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   ANATOMY OF A MURDER (1959) 

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CAST
James Stewart
Lee Remick
Ben Gazzara
Arthur O'Connell
Eve Arden
Kathryn Grant
George C. Scott
Murray Hamilton
Orson Bean
Russ Brown

DIRECTED BY
Otto Preminger

PURCHASE


DVD



Soundtrack




Time: 160 mins.
Rating: Not Rated
Genre: Courtroom Drama

Academy Award nominations for Best Actor (Stewart), Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Supporting Actor (O'Connell, Scott), Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture.


One of the great courtroom dramas ever captured on film. The subject matter is not as risque as it was in 1959, however, the story is still powerful and unflinching. Preminger pulls no punches in this drama about rape, murder and betrayal. The performances by Stewart, Scott and Remick are riveting. The dialogue is clever, snappy and oftentimes brutal. The courtroom theatrics are brilliant. It's obvious that all future courtroom dramas have taken their cues from this film. The intelligence of Stewart and Scott burns through the screen as they fight to the death, or so it seems, to see who's the better lawyer.

Stewart plays Paul Biegler, a lawyer in the decline of his career. Though he prefers fishing and playing jazz piano, he gets dragged into a local murder case as the defense attorney. After questioning Lt. Manion (Gazzara), a hotheaded soldier, and his beautiful, young, flirtatious wife Laura (Remick), Paul is unsure what to believe about the case. Laura says that after visiting a town bar, she was raped by the bar owner, Barney Quill, as he drove her home. Her husband in a fit of "insanity" went down to the bar and shot Barney six times.

The prosecutor, a big-shot from the city, played remarkably by Scott, believes that it was cold-blooded murder. He accuses Manion of killing Barney in a jealous rage because he was having an affair with his wife. Remick plays Laura with such undeniable sexiness and sweet innocence, you don't know what to believe. It doesn't matter to Paul. He needs the money and the only way he's going to get it is by making sure Manion doesn't end up in prison. Stewart and Scott are fantastic as slick, intelligent lawyers who will do anything to win. The courtroom theatrics are outrageous, touching, slimy and at times downright rude. These kind of theatrics would never be allowed in a real life courtroom – outside of the OJ trial – but they sure are fun to watch.


"The prosecution would like to separate the motive from the act. Well, that's like trying to take the core from an apple without breaking the skin."

Each time someone takes the stand you never know what's going to pop out of their mouth, and who it's going to hurt. Even though you know a woman should never be blamed for a rape, you can't help thinking Laura deserved it a little. She's so blindingly attractive, flirting without shame, you know she was destined for trouble sooner or later. You also get the feeling that this won't be the last time. The film has the usual heated cross-examinations, the surprise witnesses, the mysterious appearance of evidence, but it still feels fresh. ANATOMY OF A MURDER was banned in certain cities upon its release due to its provocative language, using words like bitch, rape, panties and slut, which had rarely made there way onto the screen before. Certainly not in a Jimmy Stewart vehicle.

It's the use of this "modern" language that keeps the movie from feeling too outdated. In fact, one of the more amusing scenes in the film is a sidebar where the judge and lawyers try to find a more discreet word than "panties" when talking about Laura's underwear. The trial has its' ups and downs, but there's never any doubt who's going to win. The ending is quite amusing, throwing doubt on whether Paul really should have taken the case.

The supporting cast helps add additional humor to the film. Eve Arden plays Paul's sardonic, never paid secretary and Arthur O'Connell, his drunk mentor with a mind like a steal trap, at least when sober. George C. Scott, in one of his first major roles, shows what a great actor he is by keeping up with Stewart every step of the way. The only reason you believe Paul has any decency is because of Stewart. If any other actor was cast, the character would have been a total slimeball, not caring whether it was cold-blooded murder or not, as long as he collected his fee. Paul's still not the most upstanding citizen on the block, but you need him to be somewhat likable to want him to win. The music, composed by Duke Ellington, also gives the film a more modern feel. The cool jazz of his piano adds an extra layer of enjoyment to what could have been fairly dry proceedings. ANATOMY OF A MURDER is a first-rate film on every level. It's a definite must-see for those of you looking for a thought-provoking good time.


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