135 of 141 people found the following review helpful
Based on the famous Traver novel, ANATOMY OF A MURDER is an extremely complex film that defeats easy definition. In some respects it is a social document of the era in which it was made; primarily, however, it is a detailed portrait of the law at work and the machinizations and motivations of the individuals involved in a seemingly straight-forward case--and in the process it raises certain ethical issues re attorney behavior and the lengths to which an attorney might go to win a case.
Paul Biegler (James Stewart) is a small-town lawyer who has recently lost a re-election for the position of District Attorney and who is down on his luck--when a headline-making case involving assault, alleged rape, and murder drops into his lap. As the case evolves, there is no question about the identity of the killer. But a smart lawyer might be able to get him off just the same and redeem his own career in the process, and with the aid of an old friend (Arthur O'Connell) and his formidable secretary (Eve Arden), Biegler sets out to do precisely that. Opposing him in the courtroom is Claude Dancer (George C. Scott), a high powered prosecutor who is equally determined to get a conviction... and who is no more adverse to coaching a witness than Biegler himself. The two square off in a constantly shifting battle for the jury, a battle that often consists of underhanded tactics on both sides.
The performances are impressive, with James Stewart ideally cast as the attorney for the defense, Ben Gazzara as his unsavory client, and a truly brilliant Lee Remick as the sexy and disreputable wife who screams rape where just possibly none occurred; O'Connell, Arden, and Scott also offer superior performances. The script is sharp, cool, and meticulous, the direction and cinematography both effective and completely unobtrusive, and the famous jazz score adds quite a bit to the film as a whole. Although we can't help rooting for Stewart, as the film progresses it seems more and more likely that Remick is lying through her teeth and Gazzara is as guilty as sin--but the film balances its elements in such a way as to achieve a disturbing ambiguity that continues right through to the end. If you expect a courtroom thriller with sudden revelations and twists you'll likely be disappointed in ANATOMY OF A MURDER, but if you want a thought-provoking take on the law you'd be hard pressed to find one better. Recommended.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer
77 of 83 people found the following review helpful
Otto Preminger, who produced and directed this fine courtroom drama starring James Stewart, Lee Remick, George C. Scott and Ben Gazzara, had a knack for translating best-selling mid-cult novels to the screen (The Man with the Golden Arm (1955); Exodus (1960); Advise and Consent (1962) and others) usually in a nervy manner, sometimes heavy-handed, sometimes pretentious, but always worth a look. Part of his secret was star power. Like Hitchcock, he liked to go with big names supported by fine character actors. And part of his secret was his long experience in both the theater and films going back to the silent film era. He knew how to put together a movie. But more than anything it was his near-dictatorial control over the production (something directors seldom have today, and never in big budget films--Preminger's were big budget for his day) that allowed him to successfully capture the movie-going audience at midcentury.
This and Laura (1944) are two of his films that go beyond the merely commercial and achieve something that can be called art. Seeing this for the first time forty-three years after it was released I was struck by the fine acting all around and the sturdy, well-constructed direction. James Stewart's performance as the Michigan north country lawyer Paul Biegler might shine even more luminously than it does except for a certain performance by Gregory Peck three years later as a southern country lawyer in the unforgettable To Kill a Mockingbird (1962). Lee Remick, in a frank, but imperfect imitation of Marilyn Monroe, co-stars as Laura Manion, the wife of army Lt. Frederick Manion (Gazzara) whom Bielger is defending on a murder charge. The defense is temporary insanity because the man he shot raped his wife. Bielger slyly gains sympathy for his client by deliberately allowing it to come out that Laura is sexy and flirtatious enough to drive any man crazy. Indeed, he tricks the prosecution into doing his work for him. George C. Scott plays Claude Dancer, a big city prosecutor, with snake-like precision while Gazzara manages to combine introspection and cockiness as the young lieutenant. Fine support comes from Eve Arden (best known as Our Miss Brooks on TV and in the movie of that name) as Biegler's loyal secretary and Arthur O'Connell as his alcoholic mentor. Kathryn Grant, who gave up a promising film career to marry Bing Crosby and have children, has a modest role as the murdered man's daughter.
I've seen many courtroom dramas, some real, some fictional, since this film first appeared, but I have to say it stands up well. The action (for the most part) feels realistic and the tension is nicely created and maintained. The resolution is satisfying and the ending is as sly and subtle as any country lawyer might want. Incidentally, if this movie had more total votes cast at IMDb, it would rank in the top one hundred of all time, which is where it belongs.
See this for James Stewart whose easy, adroit style under Preminger's direction found full range. Although he gave many fine performances, I don't think Stewart was ever better than he was here.
41 of 45 people found the following review helpful
This film hooks you in the first minute with Saul Bass' brilliant titles and Duke Ellington's music, and then has you caught for the duration in the next few scenes; the dialogue is sharp and intelligent, and at the age of 50, Jimmy Stewart gives one of the best performances of his illustrious career, as Paul Biegler, an attorney who would rather be fishing than getting fees for his work. Stewart is so natural, so real, and so immensely likable. He's the kind of guy you wish you could have in your family, but wily enough to argue a good defense in court.
Lee Remick has just the right amount of provocative sensuality as Laura Manion to make one wonder what exactly happened on the "fateful night" in question.
After playing Southern belles in both "A Face in the Crowd" (1957) and "The Long Hot Summer" (1958), Remick was offered the role of Laura because Lana Turner, who was supposed to play the part, refused to wear an "off-the-rack" wardrobe, and wanted dresses designed by Jean Louis (hardly what a Army wife would be wearing). It was a big break for Remick, and she makes the most of it.
The entire supporting cast is superb: Ben Gazzara as the intense Lt. Manion, Arthur O'Connell as Biegler's assistant and friend, Eve Arden as Biegler's loyal secretary. George C. Scott is Dancer, the Assistant State Attorney, and Joseph N. Welch, who gained fame for being the Special Counsel for the Army in the Army-McCarthy Congressional hearings, is a delight as Judge Weaver. Duke Ellington makes a cameo appearance as Pie Eye, and even Muffy the beer drinking dog does a great job. Otto Preminger's direction flows at a lovely pace, with a balance between the dramatic tension and thoughtful scenes tinged with humor.
There were Oscar nominations for Best Actor, Supporting Actor (both O'Connell and Scott), Picture, and Editing (all losing to "Ben Hur"), as well as Sam Leavitt's beautiful b&w cinematography (lost to "The Diary of Anne Frank") and Wendell Mayes marvelous screenplay adaptation of the Robert Traver best-seller (lost to "Room at the Top"), proving that 1959 was a great year at the movies.
I love courtroom dramas, and this is one of the best ever made; it's unpredictable, with a very authentic feel to it, perhaps because the author, using the pen name of "Robert Traver", was actually Michigan Supreme Court Justice John D. Voelker.
Total running time is 160 minutes.
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on February 1, 2002
A couple of years ago, there was a poll conducted among legal professionals (lawyers, judges, etc.) on what they felt was the best and most accurate courtroom picture ever made. "Anatomy of a Murder" was the unanimous choice. Those seeking to enter the legal profession will certainly enjoy this film, but so will those who have a love for classic Hollywood films. Otto Preminger was one of the best directors working in the Hollywood when the studio system began to collapse, and this is probably his best film.
Tightly constructed with a superb cast and crisp writing, this is mainstream entertainment of the highest order.
Never one to let censorship interfer with reality, Preminger often tackled controversial subjects without sanitizing it. His groundbreaking films no longer seem controversial today, but because he never flinches from his subject matter, his films tend to date better than most of the period.
People have complained that this DVD is pan and scan. While it is full frame, it's not actually pan and scan. The film was originally photographed in a way that captured a full frame image, but was intended to be shown in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio with the aid of a matte. As such, the film was composed for this aspect ratio. What they did for this DVD is transfer the entire image, exposing parts of the frame that was never meant to be shown. As a result, you have massive headroom in some shots, much more than originally intended, and the added open space ruins the tight compositions that were intended for each shot.
Of course, there are people out there who could care less and just want to fill their TV screens. However, if you really want to see the film in an appropriate setting, seek out the import version of this DVD at amazon.co.uk, which has been matted to the appropriate 1.85:1 aspect ratio.
90 of 114 people found the following review helpful
on December 10, 2007
The original aspect ratio of this film is 1:85:1 (see IMDB).
The US DVD box from Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment contradicts this, saying:
"This film is presented in a FULL SCREEN VERSION which preserves the original theatrical aspect ratio, approximately 1:33:1."
In civil society, this may be called false advertising. The box does not contain what the box says it contains.
The DVD itself warns as it begins playing that the film "has been modified to fit your TV". In other words, it was re-edited in the 80s or 90s by another (anonymous) director/editor using the notorious 'pan and scan' technique, which cuts off the right and left edges of widescreen films, and adds new camera movements and re-scales some images to make certain that the action remains on screen in the new, square-ish ratio.
Amazon's Internet Movie Database correctly identifies the aspect ratio. Columbia distributes THAT version in Europe (which is why when you search for this film on Amazon, the European release comes up too). If you buy that version in the US, you'll pay a little more, and you'll have to use a region-free dvd player to view it. Here's the link for that version:
Anatomy of a Murder European DVD
Your second option is to buy this movie from Amazon Unbox, which presents it in its correct aspect ratio:
Anatomy Of A Murder from Amazon Unbox
Your third option is to wait on buying this until they release the original.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on March 28, 2007
"Anatomy of a Murder" is a solid courtroom drama set in the rural Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Shot in stark black and white, AM has an ominous aura from the opening scene. Ben Gazzara is an Army lieutenant who kills the bar owner who supposedly raped his wife (Lee Remick). There is no question who committed the murder, only if the act was defensible. Also in doubt is who is telling the complete truth, who deserves sympathy-or punishment- or even if an actual rape occurred. How consensual was Remick? That Remick is neither the most sympathetic of victims nor Remick/Gazzara the most upstanding couple add to the mystery. The pair is not to be confused with Ozzie and Harriet! Jimmy Stewart is the small town lawyer who agrees to defend Gazzara. JS bases his case on the slippery premise of temporary insanity. AM soon enough turns into a duel between Jimmy and hot shot mouthpiece George C. Scott-brought up from the "big town" of Lansing to prosecute BG. The in court duel between the lawyers is as good as will be found on any silver screen, as is the out of court scramble to produce witnesses and gather evidence. Listen to the infections in Stewart's voice! This reviewer was initially leery of the 160 minute run time, but length is not an issue here. Viewer interest is certain to be maintained. (According to an old "Variety" review, Director/Producer Otto Preminger insisted on releasing AM quickly, leaving no time to edit or cut). The supporting cast is outstanding, notably Arthur O'Connell and Eve Arden playing Stewart's assistants. AM received Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor (Stewart), Best Supporting Actor (Scott and O'Connell) and Best Adapted Screenplay- all to no avail. 1959 was the year of "Ben Hur". Tom O'Neil's "Movie Awards" states "the Oscar runways were greased for "Ben Hur". Cynics will love AM. Guilt or innocence is highly subjective here. The final scene with Stewart and O'Connell in the trailer camp where Remick and Gazarra lived is a gem. It captures the ambiguity of AM perfectly. On a final note, the black and white format is a huge part of the movie. "Anatomy of a Murder" is one more example of why old b&w movies should never be colorized.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on August 20, 2012
In addition to an incredibly great transfer of my favorite picture, Criterion Collection shows what a class act they are. No unskippable ads; but a disc filled with truly interesting, relevant extras. This is what the medium is supposed to be like.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on October 19, 2003
Otto Preminger is probably one of the least understood and under appreciated directors from the 1940's -1960's, but truth be known he was responsible for some of the most interesting, popular and well made movies from this era: Anatomy of a Murder, Carmen Jones, The Man with the Golden Arm, Laura, Advise and Consent. He was one of the few directors that could handle serious subject matter with style and grace without becoming preachy and maudlin.
"Anatomy of a Murder" is one of his best: perfect, spot-on casting, eloquent screenplay, truthful performances, and gorgeous black and white photography. Jimmy Stewart, who seemed to be able to realistically portray anyone from any era and social status, plays a small town lawyer hired to defend a soldier, Ben Gazarra for murdering a man accused of raping his wife, Lee Remick. Gazzara and Remick are first rate but it is a non-actor, real judge Joseph N. Welch who almost steals the movie away from all three principals, which only proves that Preminger was a smart cookie...a smart cookie, indeed.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Risqué for its time, and certainly profound and entertaining; `Anatomy of a Murder' is a very well done courtroom drama with some excellent performances. What's exceedingly nice about this film is that it ages very well, despite the change in times. Sure, some of the court outbursts seem rather humorous to us today (beings that `panties' is a word only immature frat boys find funny) but the entirety of the film still rings very true, and the entertainment value has not diminished over the years.
The film tells of small-town lawyer Paul Biegler who takes on the case of defending an army lieutenant who is accused of murdering a man he believes attacked his wife. As Paul gets to know the victim, Laura Manion, he realizes that she may not be being entirely truthful; but his attraction to her and his desire to win the case cloud his better judgment.
Let's talk a little bit about Lee Remick. I just kind of laid into her acting a bit on my review for `Days of Wine and Roses', where I found her to be awkward and unconvincing. I had seen this movie first and so I was really anticipating her performance alongside Lemmon. The fact is, I thought she was marvelous here. She really nails her character. Some have balked at her being unbelievable as a victim, but that is entirely the point. We are supposed to second guess her motives, and right from the very beginning she appears to be a young girl who screwed up and is trying to act her way out of her mistake. She captures the ambiguity rather well, playing to her strengths by trying to seduce others into believing her.
James Stewart is very good here, but he is outshone by Remick and a very seedy George C. Scott (can you say one of the best supporting actors of the late 50's, early 60's).
`Anatomy of a Murder' is a very rewarding cinematic experience, rich with character development (I love the way Stewart is able to create a complete internal change within Paul) and realistic story progression. The end result is something very entertaining. I have to say this, it is not as brilliant as some have laid claim to, nor is it something truly groundbreaking; but it is very, very good. The acting is all spot on and the ending in particular is appropriate and adds a nice layer of intrigue as our perceptions of the truth are either confirmed or completely turned on their heads.
I'm not a huge fan of these courtroom type films, but this one sold me, so major props for that. It also made me really want to read the novel by John D. Voelker. I'd recommend this without any hesitation.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Anatomy of a Murder (Otto Preminger, 1957)
To call Anatomy of a Murder the definitive courtroom film is, perhaps, not going quite far enough. Sure, there had been others, and there are certainly other classic courtroom dramas, but Anatomy of a Murder seems to be the basis for the outpouring of courtroom films and TV shows we have today; the bickering of the lawyers, the badgering of the witnesses, the bamboozling of the jury.
The plot is very straightforward, compared to Law and Order or CSI: a man (Ben Gazzara) kills his wife (Lee Remick)'s rapist. A down-on-his-luck lawyer, Paul Biegler (James Stewart) is handed the case soon after he lost the county prosecutor election to Claude Dancer (George C. Scott). Biegler takes the case, as much to get one up on Dancer as for the case itself, but while things, as Biegler believed, are not as open-and-shut as they seem, there's far more to the case than he originally thought, and none of it seems to be on his side.
It should go without saying that courtroom-drama-TV-show fans should consider this a must-see, but even if you never once watch Jerry Orbach flip a badge or William Petersen crack wise, this is a bang-up movie. The bast are phenomenal, every last one of them, and Wendell Mayes' script (adapted from Robert Traver's novel) is top-notch. Nowadays, the direction looks very familiar; that's because it's been done so much since. Despite that, however, the film still looks fresh and exciting. (My hypothesis is that this is because the film is in black and white, and we're used to seeing it in color with deodorant commercials interrupting it every fifteen minutes.) It's witty, it's intelligent, and it's got a cracking good mystery. Besides, how can you not like a film that was banned in Chicago? **** ½