter.
Another layer of complexity is added by Lt. Manion's wife, Laura (Lee Remick). She is sensual and innocent. She is flirty and makes her husband jealous all the time. She seems to have got over the rape pretty quickly. Is it worth all the fuss over a woman like this? Does her nature make the crime committed against her any less brutal? She is certainly concerned about her husband. She seems air-headed but is she? Remick nailed this role and teases us every moment she is on screen.
Both the prosecution and the defense know that the crime was committed. The legal battle between them is to prove weather or not Lt. Manion was in possession of his faculties at the time. The prosecution tries to argue that he was. Biegler realizes that it is more important to gain the jury's sympathy and works towards that.
The casting of all the characters, major or minor, is done to perfection. The dialog is sublime. Every sentence said by either of the lawyers has a purpose, be it Biegler playing on the minds of the jury and counteracting the prosecution at the same time or the prosecution lawyer, Danser's (George C Scott) increasingly desperate attempts to win. Every argument and counter-argument put forth by them raises the tension and brings relief.
The emotions raised by a murder have never been explored to this depth on the silver screen. A true gem of a movie.
This movie was released in 1959 and for the time was considered very adult content. Although it's dated by black and white film and the outdated musical score, it's still relevant. It involves issues that are far more well known today such as domestic and sexual abuse. Jimmy Stewart does his usual good guy role and as always he performed well. Lee Remick is under appreciated as she was in many of her roles. Ben Gazara was better than expected as the the husband whose wife is caught with her panties down. He shoots the man having his way his wife and the question is was he justified. However, the question is more complicated than that. How to defend him and determining if he was justified or not is basically what the movie is all about. I gave it a rating of 8 out of 10 for the fine performances and excellent direction of Otto Preminger. Watching it 2014 was still entertaining.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Easy going, with a pace so gentle you might think you were watching ducks walking across a highway (all done deliberately, BTW) this is one of the greatest films of all time. Preminger, love him or hate him, not only knew his way around a camera, he knew his way around an audience too. Jimmy Stewart, at the peak of his craft (well before he had to "re-invent" himself a bad guy in westerns to stay in the biz) comes across as someone you went to school with, but forgot the name. He is so easy to identify with that you immediately start to see the whole film, the whole narrative, through his eyes. Which is precisely what Preminger intended. Lee Remick, short and sharp-featured, someone you might not notice in a crowd, shows the world the true meaning of "charisma" and steals every scene she is in. Only a star of this magnitude could say the word "panties" on screen and still make viewers blush decades into a new century. And Ben Gazarra, also at the peak of his craft (long before he started doing it "for the money," like his work in Road House) fights Remick for audience attention on a scene by scene basis, and often wins. Wow. Seriously. Wow. Watch it six or seven times if you like. It never gets old.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It was less than ten years ago I watched It's A Wonderful Life for the
first (I know, I know shocking.) Then it was last year after watching
it again (it's a staple in my film rotation now of course) I fell in
love with Jimmy Stewart. The man is a legend for a reason. He is
mesmerizing on screen. I was very excited to watch this latest film
because I had never heard of it and stumbled on it for 1$ in a Goodwill
store. Simply put...wow. This is legendary film right here. It was
easily one of the most unique, brilliantly written courtroom dramas I
have ever seen. The first thing I noticed was the run time...nearly
three hours for a courtroom drama...that seemed excessive and I thought
for sure it would drag longer than it needed to. The magic of this film
is that it doesn't drag for even a minute. The characters are so
vibrant and the story intriguing and real and you can relate to it.
More than 3/4 of the film is in a courtroom and its witness, question,
re-direct, question, witness, question and so on and so forth. You are
watching a murder case unfold and you cannot turn away from it. It is a
mystery of sorts but the investigation is simple and straight forward
and then you're in the throes of the legal system.
Jimmy Stewart just simply mesmerizes in this movie. His jaded and often sarcastic Paul Biegler is such an amazing character. Its not an in your face and over the top performance but he endears himself to you and is incredibly convincing in this role. He is subtly brilliant and watching him do what he obviously does best is perfect for the film. There is a back story to his character that certainly doesn't get in the way of the main plot but still does a lot to give him some depth. The stunning Lee Remick plays the wife of the accused. She is a sassy and perhaps abused woman dealing with issues she has with men. If there is one character I wanted to know more about it was hers but she is excellent in the part and her chemistry with Stewart is perfect. Ben Gazzara is the accused murderer and he is also very good. His character is brooding and stoic and he isn't very likable which is the entire idea behind his character. The very first interaction between him and Stewart shows that the two men don't like each other but Stewart still goes above and beyond to get him off. Arthur O'Connell is the perfect addition as Stewart's partner and adds a certain emotional depth to Stewart's character. O'Connell doesn't have a big role but its enough to really be important to the cast. Eve Arden also has a small role and yet it helps to really give depth and an emotional connection for Stewart's character who may come across as hard and jaded at times. Perhaps the only characters in the film that lacked depth and we're even very shallow performances were George C. Scott (a BRILLIANT actor but not so much this time around), Brooks West and Joseph Welch as our esteemed Judge who just seems bored and deliver his lines poorly.
This film is brilliantly made. It was like they covered each and every detail and made sure it made sense and was fascinating enough and each character had purpose and would appeal to the audiences. All their bases are covered that make this a near perfect film watching experience. Otto Preminger should be heralded for this piece of film history because I just noticed so many little details that make this great. I think the film also stands up to the test of time because it actually is way ahead of its time. I mean it was banned in many cinemas due to some "salty" language for the time (panties was one of those words just to give you an idea of what I mean by "salty") But beyond that I feel like Stewart and his team are forward thinkers and there is a moral message here about the law and perhaps even a satirical look at the legal system. It was fascinating. Law students should latch onto this and if you're looking for a film that you can talk about for hours or you can just sit back and enjoy this is one to see! This was truly terrific. This is why classic films are considered the cream of the crop. Where are the films like this anymore? Brilliant. 9.5/10
Very rarely comes a courtroom drama which is genuine & thrilling at the
same time. After "To Kill A Mockingbird," this is the greatest crime
thriller I have seen.
Not to mention how pathetic the direction & cinematography is, the tight cast performance, brilliant plot narration & amazing use of humor makes me rate it 8.0 out of 10. Oh, it could've been better.
Since the beginning James Stewart makes his viewers glued to the screen with his performance. He is subtle & straightforward. George C Scott brings a whole new dimension into it. Supporting cast is cool, as well. The story is so dynamic, it evolves step-by-step and the writer has managed not to bore with the advocacy jargon. Having references rape, sex & murder factors in abundance, this is a must watch solely because of its boldness. And the courtroom sequences is sure to make you jump out of your seats.
BOTTOM LINE: Highly Recommended due to its humor, cast performance & plot!
Profanity: Mild | Nudity: No | Sex/Foreplay: No visuals | Violence: Mild | Gore: No | Drugs: No | Alcohol/Smoking: Strong
Back in the late 1950s and early 1960s, there was a cluster of
courtroom dramas that would come to define the sub-genre. Anatomy of a
Murder is a quite cut-and-dry film with its very basic slow burn
presentation of the proceedings. But with the great performances, deep
focus photography blended with the jazz score, the blunt approach to
some very taboo topics for the time and the hold of the question of
morality as to when murder is justifiable keeps you engaged through all
its 160 minutes. The way the film talks about rape and murder often
feels jarring, but it gives the film a weight that's very admirable.
James Stewart is a highlight as always with a performance that's
reminiscent to his iconic performance in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington,
but what makes his character more interesting is his wise-cracking
sense of humour that often goes unappreciated by other characters. It's
a great fascinating film although its payoff are quite weak. I prefer
Judgment at Nuremberg by a wide margin of course, but it beats Inherit
the Wind, To Kill A Mockingbird and Witness for the Prosecution for
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
ANATOMY OF A MURDER raises prickly and complex questions about legal
ethics, while challenging the audience to decide for itself the tricky
issues of justice and truth. There are no clear-cut good guys and bad
guys, and the film's resolution has an ironic edge. ANATOMY OF A MURDER
is a movie based on the best-selling book by Michigan Supreme Court
justice John D. Voelker, who served as technical adviser on the film
and was the defense attorney on the real-life case on which his novel
was based. The murder occurred in a small town in the Upper Peninsula
of Michigan on July 31, 1952. The client never paid the attorney his
fee, so he wrote this story to make up for it. ANATOMY OF A MURDER
stars James Stewart as a seat-of-the-pants Michigan lawyer. Through the
intervention of his alcoholic mentor, played by Arthur O'Connell, he
accepts the case of one army Lieutenant played by Ben Gazzara in only
his second film, an unlovable lout with a sexy wife played by Lee
Remick. Faced with the formidable opposition of big-city prosecutor
George C. Scott (starring in his first film), Stewart hopes to win
freedom for his client. Also featured in the cast is Eve Arden as
Stewart's know-it-all secretary and Katherine Grant as the young woman
who may benefit from the murder. ANATOMY OF A MURDER may seem like it
has the perfect cast -- once you've seen it, but originally they tried
to get Gregory Peck as the lawyer, Lana Turner as the wife, and Richard
Widmark as the jealous husband. In his autobiography, Preminger stated
that he wanted Spencer Tracy or Burl Ives for the role of "Judge
Weaver." But Tracy turned it down as too small a part. Burl Ives also
passed on the offer but then someone, came up with a great suggestion -
why not use a real judge? The director soon found the perfect 'actor'
to play the ever-patient judge. Joseph Welch, the lawyer who helped to
bring down Senator Joseph McCarthy's witch hunt by asking him on
national television, "Have you no sense of decency?" ANATOMY OF A
MURDER was filmed on location in two small towns in the upper-peninsula
of Michigan. The courtroom, jail and hospital scenes were shot in their
actual counterparts. Stewart's office in the film was Voelker's actual
law office. Preminger liked the unique effect the real locations had on
the actors causing them to give even more authentic performances.
Intercourse. Contraceptive. Sperm. Sex. Climax. Panties. These were not
the sort of words movie theatre audiences were used to hearing on the
screen in 1959 but director Otto Preminger changed all that with his
controversial courtroom drama, Anatomy of a Murder. It was a sure bet
that the film's questionable dialogue would not pass through the
Production Code office unnoticed but it wouldn't be the first time that
Preminger had pushed the envelope with censorship issues in his movies.
In 1951 he successfully challenged the Code over using the word
'virgin' in The Moon is Blue, and in 1955, he overcame opposition to
his depiction of heroin addiction in The Man With The Golden Arm. The
more serious and compelling aspects of Anatomy of a Murder were
overshadowed by the publicity surrounding the production which played
up the more unsavory aspects of the rape/murder trial and
sensationalized them. Stewart's father, a hardware store owner back in
the small town of Indiana, Pennsylvania even ran in ad in the local
paper apologizing for the film and warning folks to stay away from it.
And it was even briefly banned in Chicago for using words like,
"contraception." Yet, despite the adult subject matter, the film
arrived on screens with its dialogue mostly intact and became one of
the biggest box office hits of that year. In his autobiography,
Preminger wrote, "Our presence created great excitement in those little
towns. The special train carrying cast, crew, and equipment arrived and
half the population was at the station to greet us. Duke Ellington
arrived a few days after we had begun to shoot. I find it useful to
have the composer with me on the set. By watching the progress of the
shooting, seeing the dailies....he becomes part of the film." The
director even cast him in a bit part - as a pianist named 'Pie-Eye,'
working at the local roadhouse. The soundtrack marked Ellington's first
feature film score. Of all the film's many virtues, Jimmy Stewart's
portrayal of attorney Paul Biegler is a key factor in the film's
success. According to the actor, he considered it his most challenging
role since Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life. "It was worth all the
extra effort," Stewart said in one interview, "I spent a lot of time
memorizing my lines for that movie. The picture demanded an awful lot
of time and thought. As the defense attorney I knew I had to be glibber
than usual. Trial lawyers are neither shy nor inarticulate. I read my
script each night until I fell asleep." Not surprisingly, Jimmy
received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for his performance
in Anatomy of a Murder. In addition to Stewart, ANATOMY OF A MURDER
received Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Supporting Actors (Arthur
O'Connell and George C. Scott), Screenplay, Film Editing, and
Cinematography. The film's unusual trailer opens with a bailiff calling
the court to order and announcing that "there is a new movie coming to
this town. All those involved will now be sworn in." Preminger then
stands up and swears in the principal actors, asking each if they
"swear to have done their job in the picture to the best of their
ability." When Preminger calls on Voelker, the writer protests that
there cannot be a trial without a jury. Preminger then replies, "the
judge and jury sits out there, the millions and millions of people in
I hope you find this film GUILTY of belonging on the National Film Registry. --- Thanks.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is a superior courtroom story that was considered pretty shocking
at the time of its release -- young Lee Remick wriggling around in her
tight slacks, words like "spermatogenesis," a pair of torn "panties".
Now we might see the very rape that precipitates the murder of Barney
Quill by Remick's shady soldier husband, Ben Gazzara.
Three elements raise this above many other films about crime, the law, and the justice system.
One is the story itself. Let's face facts, he said. What's the usual trajectory in courtroom dramas? An innocent man or woman is framed or otherwise unjustly tried for a crime and the defense counsel comes to his or her aid and, only at the last minute, after much tribulation, saves the innocent from conviction.
Or, conversely, the murderer is about to go free but only at the last minute is exposed through the heroic efforts of the tormented and self-sacrificing prosecutor. The guilty party may break down on the stand, pounding his fists against his temples, shrieking, "Okay, I did it. I DID IT! But I only wanted to scare her." There is no such clear opposition between good and bad in this case. Barney Quill probably did rape Gazarra's wife, but we can't be sure, what with her hanging around Barney's bar while Gazarra is home asleep, nudging Quill with her rear end, belting down shots. And Gazarra may in fact have been in a state of dissociation when he pulled the trigger on Barney but Gazarra gives us ample reason to believe he's lying about his mental condition during the incident.
It's a grown-up look at guilt and the justice system, lacking in cartoon characters.
Another feature that raises this film above most other examples of the genre is the acting. The performances by all the principles are exemplary. George C. Scott in an early role is almost perfect, in the way that a Smithfield ham can be perfect.
Finally, this story is set in Thunder Bay on the upper peninsula of Michigan. These are northern latitudes we're talking about. Even in early Fall the nights are chilly. The trees look as if they're shuddering with revulsion at the notion that another winter is around the corner. The streets and mostly vacant holiday spots look bleak. Townspeople talk about the bears being harmless as they rummage through the garbage for scraps. You can see the northern lights in the middle of July. The local color is precisely pinned down.
There are several comic exchanges too. It's about rape, beatings, and a revenge murder, but it's not a heavy drama. Arthur O'Connell is worth a few smiles as an elderly Irish lawyer friend of James Stewart's, trying to stay off the bottle and burping his way through the trial. Eve Arden adds some welcome wise cracks and some trenchant and funny observations.
Two slight turn offs. One is Saul Bass's razzle-dazzle titles. Sometimes that man's ego tripped him up. There should have been a credit: SAUL BASS PRESENTS SPECTACULAR TITLES. And then there's the musical score. I love some of Duke Ellington's work but this is not among his best efforts and it would have worked better as source music. That is, it could easily have added to the atmosphere of Barney Quill's bar if the Duke's music had been played on the juke box.
Overall, a superior job. Better than John D. Voelker's novel, which badly needed a perceptive and ruthless copy editor.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
One of the most risqué movies ever made --- up until 1959. James
Stewart is a small-town lawyer hired to defend military man Ben
Gazzara, who's accused of murdering a local who may or may not have
raped his wife. Otto Preminger stages a dissection of the case and it's
surprising at each turn.
ANATOMY OF A MURDER is suspenseful, funny and brilliantly acted by an unusually strong cast: Stewart is excellent and Gazzara is great. Lee Remick, as Gazzara's wife, plays her role to the hilt. She's a sex kitten who graduated to black widow! The dependable Arthur O'Connell and Eve Arden make up Stewart's legal team and George C. Scott is the prosecuting attorney. The scenes between Scott and Stewart are dynamite. The scenes between Stewart and Remick are squirm-inducing. McCarthy judge Joseph Welch plays the judge and he brings his sublime humor to bear. The great music score is by Duke Ellington and the titles by Saul Bass are among his best.
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