Wednesday, April 13, 2011

342. Anatomy of a Murder (1959)

Running Time: 160 minutes
Directed By: Otto Preminger
Written By: Wendell Mayes, from novel by John D. Voelker
Main Cast: James Stewart, Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara, George C. Scott, Arthur O'Connell


I've had "Anatomy of a Murder" sitting at my desk, from Netflix, for the better part of the past month, but kept putting it off because other movies seemed to be more pressing. "Anatomy of a Murder" has been a film that I've wanted to see for the longest time and today I was finally able to check it out...I wasn't disappointed.

Paul Biegler (Stewart) is a former district attorney, who now spends his days fishing and handling mostly divorce proceedings. When Biegler returns home from another weekend fishing, his colleague Parnell (O'Connell) informs him that there's a case he simply must take. The case involves Frederick Manion (Gazzara), a U.S. Army Lieutenant who is being held for the murder of Barney Quill. Manion's excuse for killing Quill, is that Quill raped and beat Mrs. Manion (Remick) and that in a state of "irresistible impulse" he murdered Quill without having no definite recollection of the events a.k.a. temporary insanity. Biegler eventually decides to take the case and gains a bit of confidence when he and Parnell find a precedent of irresistible impulse. However, any confidence that the defense had, goes right out the door when the prosecuting attorney brings in a big shot lawyer from nearby, big city Lansing to assist, in the form of Claude Dancer (Scott). Once the film establishes the facts, it's time for us to sit in along with the fictitious jury and develop our own ideas (as viewers) as to whether or not Mr. Manion is guilty, not guilty or insane.


I remember when I was a kid and a night would come where my Mom and Dad would get up the desire to watch a movie. We'd all head down to our local video store and we'd spend the next half an hour or so flipping over cellophane covered, VHS cases in search of that great film that we'd take home and watch. I remember my Dad used to LOVE courtroom dramas and usually whatever he picked, I'd end up watching as well. I watched a lot of courtroom dramas when I was a kid and whether I understood them or not was irrelevant. Too bad my Dad wasn't a fan of older movies, or this one would've been a top contender to take home on one of those evenings.

This is probably one of the best courtroom dramas I've ever seen and I'm glad that we get right down to it when it comes to getting inside the courtroom, calling witnesses and yelling objections. I like the structure of this film and how we spend about an hour or so getting all the facts, basically following Biegler around and getting as much information as he does, uncovering things right along with him. We're not sure, just as he's not sure if his own client is guilty or innocent, but as viewers we form our own opinions. I, for one, would like to think that Mr. Manion was guilty and that he had control of all of his faculties when he killed Quill. Laura Manion never really seemed to me to portray a woman who has recently been sexually violated. The two as a couple really didn't even seem all that close and sometimes Mr. Manion would give her little glances that seemed to say, "If I ever get outta' here, you're in for it!"

Or maybe Frederick Manion was innocent and for that short period of time when he killed Quill, he was "out of it". That's the beauty of "Anatomy of a Murder", you basically get to experience what it feels like to be on a jury and because it's a movie, it's going to be more exciting than any real life court case. You're going to be treated to surprise witnesses and judges who make little comical comments at random times throughout the case. Stewart and Scott both did excellent jobs, in my opinion. Stewart seemed to break his "aw shucks" persona, just a little bit and threw words like panties around and banged on table tops with the palm of his hand. Scott, while his role wasn't huge, also delivered a dynamite performance and was even intimidating me a little, as he'd get two inches away from a witnesses face and assault them with a barrage of questions.

If there was anything I didn't like about the film, I'd have to say it was the ending. As far as I'm concerned, the film should've been over when the jury read their verdict. Instead we get a scene that really feels tacked on and irrelevant, as Biegler and Parnell go to The Manion's home to collect their debt and find they'd skipped town.

RATING: 7.5/10 Not perfect, but very good and how can you knock a courtroom drama that allows George C. Scott and Jimmy Stewart to verbally duke it out and show off their acting muscle.


April 13, 2011 5:13pm

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