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on August 22, 2002
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.
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on July 5, 2004
The excellence is Anatomy of a Murder lies is how it doesn't try to cram itself down your throat. The movie takes its own sweet time telling an intelligent and challenging story. There really aren't any good guys here and there are no easy answers. That's the point of film noir. Everyone is bad in some way, everyone has motives, and happy endings rarely take place in real life. Very direct for a movie made in the late 50's. A woman's alleged rape and the murder of her alleged rapist by her husband is described repeatedly and in detail. James Stewart is surprisingly effective as a weary cynic who takes the case not because he thinks the accused is innocent or a swell guy but because he thinks he can win and get the guy off. After Stewart returned from the horrors of WWII, he turned away from the cheerful harmless fare of his younger days. It can be fairly said that he had two careers. His post war career is much more serious and mature. Introspective characters. Deeply troubled men. Obsessed men. Men of dubious morality and hard bitten practical values. Stewart never made a WWII movie. He didn't need to, he lived it.
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This film hooks you in the first minute with Saul Bass' brilliant titles and Duke Ellington's music, and then has you caught for the duration in the next few scenes; the dialogue is sharp and intelligent, and at the age of 50, Jimmy Stewart gives one of the best performances of his illustrious career, as Paul Biegler, an attorney who would rather be fishing than getting fees for his work. Stewart is so natural, so real, and so immensely likable. He's the kind of guy you wish you could have in your family, but wily enough to argue a good defense in court.
Lee Remick has just the right amount of provocative sensuality as Laura Manion to make one wonder what exactly happened on the "fateful night" in question.
After playing Southern belles in both "A Face in the Crowd" (1957) and "The Long Hot Summer" (1958), Remick was offered the role of Laura because Lana Turner, who was supposed to play the part, refused to wear an "off-the-rack" wardrobe, and wanted dresses designed by Jean Louis (hardly what a Army wife would be wearing). It was a big break for Remick, and she makes the most of it.
The entire supporting cast is superb: Ben Gazzara as the intense Lt. Manion, Arthur O'Connell as Biegler's assistant and friend, Eve Arden as Biegler's loyal secretary. George C. Scott is Dancer, the Assistant State Attorney, and Joseph N. Welch, who gained fame for being the Special Counsel for the Army in the Army-McCarthy Congressional hearings, is a delight as Judge Weaver. Duke Ellington makes a cameo appearance as Pie Eye, and even Muffy the beer drinking dog does a great job. Otto Preminger's direction flows at a lovely pace, with a balance between the dramatic tension and thoughtful scenes tinged with humor.
There were Oscar nominations for Best Actor, Supporting Actor (both O'Connell and Scott), Picture, and Editing (all losing to "Ben Hur"), as well as Sam Leavitt's beautiful b&w cinematography (lost to "The Diary of Anne Frank") and Wendell Mayes marvelous screenplay adaptation of the Robert Traver best-seller (lost to "Room at the Top"), proving that 1959 was a great year at the movies.
I love courtroom dramas, and this is one of the best ever made; it's unpredictable, with a very authentic feel to it, perhaps because the author, using the pen name of "Robert Traver", was actually Michigan Supreme Court Justice John D. Voelker.
Total running time is 160 minutes.
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on June 19, 2004
Otto Preminger was one of the most creative and brave directors of the american cinema in the fifties and sixties.
His works were loaded with a ravishing realism , they were very expilict , challenging and disturbing .
Imagine what it means the plot around the adultery commited by the wife of an officer in that age . You can reply me with From here to the eternity but this film is more shocking , and overcomes in dramatic punch to From here ...The other examples you may think is Baby doll and Dial M for murder in the fifties, but this one wins the match.
The powerful sequence in the Court has only a serious match in The Nuremberg judgement . Never before there was not a previous film so disturbing like this that film who explicitly turned around the bitter and awful consequences about the adultery .
The plot is overwhelming , magnificient built , without any hole . The cast is incredible . Consider these giants actors as Ben Gazzara , George C. Scott , Arthur O'Donell, James Stewart and Lee Remick in her screen debut .
This film was nominated as the best film but was unlucky , because Ben Hur literally won all the prizes and somehow that fact stroke the undeniable virtues of that superb work.
However the time seems to set in the right place this picture.
Acquire this one.
One of the most remarkable films in the american cinema story.
If I could give this film ten thousand stars , I 'd do it .
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on May 19, 2004
This tense courtroom drama combines elements of suspense, sensuality, comedy, and intellect to deliver a wonderfully captivating film. The characters are the driving force of this film, with James Stewart obviously leading the cast as defense attorney Paul Biegler. Lee Remick is perfect in the role of flirtatious, sexy, lower-class blond Laura Manion, whose husband murdered the man who raped her. Ben Gazzara plays Frederick Manion, who pleads temporary insanity to the murder, although both Stewart and the audience know his crime was quite deliberate. George C. Scott delivers a cutting performance as the big-city lawyer who lashes into Manion, only to have Manion lash back. Eve Arden plays Biegler's loyal secretary, and Arthur O'Connell rounds out the cast as Biegler's alcoholic friend.
Unlike many Hollywood courtroom dramas that FEEL like Hollywood courtroom dramas, this film possesses a realism that most others lack. The film was very controversial at the time of its 1959 release because of the "graphic" descriptions of the rape. I find trivia like this especially interesting because it helps me see the evolution of film over the decades. I love movies that strive for elements of realism; however, I hate contemporary films that feel compelled to shock audiences beyond belief in their "realism." This film accomplishes that goal without the grotesque and obscene style of many of today's courtroom dramas.
Overall, this is a wonderful piece of cinematic art with top-notch writing and characterization. A must-see for any film aficionado.
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on October 19, 2003
Otto Preminger is probably one of the least understood and under appreciated directors from the 1940's -1960's, but truth be known he was responsible for some of the most interesting, popular and well made movies from this era: Anatomy of a Murder, Carmen Jones, The Man with the Golden Arm, Laura, Advise and Consent. He was one of the few directors that could handle serious subject matter with style and grace without becoming preachy and maudlin.
"Anatomy of a Murder" is one of his best: perfect, spot-on casting, eloquent screenplay, truthful performances, and gorgeous black and white photography. Jimmy Stewart, who seemed to be able to realistically portray anyone from any era and social status, plays a small town lawyer hired to defend a soldier, Ben Gazarra for murdering a man accused of raping his wife, Lee Remick. Gazzara and Remick are first rate but it is a non-actor, real judge Joseph N. Welch who almost steals the movie away from all three principals, which only proves that Preminger was a smart cookie...a smart cookie, indeed.
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on October 17, 2003
This 1959 courtroom drama starring the incomparable Jimmy Stewart is one of my favorite Stewart films. Jimmy's portrayal of a defense attorney is spot-on perfect here, in my view.
There's a great supporting cast in force here as well, including Geoge C. Scott, Ben Gazzara, Arthur O'Connell, Eve Arden (hilarious, as always, in the role of Stewart's secretary), Murray Hamilton, Orson Bean, and the always-fetching Lee Remick (whose alluring quality is undeniable in this motion picture).
Keep an eye open for Howard McNear (Floyd the Barber in "The Andy Griffith Show") as a witness. It's quite humorous--and maybe even a tad bit unsettling even--to hear Floyd Lawson on the witness stand, speaking of sexual matters. Mayberry-ites would gasp in shock & horror I imagine. LOL.
Clocking in at a very lengthy 160 minutes, the film never drags. It moves at a snappy-enough pace to keep our interest the whole way, with a nice combination of scenes both inside and outside the courtroom.
There's an outstanding Duke Ellington score to propel the action, and as a bonus on the DVD edition, there's a perfectly-fantastic Photo Gallery section of stills from the film, underscored by Ellington's music from the movie. This is the best and classiest "Photo Gallery" extra you're likely to encounter on any DVD product as of this date.
Picture quality on the DVD looks just fine here. Aspect ratio is 1.33:1 (Full Frame), which I know irks the "Widescreen Only" crowd. However, from all the info I can gather, the 1.33 ratio IS indeed the Original Aspect Ratio for this film. So, it's OK by me, if this is the case.
If "Anatomy Of A Murder" is not currently in your DVD collection, you should probably be taken to court by lawyer Stewart for overlooking this fine motion picture experience. Get it now -- before Jimmy comes after you with a subpoena. :)
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on July 9, 2002
Based on the famous Traver novel, ANATOMY OF A MURDER is an extremely complex film that defeats easy definition. In some respects it is a social document of the era in which it was made; primarily, however, it is a detailed portrait of the law at work and the machinizations and motivations of the individuals involved in a seemingly straight-forward case--and in the process it raises certain ethical issues re attorney behavior and the lengths to which an attorney might go to win a case.
Paul Biegler (James Stewart) is a small-town lawyer who has recently lost a re-election for the position of District Attorney and who is down on his luck--when a headline-making case involving assault, alleged rape, and murder drops into his lap. As the case evolves, there is no question about the identity of the killer. But a smart lawyer might be able to get him off just the same and redeem his own career in the process, and with the aid of an old friend (Arthur O'Connell) and his formidable secretary (Eve Arden), Biegler sets out to do precisely that. Opposing him in the courtroom is Claude Dancer (George C. Scott), a high powered prosecutor who is equally determined to get a conviction... and who is no more adverse to coaching a witness than Biegler himself. The two square off in a constantly shifting battle for the jury, a battle that often consists of underhanded tactics on both sides.
The performances are impressive, with James Stewart ideally cast as the attorney for the defense, Ben Gazzara as his unsavory client, and a truly brilliant Lee Remick as the sexy and disreputable wife who screams rape where just possibly none occurred; O'Connell, Arden, and Scott also offer superior performances. The script is sharp, cool, and meticulous, the direction and cinematography both effective and completely unobtrusive, and the famous jazz score adds quite a bit to the film as a whole. Although we can't help rooting for Stewart, as the film progresses it seems more and more likely that Remick is lying through her teeth and Gazzara is as guilty as sin--but the film balances its elements in such a way as to achieve a disturbing ambiguity that continues right through to the end. If you expect a courtroom thriller with sudden revelations and twists you'll likely be disappointed in ANATOMY OF A MURDER, but if you want a thought-provoking take on the law you'd be hard pressed to find one better. Recommended.
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on February 1, 2002
A couple of years ago, there was a poll conducted among legal professionals (lawyers, judges, etc.) on what they felt was the best and most accurate courtroom picture ever made. "Anatomy of a Murder" was the unanimous choice. Those seeking to enter the legal profession will certainly enjoy this film, but so will those who have a love for classic Hollywood films. Otto Preminger was one of the best directors working in the Hollywood when the studio system began to collapse, and this is probably his best film.
Tightly constructed with a superb cast and crisp writing, this is mainstream entertainment of the highest order.
Never one to let censorship interfer with reality, Preminger often tackled controversial subjects without sanitizing it. His groundbreaking films no longer seem controversial today, but because he never flinches from his subject matter, his films tend to date better than most of the period.
People have complained that this DVD is pan and scan. While it is full frame, it's not actually pan and scan. The film was originally photographed in a way that captured a full frame image, but was intended to be shown in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio with the aid of a matte. As such, the film was composed for this aspect ratio. What they did for this DVD is transfer the entire image, exposing parts of the frame that was never meant to be shown. As a result, you have massive headroom in some shots, much more than originally intended, and the added open space ruins the tight compositions that were intended for each shot.
Of course, there are people out there who could care less and just want to fill their TV screens. However, if you really want to see the film in an appropriate setting, seek out the import version of this DVD at amazon.co.uk, which has been matted to the appropriate 1.85:1 aspect ratio.
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on January 16, 2002
Best trial-movie ever made--perfect of its kind. Set the standard for the thousands of pale imitators (including TV shows like *Law and Order*) that have followed it. What remains fascinating about this 1959 movie, what keeps it from being dated, is its utter ambivalence towards ALL the characters, perhaps especially the ostensible "heroes": we have James Stewart as a small-town lawyer who'd just as soon listen to his jazz records as continue his law career . . . we have Arthur O'Connell as his drunken mentor who gets in car crashes . . . we have Eve Arden whose one (and apparently only) concern is the status of her next paycheck. And then there's Ben Gazarra and Lee Remick as one of the most unlikeable married couples ever put on screen. (A good title for this movie could've been: "When Bad Things Happen to Bad People".) Perhaps the only person one roots for is the judge, played by real-life judge Joseph Welch who stood up to Joe McCarthy in the Army Hearings fracas. Incidentally, I don't think rape has ever been so dispassionately presented in movies or TV as here. Nary a tear is shed. Odd. Finally, we can also enjoy James Stewart in one of his very best performances (this was his favorite film, along with *It's a Wonderful Life*). As for the DVD, Columbia did nothing particularly special, but they didn't screw it up, either. Ellington's jazz score has been remastered to very nice effect. Picture is crisp (standard ratio). Highest recommendation.
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