Anatomy of a Murder - 1959

Anatomy of a Murder - Released July 1, 1959. Directed by Otto Preminger

Preminger's most admired film, with a tightly-woven tale which centers on eventual court room sparring between Jimmy Stewart's country-lawyer (which is a clever mask for the cold legal calculations this unassuming attorney makes in the course of the tale) and a young George C. Scott's more urbane lawyer who is sent from Michigan's state capitol of Lansing to the "U.P." (upper peninsula) to mastermind the homicide prosecution of an Army sergeant accused of killing the man who raped his wife.

Preminger has a lot of sub-plots percolating under the veneer of this Perry Mason-ish super-production, and the screenplay (by Wendell Mayes and John D. Voelker - from the novel by Robert Traver) builds portraits of a number of the characters: washed-up and alcoholic attorney Parnell Emmett McCarthy (Arthur O'Connell); Laura Manion, the assaulted wife (Lee Remick), and the equally calculating Sgt. Lt. Frederick Manion (Ben Gazzara). Each person has more than one-side, and Preminger revolves them around the story so that we get to see them from a variety of angles, not only in regards to the two crimes in question (rape and then murder), but also about how they relate to one another.

The big fireworks show is in the courtroom, but Preminger builds up a lot of back-story that's just as important. The photography is perfect black and white, and the settings are all location, so not only is the film an interesting legal drama, but an inadvertent mini-portrait of the landscape of 1959 upper peninsula Michigan.

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Original Page May 20, 2016 | Updated Jan 2018

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