Sunday, November 29, 2009

Anatomy of a Murder

This is one of the most realistic courtroom dramas on film. No crazy speeches, no lawyers gone wild, no "you're out of order!", just serious drama based on an actual murder case. Anatomy of a Murder follows the true case of an army officer that kills a bar owner in Northern Michigan. He hires a down-on-his-luck attorney, played by Jimmy Stewart, to defend him. Since the killer was seen by many witnesses, his guilt is never in doubt. But how will the trial play out? Can Stewart work some legal magic and get an acquittal or will the State's Attorney, played by George C. Scott, obtain justice?

The film is based on a Robert Traver novel. Traver is the pen name of John D. Voelker. Voelker was a Michigan Supreme Court Justice who worked on the case. This personal involvement leads to a gritty realism in the film. Adding to the realism, the judge in the film was played by Joseph Welch. Welch was the lawyer who represented the U.S. Army in the Army/McCarthy hearings during the fifties. Having such established legal officials involved definitely adds to this film. Director Otto Preminger chose to film on location in Northern Michigan and used many locals as extras and to fill small speaking parts for further realism.

The film has a fine Duke Ellington score. He wrote and performed the music and makes a cameo appearance playing alongside Stewart. The jazz further contributes to the depth of story and character achieved by Preminger and the fine cast. Stewart as the defense lawyer, Ben Gazzara as the defendant, George C. Scott as the State's attorney, Arthur O'Connell as Stewart's partner and Lee Remick as Gazzara's wife are all excellent. Stewart, Scott and O'Connell each received an acting academy award nomination for this film. Anatomy of a Murder was also nominated for Best Picture in 1960, losing out to 'Ben Hur'.

Outstanding courtroom drama without the usual cinema histrionics. Accurate and believable, Anatomy of a Murder is a "must-see" for movie fans.

Filmed in 1959, directed by Otto Preminger, written by Wendell Mayes, starring Jimmy Stewart, Arthur O'Connell, Ben Gazzara, Lee Remick and George C. Scott.

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