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Anatomy of a Murder
2 reviews

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Movie Details

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Directed By
Otto Preminger

Written By:
Wendell Mayes

James Stewart, George C. Scott, Arthur O'Connell, Ben Gazzara, Lee Remick, Orson Bean, Eve Arden, Duke Ellington, Kathryn Grant, Murray Hamilton

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Anatomy of a Murder (1959)
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Movie Review by Eric Somer
October 6th, 2008

Those of us raised on the television and movie treatment of the courtroom are in for a rude awakening after that unsolicited jury duty notice appears. The actual courtroom as I've seen it bears little resemblance to the courtroom of the movies; no dramatic breakdowns on the stand, no colorful objections, no last minute star witness, no witty judge that threatens to clear the courtroom upon the next outburst. Instead what you get is the same question asked somewhat differently over and over. Not much fun, and what's worse is no one does your job for you while you are busy fulfilling your civic duty.

Luckily there is little boredom to be found in the average movie courtroom drama. There have been many good examples over the years; the courtroom drama has proven itself a sturdy subgenre that's hard to screw up. With its rapid-fire dialogue and complex cast of characters, one of the all time best has to be Anatomy of a Murder from dependable producer/director Otto Preminger. After an army lieutenant (Ben Gazzara) goes berserk and kills a man he believes raped his sexy wife (Lee Remick), self-proclaimed "country lawyer" Paul Biegler (James Stewart) takes the case. Without much choice, Biegler decides the insanity plea is the best option. In the ensuing trial by jury, he does his best to ward off the big-city legal team (anchored by George C. Scott), as the prosecution attempts to unhinge the army lieutenant and discredit his wife. The verbal bouts between the prosecution and defense are quite clever and often humorous, especially when the amiable judge (Joseph N. Welch, who was a judge for real) is forced to intervene (which is quite frequently).

Though the film's subject matter was controversial for its time, Anatomy of a Murder was nominated for seven Academy Awards® including Best Picture. Wendell Mayes wrote the screenplay, based on the novel by Robert Traver. The score was by Duke Ellington. The digitally remastered 2000 Columbia TriStar Home Video DVD is the only domestic option at the moment, but this 1.33:1 version of the film does not come close to approximating the original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, so here's hoping for a revised edition sometime in the future.
--Eric Somer, 10/5/2008

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