Otto Preminger directs James Stewart, Lee Remick and Ben Gazzara in this courtroom drama where a reluctant defence attorney becomes intrigued by a case where a husband kills his wife’s rapist… possibly.
When you think about it, it is surprising how few courtroom dramas spend a significant amount of their runtime in the courtroom. Anatomy of a Murder has an preamble hour where Stewart’s folksy smartie decides whether to take the case, researches it and the law. But then we spend pretty much an extra feature length actually in front of the judge. We watch the theatrics of the judicial system and the pressures put on witness. And the ever loveable, completely trustworthy James Stewart is our handholding guide. Watching him expertly navigate the less reliable characters (all played by that new fangled method acting sort) is part of the joy. Gazzara is a little awkward in his rage fuelled defendant role but George C Scott makes an impression in an early turn as an out-of-town prosecutor. The real stand out is Lee Remick… she not only always looks fantastic despite playing a rape victim and a beaten wife but her cutesy flirt act appears to be a smokescreen for a far tougher cookie who occasionally pops out from the cover. That’s the superb thing about Anatomy of a Murder… you don’t get any flashbacks… the witnesses, victims and accused are clearly all lying about something. We never get the actual truth. Even in the final shot, a cynical coda worthy of Billy Wilder, after the verdict has been won, we aren’t really sure of anyone’s fate. It takes a long road to get there… it really feels like two movies playing in tandem… but there is plenty of racy material, fine shots, memorable moments and superb performances within. Another great jazz score too by Duke Ellington who has a cameo.
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