Groundbreaking Courtroom Drama - Masterpiece
- Anatomy of a Murder review by GI
This is one of the great courtroom dramas and like all good films like this it revolves around twists and turns throughout making it a suspenseful and riveting story. James Stewart (receiving his last Oscar nomination here) plays Paul, a small-town lawyer who'd rather be fishing, who accepts the case of Fred Manion (Ben Gazzara), an Army officer, accused of murdering a local bar owner. Manion doesn't deny the killing but claims he was temporarily insane at the time enraged because the victim had raped his wife, Laura (Lee Remick). The case revolves around whether she is lying and you're never sure who is telling the truth. This film was highly controversial and groundbreaking when initially made due to the detail around sex and the use of words including rape, bitch, sperm, penetration and slut amongst others. Viewed today it's a superb film, and is reputed to be very realistic and has been used in the training of young lawyers. Full of great performances, brilliantly written with a striking depiction of the power of words, with a famous score by Duke Ellington and brilliantly directed by Otto Preminger. If you love a good courtroom story then this is a classic, a masterpiece and a film to seek out.
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- Anatomy of a Murder review by Steve
Lengthy courtroom drama based on a real life criminal trial which scrutinises the condition of the US legal system. And if that sounds like homework, it really isn't. This is an absorbing film made with a light touch by Otto Preminger with a fine jazz score by Duke Ellington. It was adapted from a novel by a defence attorney based on one of his cases.
The film is shot around coastal Michigan where the actual events took place. An unambitious small town lawyer (James Stewart), defends an army lieutenant (Ben Gazzara) who shot the man who raped his flirtatious wife (Lee Remick). The soldier is charged with murder and claims temporary insanity. The film is fascinatingly ambiguous and it is impossible to be sure, even by the end, what really happened. The same is true for the jury who must reach a verdict.
Of course, the audience wants the lawyer to win the case as we see the case through his eyes, and we like his sassy secretary (Eve Arden) and the alcoholic gumshoe seeking redemption (Arthur O'Connell). So we are partial. The point of the film is that everyone involved in the case is influenced by expectation, personal interest and past experience. Justice is at the whim of the dark arts of the lawyers.
It's a 160m film full of exposition voiced by static actors mostly framed within a single interior, the courthouse. It leans on its cast. And they are superb, particularly Stewart who is on the screen for almost every second. There is some awkwardness around issues which challenged fifties censorship, but that's a quibble. This is a masterpiece, and Preminger's best film by a long way.
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