Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.
Otto Preminger’s Anatomy of a Murder, with script by Wendell Mayes and John D. Voelker, and high-contrast location cinematography by Sam Leavitt will stay with you long after the screen fades. The power of this story, about rape and murder, is not in graphic scenes of brutality but well-acted scenes in which the true purpose of the legal system is revealed in ludicrous and pithy truth.
Having lost reelection as District Attorney, attorney Paul Biegler (James Stewart) spends most of his time fishing and playing jazz piano and trying to pay off his mounting bills. When the murder case of Lt. Frederick Manion (Ben Gazzara) is presented to him he takes the case hoping to use the raping of the lieutenant’s wife Laura Manion (Lee Remick) as motivation for an insanity plea. As Biegler builds his case he realizes that he will have to take on hot-shot city lawyer Assistant State Attorney General Claude Dancer (George C. Scott) to sufficiently present his evidence.
Based on the best-selling novel by Robert Traver (the pseudonym for Michigan Supreme Court justice John D. Voelker), the film has a polished Hollywood-distressed quality to it giving it a real feel. Shot on location in Michigan's Upper Peninsula the use of the natural resources and the capturing of them on camera supports the integrity of the film.
Little things slow us down and draw attention to the humanity of the actions moving across the screen like the way Eve Arden’s legal secretary Maida Rutledge props open the screen door of the home office where she works before setting up for the day, the natural way that James Stewart’s Paul Biegler moves around the real-location kitchen in the film, and the aural ambience of the actual rooms of the houses and buildings of the location, the way the angles of the walls and the furniture standout making it look so different from the cheated way studio-constructed rooms appear.
There’s something particularly captivating about the detailed activity of professionals, and when it is enlivened by the flourishes of star-quality actors the result appears like the well-wrought courtroom-drama of Anatomy of a Murder. The dialogue moves along with the natural twists and non sequiturs of real conversation, and the court room scenes are plainly presented allowing the actors’ motivation to supply the drive and logic of the narrative.
The performances are standouts, and director Otto Preminger allows each actor a memorable place onscreen. James Stewart perfectly inhabits the personal world of rumpled intelligent lawyer Paul Biegler, and his scenes with the alluring and excellently showcased Lee Remick as the sexy Laura Manion bounce and shine like no others in the film. George C. Scott's slick professional energy enlivens his cinematic debut. Small roles add a wealth of support like Eve Arden’s independent-minded Maida Rutledge, and Ben Gazarra’s admitted killer Lt. Frederick Manion.
The core of the film makes it clear that the issues at hand are not innocence or guilt as those are made clear at the opening. What is really being discussed is how the mechanisms of legal process functions to handle moral dilemmas of murder. We learn about the character of the murdered man through the dialogue of his niece Kathryn Grant’s somber Mary Pilant and the man seems no better or worse than any man.
Ultimately the questions left are: Should a man be murdered for rape which does not include penetration? Does mere violation of a woman’s privacy carry a death sentence? The film never decides resolutely, but only shows how the legal process works to free an admitted guilty man. The film leaves this question hanging for the viewer to decide.
Read all 12 Reviews
Write a Review
Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Good for Groups
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older