Anatomy of a Murder (1959)

DailyView: Day 74, Movie 126

I have come to really enjoy the work of actor Jimmy Stewart. I had only a limited exposure to Jimmy Stewart before I started this DailyView, but since I have added Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The Man Who Shot Liberty Vance, and this one to my previous knowledge of Stewart’s work including Rear Window, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Vertigo, Rope, and, of course, It’s A Wonderful Life. Anatomy of a Murder fits right in with this list of classic movies from Mr. Stewart.

Directed by Otto Preminger, Anatomy of a Murder is one of the greatest courtroom drama films of all-time. The case from the film, based on a true murder, is filled with twists and keeps the audience guessing about what is truly going on.

Local Michigan attorney and recently disposed district attorney Paul Biegler (James Stewart) is approached to take the case of Frederick Manion (Ben Gazzara), a lieutenant in the army, who had been accused of murdering a bartender Barney Quill, who had supposedly raped his wife Laura (Lee Remick). Biegler knew his case was thin and that his client looked guilty, so he came up with the defense of temporary insanity.

The district attorney brings in hotshot prosecutor Claude Dancer (George C. Scott) to help with the case. Dancer tried his best to keep the reputed rape out of the trial, but once it came in, he went after Laura with a vengeance.

What I enjoyed most about the story was the way there felt as if there was something being hidden by everyone involved. I was never quite sure I knew exactly what had happened the night of the rape and eventual murder.

None of the character involved in this case, with the possible exception of Judge Weaver (Joseph N. Welch), were above reproach. Both sides of the case were shown or implied that they were coaching witnesses or downright putting witnesses into the case that were not necessarily the most honest. Laura was shown as a definite flirtatious woman who did not seem to be happy in her marriage. Manion may or may not have beaten his wife at times.

There are top line performances here including Jimmy Stewart and George C. Scott. Arthur O’Connell was an intriguing character, Parnell McCarthy, an alcoholic lawyer who teamed up with Biegler on the case. I say he is intriguing because he has little importance on the story, but he does provide an important detail for the defense.

This was a long movie, but the pacing was really solid so it seemed to pass quickly. I thought this was an exception film with a cast that took the quality material and brought it to another level.

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