Anatomy of a Murder


2h 40m 1959
Anatomy of a Murder

Brief Synopsis

A small-town lawyer gets the case of a lifetime when a military man avenges an attack on his wife.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Crime
Mystery
Adaptation
Film Noir
Release Date
Jul 1959
Premiere Information
World premiere in Detroit, MI: 1 Jul 1959; New York and Los Angeles openings: 2 Jul 1959
Production Company
Carlyle Productions, Inc.
Distribution Company
Columbia Pictures Corp.
Country
United States
Location
Ishpeming-Marquette, Michigan, USA; Ishpeming, Michigan, United States; Marquette, Michigan, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Anatomy of a Murder by Robert Traver (New York, 1957).

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 40m
Sound
Mono (Westrex Recording System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.85 : 1

Synopsis

Ever since losing his bid for reelection as the district attorney of Iron City, Michigan, attorney Paul "Polly" Biegler has sought solace in his two favorite hobbies, playing jazz on the piano and fishing. One day, when a woman named Laura Manion phones Paul and begs him to represent her husband Frederick, who has been arrested for murder, Parnell McCarthy, a lapsed lawyer who views life through the bottom of a liquor bottle, urges his friend Paul to accept. Because Paul had been on a fishing trip at the time of the murder, Parnell tells him about the case. Manion, an army lieutenant serving at a nearby base, has been charged with killing Barney Quill, a bartender who allegedly raped Laura. The next morning at the jailhouse, Paul meets Laura, who is sporting a black eye that she claims was inflicted by Quill during the rape. When Manion insolently asserts that the murder was justified by the rape, Paul experiences doubts about taking the case. After completing his conference with the Manions, Paul relates his feelings to Parnell, who urges him to take the case because he needs the money. Following Parnell's advice that it is a lawyer's duty to "guide" his client to the correct defense, Paul coaches Manion to say that he was insane at the time of the murder. Upon returning to his office, Paul finds the seductively dressed Laura waiting to see him. When he asks her to recount the night of the rape, she states that Quill offered her a ride home, but when they found the gates to her trailer park locked, he pulled off the road and raped and beat her. After Laura leaves, Paul asks Parnell to work with him on the case, but warns that he must "lay off the booze." Paul then informs Manion that he will represent him, and Manion, pleading poverty, asks the attorney to accept a promissory note. Later, as Laura flirts with Paul outside the jailhouse, Paul warns that her husband is watching. Knowing that Manion is insanely jealous, Laura flinches. Paul then proceeds to the bar in Thunder Bay where Quill worked. Although bartender Alphonse Paquette curtly responds to his questions, Paul ascertains that Mary Pilant, who manages Quill's Thunder Bay Hotel, now runs the bar. Paul's secretary, Maida Rutledge, and Parnell then try to unearth information about Mary and learn that she recently moved to Thunder Bay from Canada and that Quill was fiercely protective of her. That evening at a nightclub, Paul sees a rowdy Laura dancing with some soldiers and takes her home, warning that she must appear demure in order to give credibility to her husband's case. Laura shocks Paul when she responds that she would be glad if her husband was convicted, because then she could get away from him. With two days left before the start of the trial, Manion confers with army psychiatrist Matthew Smith, who diagnoses that he is suffering from "disassociative reaction" or, in layman's terms, an irresistible impulse to shoot Quill. While scouring the law books for a precedent on which to base their case, Parnell and Paul come upon an 1886 ruling in which the court concluded that the defendant was forced to commit a crime because of an impulse he was powerless to control. The following Monday, as the court is convened by visiting judge Weaver, Laura enters the room, dressed in a baggy suit, horn rimmed glasses and a hat. Mitch Lodwick, the relatively inexperienced new district attorney, has requested that Claude Dancer, an assistant attorney general from the "big city," serve as co-counsel. As testimony begins, Paul charges that the prosecution is suppressing evidence about the rape in order to insure that his client is convicted. When George Lemon, the manager of the trailer park, testifies that Manion admitted murdering Quill, Paul steers him into acknowledging that Laura had been severely beaten and that screams had been heard at the park gates on the night of the murder. Sgt. James Durgo then takes the stand, and Paul tricks him into admitting that the district attorney instructed him to substitute the phrase "some trouble" for rape. Overruling Mitch's objections about introducing the rape, the judge allows Paul to continue his line of questioning. Durgo then avers Laura was raped, although her panties were never found at the scene of the crime. Incensed by the turn of events, Dancer takes over the questioning and tries to portray Laura as a seductress. Paul rebuts his charge by stating that Laura's beauty drove her husband to murder the man who defaced her. Parnell had left the courtroom during the trial, and once court is adjourned for the day, Durgo informs Paul that his friend has been injured in an automobile accident, then takes him to Parnell's hospital room. There Parnell, who does not possess a driver's license, tells Paul that he drove to Canada to investigate Mary's past and has learned that she was Quill's illegitimate daughter. When the trial reconvenes, Paul tries to establish Laura's veracity by introducing the fact that she swore to her husband on a rosary that she was raped. As Dancer calls Laura to the stand, Mary enters the courtroom. After eliciting that Laura had previously been divorced, Dancer establishes that she has been ex-communicated from the Catholic Church and therefore her oath was meaningless. Dancer then suggests that her panties were never found because she was not wearing them and implies that she lied about being raped to prevent her insanely jealous husband from beating her. Paul then calls Dr. Smith to the stand to testify that the shooting was a case of "disassociative reaction." In his cross-examination of Smith, Dancer asks if Manion would have known right from wrong in that state. When Smith answers in the affirmative, Dancer smugly calls for a conference in the judge's chambers and argues that because Manion knew right from wrong, he cannot be adjudged legally insane. Paul then hands the judge a law book and asks him to turn to the 1886 court ruling that established the precedent for Manion's defense. Outfoxed by a man he incorrectly deduced was a folksy attorney, Dancer returns to the courtroom to call a surprise witness, Duane "Duke" Miller, an inmate who had been incarcerated with Manion. When Duke swears that Manion boasted that he fooled his attorney, his psychiatrist and that he will also fool the jury, Paul asks for a copy of the inmate's record. Paul then impugns his testimony by reading the litany of crimes for which he has been convicted, calling him an inveterate criminal and liar. After Paul returns to his seat, Maida whispers that Mary, who earlier had left the courtroom, is waiting in the hall to talk to him. Once Paul ushers Mary into the courtroom, she takes the stand and testifies that after learning of the missing panties, she returned to the hotel where she found them in the laundry chute next to Quill's room. When Dancer, believing that Mary was Quill's mistress, argues that someone else could have put them in the chute and that Mary brought them to court in revenge for Quill's interest in Laura, Mary invalidates his argument by revealing that she was Quill's daughter. The jurors adjourn after closing arguments and soon return with a not guilty verdict. After Manion is released, Paul and Parnell drive to the trailer park to collect Manion's promissory note. Upon arriving at the park, they are greeted by Lemon, who informs them that the Manions have gone. Lemon hands Paul a note from Manion, and tells him that Laura was in tears as the trailer pulled out. In the note, Manion explains that he was seized by an "irresistible impulse" to leave.

Photo Collections

Anatomy of a Murder - Movie Poster
Here is the American one-sheet movie poster designed by Saul Bass for Otto Preminger's Anatomy of a Murder (1950). One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.

Videos

Movie Clip

Anatomy Of A Murder (1959) - I've Seen Him In Action Hot-shot prosecutor Dancer (George C. Scott) entering the courthouse as the judge (Joseph N. Welch) briefs the jury, the local DA (Brooks West) and his defense attorney opponent Biegler (James Stewart) taking his measure, in Otto Preminger's Anatomy Of A Murder, 1959.
Anatomy Of A Murder (1959) - An Attractive Jiggle One of a tiny number of movie appearances by jazz pioneer Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington, who wrote the score, with sidemen including Paul Gonsalves on tenor, Cat Anderson on trumpet, lawyer Biegler (James Stewart) sitting in, before he finds and berates Laura (Lee Remick), wife of the soldier he’s defending on murder charges, because he killed the man who raped her, in Otto Preminger’s Anatomy Of A Murder, 1959.
Anatomy Of A Murder (1959) - Old Brown Books Upper Michigan attorney Paul Biegler (James Stewart), just returned from an extended solo fishing trip, getting up to date with tippling pal McCarthy (Arthur O'Connell), then taking an unexpected call from Laura Manion (Lee Remick), early in Otto Preminger's Anatomy Of A Murder, 1959.
Anatomy Of A Murder (1959) - Unwritten Law Famous scene, first meeting between former Michigan small-town prosecutor turned lackadaisical defense attorney Paul Biegler (James Stewart) and Lieutenant Manion (Ben Gazzara), jailed for killing his wife's assailant, early in Otto Preminger's Anatomy Of A Murder, 1959.
Anatomy Of A Murder (1959) - Not Once Not Ever Michigan attorney Biegler (James Stewart) has learned that saucy Laura (Lee Remick), a rape victim and the wife of his soldier client (Ben Gazzara), charged with killing her attacker, has passed a lie detector test, but he has further questions, in Otto Preminger's Anatomy Of A Murder, 1959.

Trailer

Hosted Intro

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Crime
Mystery
Adaptation
Film Noir
Release Date
Jul 1959
Premiere Information
World premiere in Detroit, MI: 1 Jul 1959; New York and Los Angeles openings: 2 Jul 1959
Production Company
Carlyle Productions, Inc.
Distribution Company
Columbia Pictures Corp.
Country
United States
Location
Ishpeming-Marquette, Michigan, USA; Ishpeming, Michigan, United States; Marquette, Michigan, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Anatomy of a Murder by Robert Traver (New York, 1957).

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 40m
Sound
Mono (Westrex Recording System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.85 : 1

Award Nominations

Best Actor

1959
James Stewart

Best Cinematography

1959

Best Editing

1959

Best Picture

1959

Best Supporting Actor

1959
Arthur O'Connell

Best Writing, Screenplay

1960

Articles

Anatomy of a Murder


Intercourse. Contraceptive. Spermatogenesis. Sexual climax. Panties. These were not the sort of words movie theatre audiences were used to hearing on the screen in 1959 but director Otto Preminger changed all that with his controversial courtroom drama, Anatomy of a Murder. It was a sure bet that the film's questionable dialogue would not pass through the Production Code office unnoticed but it wouldn't be the first time that Preminger had pushed the envelope with censorship issues in his movies. As early as 1951, he successfully challenged the Production Code over the right to use the word 'virgin' in the sex comedy, The Moon is Blue, and in 1955, he overcame opposition to his depiction of heroin addiction in The Man With the Golden Arm. Like the latter film, the more serious and compelling aspects of Anatomy of a Murder were overshadowed by the publicity surrounding the production which played up the more unsavory aspects of the rape/murder trial and sensationalized them. Yet, despite the adult subject matter, the film arrived on screens with its dialogue intact, became one of the biggest box office hits of that year, and went on to win seven Oscar nominations.

Based on the best-selling novel by Robert Traver, Anatomy of a Murder stars James Stewart as a small-town Michigan attorney who agrees to defend an Army lieutenant (Ben Gazzara) for killing the man accused of raping his wife (Lee Remick). With the help of his loyal support staff - Arthur O'Connell and the acerbic Eve Arden - Stewart carefully researches his case before going head to head with a slick prosecuting attorney (George C. Scott) from the big city.

Even before production began on Anatomy of a Murder, the film made front page headlines when Lana Turner, originally cast in the Lee Remick part, quit the film after a major altercation over costumes, though the actress later stated, "I would not walk out of a picture for anything as trivial as a costume. It was simply impossible to deal with Mr. Preminger's unpredictable temper." As for the part of the presiding judge in the film, Preminger offered the role to Spencer Tracy who turned it down as too small a part. Burl Ives also passed on the offer but then Spencer Tracy's assistant, Nat Rudich, came up with a great suggestion for Preminger - why not use a real judge? The director soon found the perfect 'actor' to play Judge Weaver - Joseph N. Welch, the eminent Bostonian who clashed with Senator Joseph McCarthy during the televised Un-American Activities hearings over communist activity in the U.S.

Anatomy of a Murder was filmed on location in two small towns in Michigan - Ishpeming and Marquette - over an eight week period. The director also arranged for the film's composer to be present during part of the filming. In his autobiography (1977, Doubleday), Preminger wrote, "Our presence created great excitement in those little towns. The special train carrying cast, crew, and equipment arrived at six-thirty on a March day, but half the population was at the station to greet us. Duke Ellington arrived a few days after we had begun to shoot. Usually the producer waits until the filming and the first cut are completed, then he chooses the composer, who writes the score in about six weeks. I find it useful to have the composer with me on the set. By watching the progress of the shooting, seeing the dailies....he becomes part of the film...Ellington was willing to sacrifice his valuable time and work according to my system." The director even cast him in a bit part - as a pianist named 'Pie-Eye,' working at the local roadhouse. The soundtrack album marked Ellington's first film score in 25 years and the main theme was later turned into a song with lyrics by Peggy Lee entitled "I'm Gonna Go Fishin'".

Of all the film's many virtues, James Stewart's portrayal of attorney Paul Biegler is a key factor in the film's success. According to the actor, he considered it his most challenging role since Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life (1946). "It was worth all the extra effort," Stewart said in Roy Pickard's Jimmy Stewart: A Life in Film (St. Martin's Press). "I spent a lot of time memorizing my lines for that movie. The picture demanded an awful lot of time and thought. As the defense attorney I knew I had to be glibber than usual. Trial lawyers are neither shy nor inarticulate. I read my script each night until I fell asleep." Co-star George C. Scott also confirmed Stewart's dedication to the role in Pickard's biography: "Jim was very kind in rehearsing...but what I didn't expect and what stunned me was what happened after we'd finished the coverage on Jim and the camera turned around on me. Some actors have a tendency to...sort of phone it in from there. But not Mr. Stewart...(he) came and stood by the camera and performed for me alone. It was a lesson I've never forgotten."

Not surprisingly, James Stewart received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for his performance in Anatomy of a Murder (he lost to Charlton Heston for Ben-Hur) and would go on to play another small-town lawyer in the TV series, Hawkins (1973-1974). In addition to Stewart, Anatomy of a Murder received Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Arthur O'Connell and George C. Scott), Best Screenplay, Best Film Editing, and Best Cinematography, but lost in every category.

Producer/Director: Otto Preminger
Screenplay: Robert Traver (novel), Wendell Mayes
Production Design: Boris Leven
Cinematography: Sam Leavitt
Film Editing: Louis R. Loeffler
Original Music: Duke Ellington
Cast: James Stewart (Paul Biegler), Lee Remick (Laura Manion), Ben Gazzara (Lieutenant Manion), Arthur O'Connell (Parnell McCarthy), Eve Arden (Maida Rutledge), George C. Scott (Claude Dancer), Kathryn Grant (Mary Pilant), Orson Bean (Dr. Smith), Murray Hamilton (Paquette).
BW-161m.

by Jeff Stafford

Anatomy Of A Murder

Anatomy of a Murder

Intercourse. Contraceptive. Spermatogenesis. Sexual climax. Panties. These were not the sort of words movie theatre audiences were used to hearing on the screen in 1959 but director Otto Preminger changed all that with his controversial courtroom drama, Anatomy of a Murder. It was a sure bet that the film's questionable dialogue would not pass through the Production Code office unnoticed but it wouldn't be the first time that Preminger had pushed the envelope with censorship issues in his movies. As early as 1951, he successfully challenged the Production Code over the right to use the word 'virgin' in the sex comedy, The Moon is Blue, and in 1955, he overcame opposition to his depiction of heroin addiction in The Man With the Golden Arm. Like the latter film, the more serious and compelling aspects of Anatomy of a Murder were overshadowed by the publicity surrounding the production which played up the more unsavory aspects of the rape/murder trial and sensationalized them. Yet, despite the adult subject matter, the film arrived on screens with its dialogue intact, became one of the biggest box office hits of that year, and went on to win seven Oscar nominations. Based on the best-selling novel by Robert Traver, Anatomy of a Murder stars James Stewart as a small-town Michigan attorney who agrees to defend an Army lieutenant (Ben Gazzara) for killing the man accused of raping his wife (Lee Remick). With the help of his loyal support staff - Arthur O'Connell and the acerbic Eve Arden - Stewart carefully researches his case before going head to head with a slick prosecuting attorney (George C. Scott) from the big city. Even before production began on Anatomy of a Murder, the film made front page headlines when Lana Turner, originally cast in the Lee Remick part, quit the film after a major altercation over costumes, though the actress later stated, "I would not walk out of a picture for anything as trivial as a costume. It was simply impossible to deal with Mr. Preminger's unpredictable temper." As for the part of the presiding judge in the film, Preminger offered the role to Spencer Tracy who turned it down as too small a part. Burl Ives also passed on the offer but then Spencer Tracy's assistant, Nat Rudich, came up with a great suggestion for Preminger - why not use a real judge? The director soon found the perfect 'actor' to play Judge Weaver - Joseph N. Welch, the eminent Bostonian who clashed with Senator Joseph McCarthy during the televised Un-American Activities hearings over communist activity in the U.S. Anatomy of a Murder was filmed on location in two small towns in Michigan - Ishpeming and Marquette - over an eight week period. The director also arranged for the film's composer to be present during part of the filming. In his autobiography (1977, Doubleday), Preminger wrote, "Our presence created great excitement in those little towns. The special train carrying cast, crew, and equipment arrived at six-thirty on a March day, but half the population was at the station to greet us. Duke Ellington arrived a few days after we had begun to shoot. Usually the producer waits until the filming and the first cut are completed, then he chooses the composer, who writes the score in about six weeks. I find it useful to have the composer with me on the set. By watching the progress of the shooting, seeing the dailies....he becomes part of the film...Ellington was willing to sacrifice his valuable time and work according to my system." The director even cast him in a bit part - as a pianist named 'Pie-Eye,' working at the local roadhouse. The soundtrack album marked Ellington's first film score in 25 years and the main theme was later turned into a song with lyrics by Peggy Lee entitled "I'm Gonna Go Fishin'". Of all the film's many virtues, James Stewart's portrayal of attorney Paul Biegler is a key factor in the film's success. According to the actor, he considered it his most challenging role since Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life (1946). "It was worth all the extra effort," Stewart said in Roy Pickard's Jimmy Stewart: A Life in Film (St. Martin's Press). "I spent a lot of time memorizing my lines for that movie. The picture demanded an awful lot of time and thought. As the defense attorney I knew I had to be glibber than usual. Trial lawyers are neither shy nor inarticulate. I read my script each night until I fell asleep." Co-star George C. Scott also confirmed Stewart's dedication to the role in Pickard's biography: "Jim was very kind in rehearsing...but what I didn't expect and what stunned me was what happened after we'd finished the coverage on Jim and the camera turned around on me. Some actors have a tendency to...sort of phone it in from there. But not Mr. Stewart...(he) came and stood by the camera and performed for me alone. It was a lesson I've never forgotten." Not surprisingly, James Stewart received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for his performance in Anatomy of a Murder (he lost to Charlton Heston for Ben-Hur) and would go on to play another small-town lawyer in the TV series, Hawkins (1973-1974). In addition to Stewart, Anatomy of a Murder received Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Arthur O'Connell and George C. Scott), Best Screenplay, Best Film Editing, and Best Cinematography, but lost in every category. Producer/Director: Otto Preminger Screenplay: Robert Traver (novel), Wendell Mayes Production Design: Boris Leven Cinematography: Sam Leavitt Film Editing: Louis R. Loeffler Original Music: Duke Ellington Cast: James Stewart (Paul Biegler), Lee Remick (Laura Manion), Ben Gazzara (Lieutenant Manion), Arthur O'Connell (Parnell McCarthy), Eve Arden (Maida Rutledge), George C. Scott (Claude Dancer), Kathryn Grant (Mary Pilant), Orson Bean (Dr. Smith), Murray Hamilton (Paquette). BW-161m. by Jeff Stafford

Anatomy of a Murder - ANATOMY OF A MURDER - One of the Great Screen Courtroom Dramas


Still the best courtroom drama ever, and perhaps director Otto Preminger's finest movie overall, 1959's Anatomy of a Murder never fails to reveal more complexities, no matter how many times one sees it. Robert Travers' tale of a murder trial in upstate Michigan attracted plenty of publicity for its detailed examination of an alleged rape and its racy (for the time) dialogue. Preminger frequently challenged the production code, but Anatomy of a Murder is an adult-oriented drama with integrity. The cast is also outstanding. James Stewart continues his 1950s string of morally ambiguous characterizations, while Ben Gazzara and Lee Remick play the defendant and his wife in a way that does not encourage our sympathy.

Author Robert Travers (attorney John D. Voelker) based his story on a true crime from 1952. Lieutenant Frederick Manion (Ben Gazzara) surrenders to part-time lawman George Lemon (Russ Brown) for killing Barney Quill, the owner of the local roadhouse. Ex- D.A. Paul Biegler (James Stewart) has been doing more fishing than law work lately. His secretary Maida (Eve Arden) urges him to defend Manion, if only to pay the bills. So does Paul's friend Parnell McCarthy (Arthur O'Connell), a failed attorney who needs a good reason to stop hitting the bottle. Paul takes the job even though Manion admits to killing Quill under circumstances that allow little leeway for mercy -- he stalked and shot the barkeep after Mrs. Laura Manion (Lee Remick) came home to report that she'd been raped. Paul must deal with Manion's surly attitude as well as his wife Laura's highly promiscuous nature -- she practically propositions Paul on their first meeting. The new D.A. brings in a 'big gun' from Lansing to combat Paul in the courtroom, Asst. State Atty. General Claude Dancer (George C. Scott). McCarthy does research while Paul looks for a weak spot in the prosecution's case. He finds his opportunity with Barney's bartender Alphonse Paquette (Murray Hamilton), who becomes defensive whenever the alleged rape is mentioned. There's also Mary Pilant (Kathryn Grant), Quill's manager and rumored lover. Mary seems an overly reserved and quiet young woman -- is she hiding something?

Anatomy of a Murder's approach is more akin to a docu-drama than a Hollywood potboiler. Filmed completely on location, the show features moody B&W cinematography and a sly jazz soundtrack by Duke Ellington that doesn't telegraph events or put labels on characters. Wendell Mayes' superb screenplay adaptation maintains an objectivity that would become Otto Preminger's trademark. In a courtroom drama of this kind we expect to see certain types: the idealistic defense attorney, the confused but brave defendant, the defendant's distraught, hopeful wife and various supporting characters that are either identifiably good or bad. Anatomy dispenses with these conventions. The defense attorney does not quote the Founding Fathers and the defendant is not seen praying for his deliverance. There is no conspiracy afoot to railroad the defendant. We instead have a group of characters that are just as 'unknowable' as the people in our own lives. Paul Biegler has won the respect of his staff, but he's also a competitive sharpie willing to use courtroom antics to get his way. He even calls himself a "simple country lawyer" to secure the sympathy of the jury. Biegler's interest in the law is strictly professional. He nudges and goads Lt. Manion into suggesting his own very doubtful defense tactic. That Biegler doesn't simply choose the plea himself suggests that he wants the plausible deniability of being able to say that Manion dictated the defense.

Courtroom dramas typically dramatize the search for the truth behind a crime, but Anatomy of a Murder shows how justice can take a back seat to other considerations. No one reveals their true self. Manion is a belligerent man with a strong jealous streak. He shows Laura little affection, leading us to wonder if she invented the rape story, and that her own husband inflicted her bruises and blacked her eye. Alphonse Paquette's outrage at the rape charge is no more credible than Fred and Laura's version of events. Although Biegler insists that there is no such thing as an unwritten law giving a man the right to retaliate on a point of honor, he successfully changes the "narrative" of the courtroom drama to suit his client's case. By the halfway mark the big issue being debated is not the killing, but whether or not Laura Manion was raped. The judge may direct the jury to disregard Paul's leading statements, but the lawyer persists. Biegler is not subverting justice but merely performing his job in a professional manner. The functional ambiguity in these characterizations made Anatomy seem far more sophisticated and subtle than most other dramas of its time.

James Stewart wears his part like an old shoe. Many of his older films reserved at least one grandstanding "Stewart speech" for the actor. This script allows him to channel that habit as a deliberate smokescreen for the courtroom. Ben Gazarra's Manion seems to have an inner rage bottled up inside. Lee Remick's Laura is a real puzzle: is she just a cheap tease, or is she really a manipulative sharpie, using her charms to distract Paul Biegler? Preminger's casting of the supporting roles is inspired. Relative screen newcomer George C. Scott makes his big shot legal eagle into a preening intimidation machine. Murray Hamilton hides a streak of loyalty and decency behind his unfriendly manner. Kathryn Grant is particularly well cast. Her lack of deep responses to what should be a terribly personal tragedy keeps us guessing at her true nature. Is she really as innocent as she seems? What was her relationship to the dead man, actually?

The director reveals his liberal credentials with his casting of real-life attorney Joseph N. Welch as the honest, law-loving judge who hears the case. Welch spoke the famous words that brought down Joe McCarthy at the Army-McCarthy hearings: "Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?" The likeable Welch, a non-actor, brings an authentic feel to the courtroom scenes.

In his subsequent films Otto Preminger applied his standoffish, let-the-audience-work directing style to a string of much larger epic stories, that often had too many characters and diffuse plotlines: Exodus, Advise and Consent, The Cardinal, In Harm's Way. The casting wasn't always inspired and the scripts varied in quality. But none attempted Anatomy's cautious, non-judgmental approach to character.

The Criterion Collection's Blu-ray of the classic Anatomy of a Murder benefits greatly from the deluxe presentation. The B&W movie is over fifty years old yet does not seem at all dated. The HD widescreen transfer emphasizes Preminger and cameraman Sam Leavitt's careful compositions. Almost every shot has more than one point of interest.

A standard mono soundtrack is present along with a new alternate 5.1 remix. Disc producer Susan Arosteguy's new video extras offer a number of short featurettes: on Duke Ellington's music, graphic designer Saul Bass's titles and on-set photos taken by Gjon Mili. A 1967 TV show debate between Otto Preminger and William F. Buckley is present, along with newsreel footage from the location. The movie's creative original trailer shows Preminger seemingly in competition with Alfred Hitchcock ... like a bailiff in a court, he swears in each of his actors to tell the truth!

Preminger Biographer Foster Hirsch offers his perceptive views on Anatomy, restating research and opinions from his book. Preminger was allowed to keep most of his controversial vocabulary but was induced to substitute the word "violation" for the more graphic "penetration". Also present is part of an unfinished documentary called Anatomy of "Anatomy" that gives us an intimate look at the group of actors, technicians and artists that convened in the remote Northern Michigan location. An insert booklet contains an essay by Nick Pinkerton and a Life magazine article on Joseph N. Welch. The retired lawyer said he took the role "because it looked like that was the only way I'd ever get to be a judge."

For more information about Anatomy of a Murder, visit The Criterion Collection. To order Anatomy of a Murder, go to TCM Shopping.

by Glenn Erickson

Anatomy of a Murder - ANATOMY OF A MURDER - One of the Great Screen Courtroom Dramas

Still the best courtroom drama ever, and perhaps director Otto Preminger's finest movie overall, 1959's Anatomy of a Murder never fails to reveal more complexities, no matter how many times one sees it. Robert Travers' tale of a murder trial in upstate Michigan attracted plenty of publicity for its detailed examination of an alleged rape and its racy (for the time) dialogue. Preminger frequently challenged the production code, but Anatomy of a Murder is an adult-oriented drama with integrity. The cast is also outstanding. James Stewart continues his 1950s string of morally ambiguous characterizations, while Ben Gazzara and Lee Remick play the defendant and his wife in a way that does not encourage our sympathy. Author Robert Travers (attorney John D. Voelker) based his story on a true crime from 1952. Lieutenant Frederick Manion (Ben Gazzara) surrenders to part-time lawman George Lemon (Russ Brown) for killing Barney Quill, the owner of the local roadhouse. Ex- D.A. Paul Biegler (James Stewart) has been doing more fishing than law work lately. His secretary Maida (Eve Arden) urges him to defend Manion, if only to pay the bills. So does Paul's friend Parnell McCarthy (Arthur O'Connell), a failed attorney who needs a good reason to stop hitting the bottle. Paul takes the job even though Manion admits to killing Quill under circumstances that allow little leeway for mercy -- he stalked and shot the barkeep after Mrs. Laura Manion (Lee Remick) came home to report that she'd been raped. Paul must deal with Manion's surly attitude as well as his wife Laura's highly promiscuous nature -- she practically propositions Paul on their first meeting. The new D.A. brings in a 'big gun' from Lansing to combat Paul in the courtroom, Asst. State Atty. General Claude Dancer (George C. Scott). McCarthy does research while Paul looks for a weak spot in the prosecution's case. He finds his opportunity with Barney's bartender Alphonse Paquette (Murray Hamilton), who becomes defensive whenever the alleged rape is mentioned. There's also Mary Pilant (Kathryn Grant), Quill's manager and rumored lover. Mary seems an overly reserved and quiet young woman -- is she hiding something? Anatomy of a Murder's approach is more akin to a docu-drama than a Hollywood potboiler. Filmed completely on location, the show features moody B&W cinematography and a sly jazz soundtrack by Duke Ellington that doesn't telegraph events or put labels on characters. Wendell Mayes' superb screenplay adaptation maintains an objectivity that would become Otto Preminger's trademark. In a courtroom drama of this kind we expect to see certain types: the idealistic defense attorney, the confused but brave defendant, the defendant's distraught, hopeful wife and various supporting characters that are either identifiably good or bad. Anatomy dispenses with these conventions. The defense attorney does not quote the Founding Fathers and the defendant is not seen praying for his deliverance. There is no conspiracy afoot to railroad the defendant. We instead have a group of characters that are just as 'unknowable' as the people in our own lives. Paul Biegler has won the respect of his staff, but he's also a competitive sharpie willing to use courtroom antics to get his way. He even calls himself a "simple country lawyer" to secure the sympathy of the jury. Biegler's interest in the law is strictly professional. He nudges and goads Lt. Manion into suggesting his own very doubtful defense tactic. That Biegler doesn't simply choose the plea himself suggests that he wants the plausible deniability of being able to say that Manion dictated the defense. Courtroom dramas typically dramatize the search for the truth behind a crime, but Anatomy of a Murder shows how justice can take a back seat to other considerations. No one reveals their true self. Manion is a belligerent man with a strong jealous streak. He shows Laura little affection, leading us to wonder if she invented the rape story, and that her own husband inflicted her bruises and blacked her eye. Alphonse Paquette's outrage at the rape charge is no more credible than Fred and Laura's version of events. Although Biegler insists that there is no such thing as an unwritten law giving a man the right to retaliate on a point of honor, he successfully changes the "narrative" of the courtroom drama to suit his client's case. By the halfway mark the big issue being debated is not the killing, but whether or not Laura Manion was raped. The judge may direct the jury to disregard Paul's leading statements, but the lawyer persists. Biegler is not subverting justice but merely performing his job in a professional manner. The functional ambiguity in these characterizations made Anatomy seem far more sophisticated and subtle than most other dramas of its time. James Stewart wears his part like an old shoe. Many of his older films reserved at least one grandstanding "Stewart speech" for the actor. This script allows him to channel that habit as a deliberate smokescreen for the courtroom. Ben Gazarra's Manion seems to have an inner rage bottled up inside. Lee Remick's Laura is a real puzzle: is she just a cheap tease, or is she really a manipulative sharpie, using her charms to distract Paul Biegler? Preminger's casting of the supporting roles is inspired. Relative screen newcomer George C. Scott makes his big shot legal eagle into a preening intimidation machine. Murray Hamilton hides a streak of loyalty and decency behind his unfriendly manner. Kathryn Grant is particularly well cast. Her lack of deep responses to what should be a terribly personal tragedy keeps us guessing at her true nature. Is she really as innocent as she seems? What was her relationship to the dead man, actually? The director reveals his liberal credentials with his casting of real-life attorney Joseph N. Welch as the honest, law-loving judge who hears the case. Welch spoke the famous words that brought down Joe McCarthy at the Army-McCarthy hearings: "Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?" The likeable Welch, a non-actor, brings an authentic feel to the courtroom scenes. In his subsequent films Otto Preminger applied his standoffish, let-the-audience-work directing style to a string of much larger epic stories, that often had too many characters and diffuse plotlines: Exodus, Advise and Consent, The Cardinal, In Harm's Way. The casting wasn't always inspired and the scripts varied in quality. But none attempted Anatomy's cautious, non-judgmental approach to character. The Criterion Collection's Blu-ray of the classic Anatomy of a Murder benefits greatly from the deluxe presentation. The B&W movie is over fifty years old yet does not seem at all dated. The HD widescreen transfer emphasizes Preminger and cameraman Sam Leavitt's careful compositions. Almost every shot has more than one point of interest. A standard mono soundtrack is present along with a new alternate 5.1 remix. Disc producer Susan Arosteguy's new video extras offer a number of short featurettes: on Duke Ellington's music, graphic designer Saul Bass's titles and on-set photos taken by Gjon Mili. A 1967 TV show debate between Otto Preminger and William F. Buckley is present, along with newsreel footage from the location. The movie's creative original trailer shows Preminger seemingly in competition with Alfred Hitchcock ... like a bailiff in a court, he swears in each of his actors to tell the truth! Preminger Biographer Foster Hirsch offers his perceptive views on Anatomy, restating research and opinions from his book. Preminger was allowed to keep most of his controversial vocabulary but was induced to substitute the word "violation" for the more graphic "penetration". Also present is part of an unfinished documentary called Anatomy of "Anatomy" that gives us an intimate look at the group of actors, technicians and artists that convened in the remote Northern Michigan location. An insert booklet contains an essay by Nick Pinkerton and a Life magazine article on Joseph N. Welch. The retired lawyer said he took the role "because it looked like that was the only way I'd ever get to be a judge." For more information about Anatomy of a Murder, visit The Criterion Collection. To order Anatomy of a Murder, go to TCM Shopping. by Glenn Erickson

Quotes

Mr. Biegler, you finally got your rape into the case...
- Judge Weaver
Now, Mr. Dancer, get off the panties. You've done enough damage.
- Judge Weaver
Mr. Biegler, you finally got your rape into the case, and I think all the details should now be made clear to the jury. What exactly was the undergarment just referred to?
- Judge Weaver
Panties, Your Honor.
- Paul Biegler
Do you expect this subject to come up again?
- Judge Weaver
Yes, Sir.
- Paul Biegler
There's a certain light connotation attached to the word "panties." Can we find another name for them?
- Judge Weaver
Your Honor, I don't think I can dignify this---creature--- with any more questions.
- Paul Biegler

Trivia

Duke Ellington did the music and has a cameo as "Pie-Eye."

The part of the judge was offered to both Spencer Tracy and Burl Ives, but instead went to Joseph N. Welch who was a judge in real life. He was also recognizable for being involved in the televised McCarthy hearings.

Notes

Robert Traver, the name of the novel's author, is a pseudonym for Michigan Supreme Court Justice John D. Voelker, who served as technical advisor on the film and was the defense attorney on the real-life case on which the novel was based. The murder occurred in the small town of Big Bay in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. On July 31, 1952, Lt. Coleman Peterson, who had recently returned from Korea, shot and killed tavern owner Mike Chenoweth, allegedly because Chenoweth raped Coleman's wife, Charlotte. Although Voelker entered a plea of temporary insanity on Peterson's behalf, Peterson was never incarcerated because a psychiatrist testified that he was now sane and no longer dangerous. After being freed, Peterson left town without paying Voelker his fee. The action in the film closely parallels that of the novel. The major difference is that in the novel, "Mitch Lodwick," who defeated "Paul Bielger" in his bid for re-election as district attorney, is running for the same congressional seat as Biegler. Consequently, the outcome of the trial, in which Biegler and Lodwick are pitted against each other, will affect the outcome of the election.
       According to various Hollywood Reporter news items, in October 1957, Voelker made a deal with playwright John Van Druten in which Van Druten would write a play based on his novel to be produced on Broadway. Van Druten would reportedly receive 60% of the Broadway profits and Voelker 40%, and both authors would evenly split the sale of the motion picture rights. Van Druten and Voelker then made a deal to license the screen rights to the novel to Ray Stark's Seven Arts Productions, Inc. Under that agreement, Van Druten and Voelker would have received a total $100,000 plus a percentage of the profits. However, after Van Druten's untimely death on December 19, 1957, plans for the theatrical production were canceled. Because Van Druten died before signing the agreement with Voelker or Stark, Voelker's publisher, St. Martin's Press, reopened bidding for the screen rights. Otto Preminger then secured the screen rights for $150,000 in May 1958.
       In October 1958, the Van Druten estate filed a suit to block Preminger's production on the grounds that Van Druten never agreed to sell the screen rights to Preminger. Stark, who was partnered with Eliot Hyman in Seven Arts, also protested the sale of the screen rights to Preminger, claiming that under agreements signed between the Van Druten estate and Voelker, the transfer of motion picture rights was to go to Seven Arts. According to a December 1958 Daily Variety news item, the Van Druten suit was resolved in favor of Preminger and Columbia, who agreed to pay the Van Druten estate $50,000 for the screen rights to Van Druten's play. Stark's claim was settled when Seven Arts was granted a percentage of the profits from the production. In April 1959, Edward Specter Productions, the company that was to produce the Broadway play, filed a suit to enjoin the production and distribution of Preminger's film on the grounds that Van Druten delivered a version of the play before his death, and that, according to their agreement with St. Martin's Press, the play would be produced prior to the film's release. According to a July 1959 Daily Variety news item, that suit was overruled. The play was never produced.
       A February 1958 Hollywood Reporter "Rambling Reporter" column noted that at that time, Stark was considering Gregory Peck to star. According to various Hollywood Reporter news items, Lana Turner was initially cast as "Laura Manion," but withdrew from the production following a dispute with Preminger. A December 1958 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that Preminger was negotiating with Richard Widmark to appear as "Lt. Frederick Manion." March 1959 Hollywood Reporter news items add that James Daly replaced Pat Hingle in the role of Mitch Lodwick after Hingle was injured in a fall down an elevator shaft. Daly then left the production to appear in a Broadway play and was replaced by Brooks West, the husband of Eve Arden, who appeared as "Maida Rutledge" in the film. Emile Meyer was initially cast as "Sheriff Battisfore," but was forced to withdraw after he broke his arm in a car accident. Although a March 1959 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that Don Taylor was negotiating for a role, he did not appear in the released film.
       In his autobiography, Preminger stated that he wanted Spencer Tracy or Burl Ives for the role of "Judge Weaver." When both actors turned him down, he approached Joseph N. Welch, the Boston lawyer who represented the U.S. Army during the Army-McCarthy Senate hearings, which dominated national television from April-June 1954. The hearings were convened to investigate whether Senator McCarthy used improper influence to win preferential treatment for David Schine, a former member of his staff who had been drafted. McCarthy counter-charged that the army was using blackmail and intimidation to derail his investigation of army security practices. In those hearings, Welch's remark to McCarthy, "Have you no sense of decency?" brought Welch international fame and precipitated McCarthy's downfall. Anatomy of a Murder marked Welch's only screen appearance, and featured the first feature-length film score composed by Duke Ellington. Although a May 1959 Hollywood Reporter news item places Harriet Lawyer in the cast, her appearance in the released film has not been confirmed.
       An April 1959 New York Times article noted that the film was shot entirely on location in the Ishpeming-Marquette area of Michigan. Because of the production's isolated location, Preminger worked with a completely independent unit that was capable of operating in the field without the usual studio assistance. The production's camera servicing department, film editor's room and wardrobe and makeup facilities were all set up in a hotel basement. The courtroom, jail and hospital scenes were shot in their actual counterparts in Marquette. Paul Bielger's office was Voelker's actual law office in Ishpeming. Richard Griffith, the curator of the New York Museum of Modern Art Film Library, wrote a book titled Anatomy of a Motion Picture, which documented the location filming in Michigan.
       Despite the film's frank treatment of a rape trial, it was granted a certificate of approval by the Production Code Administration after the producers agreed to several minor deletions. In a letter from Geoffrey Shurlock of the PCA to Preminger, contained in the film's file at the AMPAS Library, Shurlock instructed Preminger to delete the words sperm, sexual climax and penetration and to restrict the use of the words panties and rape. A July 1959 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that The National Catholic Legion of Decency placed the film in a "separate classification" on the grounds that it "exceed[ed] the bounds of moral acceptability and propriety in a mass medium of entertainment." According to a July 3, 1959 Hollywood Reporter news item, the film was scheduled to open in Chicago on July 2, 1959, but the screening was canceled after the Police Film Censor, backed by Police Commissioner Timothy J. O'Connor and Mayor Richard D. Daley, ruled that the film could not be shown unless two sequences containing the words "intercourse," "contraceptive" and "birth control" were deleted. Hollywood Reporter and New York Times news items on July 9, 1959 add that, after Preminger brought a suit for a permanent injunction against the ruling, Federal Judge Julius Miner overruled the censor board, stating that the film could not be considered obscene because "[it] does not tend to excite sexual passion or undermine public morals." The Variety review noted that the film contained language "never before heard in an American film with the Code Seal."
       The film was nominated for the following Academy Awards: Best Actor; Best Cinematography (black and white); Best Film Editing; Best Picture and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium. In addition, both George C. Scott and Arthur O'Connell were nominated for Best Supporting Actor. Stewart won the award for Best Actor at the Venice Film Festival and received the Best Actor award from the New York Film Critics Circle. The film's unusual trailer opens with a bailiff calling the court to order and announcing that "there is a new movie coming to this town. All those involved will now be sworn in." Preminger then stands up and swears in the principal actors, asking each if they "swear to have done their job in the picture to the best of their ability." When Preminger calls on Voelker, the writer protests that there cannot be a trial without a jury. Preminger then replies, "the judge and jury sits out there, the millions and millions of people in the theater." Bass's credits then appear, followed by snippets of sequences from the film.
       According to a July 1960 Variety news item, Hazel Wheeler, the widow of murdered tavern owner Mike Chenoweth, filed a $9,000,000 libel suit against Columbia and Dell, the publisher of the paperback version of Voelker's book. That suit was dismissed, according to an April 1962 Film Daily news item. A January 1966 New York Times news item noted that Preminger brought an injunction against Columbia Pictures Corp. and Screen Gems Inc. to prevent them from interrupting the film with commercials when it was televised. Preminger charged that if the film was cut and interrupted by commercials, his reputation would be damaged and its "commercial value challenged." The court ruled that the producer's right to final cutting and editing was limited to a film's theatrical release and not its televised showing. September 1995 Variety news items note that Preminger Films threatened to sue Universal Pictures because Universal's poster for the 1995 film Clockers bore a "striking resemblance" to Saul Bass's stylized design for Anatomy of a Murder. Universal then changed the design of the Clockers poster. Although an August 1967 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that Otto Preminger's brother, Ingo Preminger, entered into a deal with M-G-M TV to produce a ninety-minute television series based on Anatomy of a Murder, that series was never produced.

Miscellaneous Notes

Voted Best Actor and Best Screenplay by the 1959 New York Film Critics Association.

Voted One of the Year's Ten Best Films by the 1959 National Board of Review.

Voted One of the Year's Ten Best Films by the 1959 New York Times Critics.

Winner of the Best Actor Prize (Stewart) at the 1959 Venice Film Festival.

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1959

Released in United States 1959

Shown at the 1959 Venice Film Festival.

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1959

Released in United States 1959 (Shown at the 1959 Venice Film Festival.)