Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Anatomy of a Murder (1959)

Spanish film poster.

Anatomy of a Murder
Director: Otto Preminger
USA 1959
160 min
Starring: James Stewart, George C. Scott, Lee Remick, Eve Arden, Ben Gazarra and Arthur O'Connell, among others.

What a wonderful day. I've been lost in dream land for 12+ hours on sleeping pills. I have played all interesting Nintendo DS games. I am late with my "Birthdays of the week" again. I saw that The Barretts of Wimpole Street was aired on TCM, a Norma Shearer film I've wanted to see for quite some time, but realized that it instead was a pretty mediocre 1957 adaption with Jennifer Jones. At least John Gielgud was a little fun to watch as a creepy kind-of-incestuous father, and Miss Jones is indeed a good actress. But it was pretty boring.
Another old film was shown on a Swedish channel, but it turned out to be a typical Sunday matinée that my dad probably sneaked in to the theater to watch when he was a kid. Dick Tracy vs. Cueball (1946) sounded good enough to watch, but no. All men in too big trench coats and hats, ridiculous villains and ladies in distress looking like Ed Wood dressed up as Glenda. I'm in a rotten mood. I'll see if writing a review makes me less grouchy.

Ha! I just read that Dick Tracy vs. Cuball is included in the book "The fifty worst film of all time". I'm already happier.
By the way, another irritating thing. I had to activate the word verification thingy again. They always annoy me, but now I have gotten so much spam about Russian Viagra pills and Chinese mail order brides that I give up. I hope you will still make the effort of leaving a comment to me.

The cinematic similarities between Anatomy of a Murder and the director's four year older film The Man with the Golden Arm (1955) is amusingly noticeable right from the "cartoony" ingress. Anatomy of a Murder takes place in a dark, dirty small town, while the other film takes place in a dark and dirty big city. I like Preminger's realistic touch and the moody jazz music, although it might serve as depressing if you're in the wrong mood. However, Anatomy of a Murder includes a lot more comic relief (if yet mildly) than the previous film, especially in the form of Arthur O'Connell and Eve Arden.

The plot is simple and chronological:

Paul Biegler (Stewart) is a local ex-prosecutor in a small American town, who spends his time drinking and fishing since his clientèle has decreased latter years. He soon finds himself accepting a murder case as a defense lawyer, however, and at his side are his two loyal friends; unpaid secretary Maida Rutledge (Arden) and senior drunkard Parnell Emmett McCarthy (O'Connell).
The case looks like this: Barney Quill, a popular bartender, has been killed by Lt. Frederick Manion (Gazarra) after having raped Manion's flirtatious wife Laura (Remick). Manion pleads not guilty in court, and Biegler does his best to convince the jury that Manion was temporarily insane, or "an uncontrollable impulse". The defendant finds a great enemy in the famous state attorney Gen. Claude Dancer (Scott).

The film is long, but it's worth the wait. The courtroom scenes are incredible, at least if you're able to read between the lines. Biegler and Dancer both make outrageous outbursts at times, and if you don't think too hard about it it might seem ridiculous. "What are they, school boys? Not professional at all!" But once you consider the most important of all in a court case, tactics, then you get the picture. Both Biegler and Dancer put on acts, and even though they know that some questions and comments will raise an objection, the remarks still reach the jury and manipulates them. It's really clever and sneaky, once you consider it.

Anatomy of a Murder caused a great deal of controversy when it was released in 1959. At that time the Hay's Code had started to give in a bit, and many people seeing the film heard words like "panties", "contraceptive", "bitch", "sperm", "rape" and "slut" for the first time on the big screen. James Stewart's own dad was extremely offended by the film, and even wrote an add to the local newspaper to tell people not to watch the film.

Not surprisingly, George C. Scott steals the scenes in Anatomy of a Murder just as he does five years later in Dr. Strangelove (1964).

One certain aspect of the film related to me more than the rest: the character of Laura Manion, played to perfection by Lee Remick. I can see that many people would suspect her for exaggerating the rape - after all, she is a flirty slut who probably just wanted some attention from her husband. Maybe she was rejected by the bartender Quill, and took revenge for it by making up a rape story.
It is fairly obvious that some characters in the film have those opinions, especially Gen. Dancer and another bartender (and witness to the murder).

Maybe it's just me, but I feel that Laura's character is deeper than that. She states several times that she feels lonely, and that's why she goes down to the bar to meet strangers. Any woman that ever had a jealous boyfriend/husband like Mr. Manion knows what kind of loneliness Laura talks about, and understand her flirtatious personality. When constantly under suspicion of being unfaithful, a woman feels lonely and rejected - causing her to find confirmation among others. It's a bad circle but a very common one.

Now I feel that I am rambling, but I wanted to mention something about the Laura character.

Some funny trivia:

Jazz legend Duke Ellington makes a cameo as the musician Pie-Eye, playing piano alongside James Stewart.

Judge Weaver is played by real-life attorney Joseph N. Welch, who represented the United States Army in the Army-McCarthy Hearings. Famous for saying "Have you no sense of decency, sir?" to Senator Joseph McCarthy during the hearings.

John D. Voelker and James Stewart. I wonder how much Mr. Stewart suffered for smoking those cigars the entire film?

The original novel for Anatomy of a Murder was written by John D. Voelker (using the pen name Robert Traver), a real-life judge.

It was ranked #7 on the American Film Institute's list of the 10 greatest films in the genre "Courtroom Drama", and the poster was voted as #1 of "The 25 Best Movie Posters Ever" by Premiere.


Kate Gabrielle said...

Great review, Lolita! I hope your day is going better now :)

I completely understand what you said about Lee Remick's character-- I think in a lot of movies the loose women are described as being awfully one dimensional when that's not really the case.

Kim said...

Oh another great courtroom drama (and one of my favorite Jimmy Stewart pictures). I've always liked movies where in the end we don't know exactly what the truth is in the end. It sort of reminds me of Rashomon in a way. And I always liked how Stewart's character showed that in the court room it's about winning not about the truth.

Mykal said...

Lolita: Great post per your usual! I love that you saw extra depth in the Lee Remick character (what a suprise there!). I think Remick was always somehow sympathetic, even when (especially when) whe was playing bad girls. What a beauty she was.

George C. Scott was such a powerhouse. Put him in a scene, and the scene was his. -- Mykal

Kim said...

Oh and about Laura, I think she is meant to be like every other character. You are supposed to not be entirely sure if she is telling the truth or not. Laura, her husband, and the guy who died all had something mis-trustful about them which is supposed to cast doubt. But we can't know in the end whose story is the most truthful.Perhaps everyone lied in the end to protect themselves (or the image of someone else in the case of the murder victim)

Of course if I put on my modern goggles I do have some issues with how Laura's rape is portrayed. It shouldn't matter if she "lead" the guy on. Rape is rape. Too often in our society the victim in a rape case seems to be blamed. And I think we can see what the common thought was in regards to rape in the late 50's (of course sadly I don't think a lot has changed today).

Amanda said...

I love this film. Just watched it again on TCM a few days ago. Fantastic review.

Lolita said...

Kate G:
It got much better after writing a review, thank you! :D
I'm glad you could interpret what I meant about the Laura character! Somehow I didn't manage to put it as simply as you did!

I haven't seen Rashomon yet, but that title has popped up several times during the last days so I think I will have to check it up!
I think a lot of the message with this film is just what you said - a rape is a rape, and it doesn't matter whether or not Laura was flirting with Quilt or not. It's not like a woman is flirting to get a man in bed, a lot of women (including me) are flirty in their personality.

Thank you! I was tired and pissed off when I wrote the review, so I'm glad you think it turned out good anyway.
I really like Lee Remick after having seen her in this film and Days of Wine and Roses. She is perfect for these kind of roles: those who look simple on the outside, but are a lot more complex under the surface.
Oh, George C. Scott... What an actor! He's great as a slimy, dubious attorney. But I guess he peaked with his role in Dr. Strangelove!

Thank you! I love courtroom dramas, something that has become fairly obvious with my latest film choices I guess!

Anonymous said...

A wonderful review Lolita, of a truly wonderful film. I enjoyed this one so much when I first watched it, and already an avid Stewart fan, I loved Scott in it too. Strangelove is on my tivo, and I can't wait to see that one!

Kathryn Grant also makes a memorable appearence. (She was married to Bing Crosby, but you must know that)!

Again, excellent job, and feel better!

Lolita said...

Thanks a lot, Harley! I actually did not know that Grayson was Crosby's wife, so thanks for that information! I think her character in Anatomy of a Murder was pretty interesting. I love when she stares Dancer in the eyes and tells him "Quilt was my father!", after his cocky insinuations that she was his lover. Ha!

Anonymous said...

That was my absolute favorite scene of the film! The look on both their faces...such a quality film.

Christopher said...

whaaat!..dosen't like Dick Tracy vs. Cueball??..heh heh..
I have Anatomy of a Murder sitting out here to watch again..I like it ok,but with alot of Preminger movies,it dosen't quite peak..good performances and scenes..and great music..I was so shocked to here Jimmy of all people mention the word Panties the first time as a kid! lol..I can just picture his dad and the folks back home..

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