ANATOMY OF A MURDER (1959)
Directed by Otto Preminger and starring James Stewart in one of his greatest roles, ANATOMY OF A MURDER is the grandfather of courtroom dramas and its influence on the genre cannot be understated.
When Army lieutenant Frederick Manion (Ben Gazzara) is arrested for the murder of a local bartender who allegedly beat and raped his wife Laura (Lee Remick), defense attorney Paul Biegler(James Stewart) takes the case.
The odds are stacked against Manion as there’s no question whether he shot the bartender. What’s up for debate was whether he was in full control of his faculties when he did. Is this a case of temporary insanity or is Manion playing the system to get away with a revenge killing.
Making matters worse is the rocky relationship between Manion and his wife as well as her promiscuity, which is brought into question during the lengthy trial.
At a run time of 2 hours and 40 minutes, the film certainly takes it time, but it’s never boring or slow. There’s always an interesting twist to keep the pace chugging along at a good pace.
This is further assisted by the fantastic performances across the board. Joining Stewart, Gazzara and Remick are Arthur O’Connell as Biegler’s hard drinking partner, George C. Scott as the polished prosecuting attorney and JAWS’ Murray Hamilton as the main witness to the crime.
Those familiar with courtroom dramas might feel that ANATOMY OF A MURDER is quaint and a little old fashioned compared to the ultra-slick versions that play these days, but these contemporary films would not be what they are if it had not been for Preminger’s film which defined the genre.
For fans of jazz (which I am not), The score was written and performed by Duke Ellington who has a cameo in the film as well. ANATOMY also features a Saul Bass opening title sequence that sets the stage for what’s to come.
If you have some free time on your hands and you want to watch a true classic than I can’t recommend the film enough. And for those who for some reason can’t handle watching “old films,’ sometimes it’s important to understand the past to truly appreciate the present.