A work of art for sure. Anatomy of a Murder, Otto Preminger’s remarkable humorous whodunit with one of the tensest, strangest, funniest, and most provocative courtroom dramas ever, still 58 years later.
Talk about perfect casting. James Stewart as Paul Biegler, a small-town lawyer with a love of fishing, but no flies on him in the courtroom. Lee Remick as sexy Laura Manion, a possible rape victim-wife of her untrustworthy husband played by a cocky Ben Gazzara who murders her suspected attacker. Arthur O’Connell as Biegler’s mentor-associate who ‘comes off the wagon’ to help his friend. Eve Arden as Biegler’s smart-mouthed secretary. A young George C. Scott as a sly, crafty, sarcastic prosecutor. Murray Hamilton as Paquette, the snide, lustful bartender who backs up the supposed killer. A very funny Joseph N. Welch as the judge who steals many scenes. And comedian Orson Bean as a visiting psychiatrist.
The legendary Saul Bass devised the effective titles and the legendary Duke Ellington crafted the exceptional jazz soundtrack. (The latter also makes a guest appearance in a bar scene.) Wendell Mayes wrote one of the best screenplays of the 1950s based on a real-life trial shot on location for this film. Sam Leavitt is responsible for the very effective, gritty black-and-white look of this masterpiece.
Producer-director Otto Preminger was famous for his various daring, ground-breaking films, he of The Man with Golden Arm–about heroin addiction. The language of the courtroom in this classic is frank for its time: e.g., the words “rape”, “sperm”, and “panties”. The movie was recognized for its daringness and worthily nominated for seven Oscars.
The excellent Criterion version (pictured above) contains many interesting extras including an interview with Preminger, information about the Ellington score, Saul Bass’s contribution, newsreel footage, a William F. Buckley, Jr. interview with Preminger, a booklet essay, photographs, and excerpts from a book about the film.
Anatomy of a Murder is high on entertainment value and aesthetics, and puts most Hollywood and Netflix films today to downright shame. No, they sure don’t make ’em like they used to.