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Anatomy of a Murder Reviews

Page 1 of 38

Super Reviewer

March 31, 2014
Though this adaptation of a best-selling novel may not seem like it now, it was quite a groundbreaking big deal when it came out.

The story, a stirring courtroom drama, follows an alcoholic, fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants small town lawyer (Jimmy Stewart going against type), defending a man who openly admits to murdering someone, but only because said individual raped his wife, who, admittedly, is kinda a floozy. Stewart's character understandably has a lot going against him, and that's not including the fact that the prosecution is made up of some slick, hard-cased big city guys led by George C. Scott.

Like I said, this was a big deal at the time, mostly due to the subject matter, and how director Otto Preminger dealt with it. He did a great job of dealing with stuff that, until then, hadn't really been covered in cinema. Yeah, like I said, some of the impact has diminished, but that doesn't take away from the fact that it's still a powerful and engaging piece of work.

The opening titles by Saul Bass are the stuff of legend, the score by Duke Ellington is a jazz classic, and the performances, as one may expect, are quite good. I mean, there's Stewart, Scott, and Lee Remick as the floozy wife, all of whom are quite great. Oh yeah, and Ben Gazzara as the man on trial.

This one kinda set the standard for a lot of courtroom dramas to come, and it is quite realistic, accurate, and does a fine job of trying to show things in a pretty down to Earth way.

So yeah, I dig the film a lot, but I'll admit that the running time could be cut down a bit, and some of the pacing trimmed as well. It's quite engaging, but once in a while it gets slightly boring, but not enough to really derail things. While I don't feel like a lot of people do, I still think this is a fine film worth seeing, even if I don't regard it as a masterpiece like a lot of others do.
Ken S

Super Reviewer

May 5, 2007
Amazing dialog and performances. There's a reason you've seen this ripped off 100000000 times.
The legal procedural drama starts here.
Plus, a Duke Ellington score!
Jennifer X

Super Reviewer

April 28, 2011
It's sort of relieving how unpreachy this courtroom drama is. I read that this is one of the best portrayals of a live courtroom case, which if that's the case, I ain't mad.

Super Reviewer

February 9, 2011
When I think Noir, I don't think courtroom drama. When I think Jimmy Stewart, I think Frank Capra. So as you can imagine I was pleasantly surprised by this little gem.
While Stewart is not Sam Spade, he is ex district attorney looking for his next paycheck and stumbles upon a murder trial. It appears that he takes on the case because of the fact that it centers around a woman, rather than he insatiable need for justice.
The courtroom scenes itself are very interesting. Rather than try to just bedazzle the audience with big speeches and wild twists, Preminger paces the twists and turns in a way that makes the viewer feel as though this could have been a real court case. There are no John Grisham moments, but the drama is still very palpable.
Stewart actually surprised me as the morally ambivalent man of the law. George C. Scott is also terrific as the prosecutor.
It I had not recently watched Judgment at Nuremberg and have Kramer's flawless camera work in that film fresh in my mind, I would have rated it higher. Preminger just doesn't have that presence that Kramer has, but it isn't bad.
Overall, a great watch.

Super Reviewer

September 5, 2010
This is a fantastic murder mystery with Stewart as a lawyer. I love it and I highly recommend it.
Aditya Gokhale
Aditya Gokhale

Super Reviewer

July 27, 2010
In Otto Preminger's excellent 1959 courtroom drama, "Anatomy of a Murder", James Stewart stars as Paul Biegler, a small-town lawyer who takes up a very challenging and unusual case following a call from a certain Laura Manion (Lee Remick). She is the flirtatious wife of a US Army Lieutenant, Frederick Manion (Ben Gazzara) who has been charged with the murder of Barney Quill, a local innkeeper. Biegler is supposed to defend Fred Manion. Fred does not deny committing the crime, but also maintains that his actions were actually an extreme reaction to the fact that Barney Quill had raped his wife.

However, Frederick also denies having any clear memory of doing the deed and that opens one strong avenue for Biegler: that of temporary insanity defense, particularly, of being overcome by an irresistible impulse, which led the accused to commit the murder.

Biegler involves his alcoholic friend and former colleague Parnell McCarthy (Arthur O'Connell) to assist him. Together they spend a lot of time digging up material that would make their case stronger. Things, however, are anything but smooth for Biegler as his opponents in this case are the local D.A. (Brooks West) and a big city prosecutor, Claude Dancer (George C. Scott).

The rest of the film then revolves around the war of words and wits between Dancer and Biegler.
What is even more wonderful about this film is, that you do not know who to root for, knowing that the protagonist is really out to set a murderer free!

Wendell Mayes's screenplay based on John D. Voelker's novel is engaging and full of witty and humourous repartees. Otto Preminger's taut direction keeps us glued to the screen throughout the 160 minutes of running time.

The performances are especially noteworthy:

James Stewart delivers a splendid performance as Paul Biegler. He gets so involved in his role, it is difficult to tell whether he is acting or is an actual lawyer fighting the case.

George C. Scott matches up and almost outshines Stewart in an outstanding supporting role of the sly lawyer Claude Dancer. This is one of Scott's greatest performances.

Lee Remick is superb as the coquettish wife of Frederick Manion.

Arthur O'Connell is great as Stewart's alcoholic friend McCarthy.

Ben Gazzara and Kathryn Grant provide good supporting performances as well; so does Joseph N Welch as the judge. He was a real life lawyer who was the head counsel for the United States Army in the Army-McCarthy hearings. In spite of not being a professional actor, he appears extremely comfortable in front of the camera and delivers a convincing performance.

I've read somewhere that some law school professors use "Anatomy of a Murder" as a teaching tool, as it encompasses (from the defense standpoint) all of the basic stages in the U.S. criminal justice system. Indeed, it is like watching a complete case proceeding right from the research done by lawyers to them using all the material they've studied in presenting a full case.

"Anatomy of a Murder" is a wonderful film and is easily one of the greatest courtroom dramas ever made.
Drew S

Super Reviewer

August 25, 2010
Pretty edgy stuff for its time, but even in hindsight, the sexual politics feel awfully retrograde (good guy and bad alike seem to believe that, yes, there's a certain type of woman that does deserve rape). Also, am I the only one that thinks the ending would have been completely different in the real world? I can't discuss it without spoilers, but...yeah. Anyway, this is something of a barrier-breaker morally for its time, but not much more about it sets it apart from today's typical episode of Law and Order, short of its sweet soundtrack and a couple of strong performances. Lee Remick and George C. Scott really stand out, even despite the lesser offerings, like the prosecutor who is not George C. Scott and the judge, who is obviously trying too hard. Anatomy of a Murder is also really fucking long and not all that well paced and that subplot jaunt into Canada is completely, totally unnecessary.

Despite the infirmities of technique, the movie still holds up fairly well and is definitely worth a watch, especially if you're a Jimmy Stewart fan.

Super Reviewer

August 2, 2009
Always will be one of the first and best courtroom drama films ever.
Mr Awesome
Mr Awesome

Super Reviewer

May 7, 2009
What makes Anatomy of A Murder different from the typical courtroom drama is the defendant, Frederick Manion (Ben Gazzara). Not only is he guilty, he also isn't particularly likeable either and may be a wife beater to boot. However, this doesn't stop the audience from rooting for his lawyer Paul Biegler (James Stewart) to succeed, and in fact, the guilt or innocence of his client matters little (to us or to him). What seems to motivate Biegler in his representation of such a genuine creep seems to be nothing more than a desire for revenge, or at the least, one-upmanship. He was once an elected district attorney, now relegated to semi-retirement and bass fishing, while his replacement seems to be a mediocre lawyer. When Mrs. Manion calls, he's only too happy to take the case, especially at the urging of his aged alcoholic attorney friend, Parnell McCarthy (Arthur O'Connell). Mrs. Manion tells Biegler the events leading up to the murder her husband committed, mainly her rape and beating at the hands of the local bar owner. But she doesn't act like a rape victim, flirting with her husband's lawyer rather shamelessly. The husband actually has no money to pay Biegler, so why does he work so hard to build a case for him? The bulk of the movie takes place in the courtroom, and it's courtroom drama at it's best. Biegler puts on the act of a smalltown lawyer, victimized when the state's attorney (George C. Scott, in a rather sinister role) comes in to assist the prosecution. The judge provides some dry wit as he tries to wrangle the lawyers and keep them from duking it out in the courtroom. It's amazing to see these characters leading each other down the paths they want them to follow, only to jerk the rug out from under them at the perfect, key moment. It works both for the lawyers and the clients they represent. Did I mention Duke Ellington provides a marvelous musical score? The whole film as a tone similar to "In Cold Blood", only with so much more charisma and depth on display here. It's a great feel and a great tone to an outstanding picture. And I can't say enough good things about it, so I won't even try.
Pierluigi P

Super Reviewer

June 13, 2007
One of the finest courtroom dramas ever, and definitely the best exposure of the affairs in and out the courtrooms; as well as the trickeries, rapid-fire delivering and fast-talking that any efficient (not righteous) criminal lawyer should have, unbiased, detached from any inner conviction or moral standpoint.
The opposite forces are masterfully played by Jimmy Stewart and George C. Scott, two individuals with an expertise in the use of every cunning, dirty scheme able to be used in order to destroy the credibility of each other's arguments and win the case no matter what is right and what is wrong; that is what, at the end, paradoxically leads the person who won the case to question about the decision, even if he doesn't show any concern.
Sadly, justice is such a variable and obscure concept... will it prevail? Think again.
Preminger's direction is clean and focused on the right spots; the screenplay is snappy and occasionally very funny; Duke Ellington's music is quite mellow; and Lee Remick couldn't be lovelier, what a doll.
familiar s

Super Reviewer

January 6, 2009
If I am to give my opinion just in one word about this movie, then it would be - "EXCELLENT".

However, there're some other points too that need to be noted while reviewing this movie. There are many loopholes in the story if you stick to logic, but as it wasn't any documentary, I found nothing wrong with it and feel that it was an out-and-out entertaining movie. And considering that it was released far back in 1959, I feel that it's much better than today's movies of this genre. This movie in Black and White is really superior to today's movies (decorated with special effects and use of latest technology; beautiful body but no soul) when it comes to entertainment. Even the execution is outstanding.

It's really worth watching and worth enjoying. Simply fantastic. Just go for it, if you haven't already.

Super Reviewer

March 3, 2007
Ex district attorney James Stewart is brought in to defend a decorated soldier who murdered the man who raped his wife. Otto Preminger once more tests the boundaries of what the American censors deemed "acceptable" in this groundbreaking courtroom drama. Stewart is as reliable as ever as the crusading attorney, and easily the best scenes are when he and George C. Scott do battle during the trial. Unfortunately some of the supporting cast do not quite measure up; Lee Remick's immature performance is more of a flirtatious Lolita than the victim of a traumatic attack, and Joseph N Welch, a lawyer and outspoken critic of McCarthy may have been a very worthy choice to play the judge, but I couldn't help thinking how much better Spencer Tracy, the originally intended choice, would've been. It's intelligently written and tackles the hypocrisies of the law, such as the fact that all are innocent until proven guilty unless you are the victim of a rape, in which case it's the other way around as well as that appearances, grandstanding and innuendo are far more important in the courtroom than facts. It's all very worthy, but courtroom dramas are inevitably following the same formula, and the clinical attention to detail makes the proceedings a little dry and predictable. Worth it to see Stewart in action and his verbal sparring with Scott, but anyone who is not a fan of this type of film will not be entirely convinced to change their mind.
Michael G

Super Reviewer

October 27, 2006
Great movie and great soundtrack. Worth it just to hear Jimmy Stewart say the word "panties."
Antony S

Super Reviewer

October 4, 2006
Blinding. Once again, Preminger pushes the envelope and produces one of the first films to deal with rape, ejaculation and the plead of insanity. Stewart is our golden boy here, leading a stellar cast who more than acquit themselves (Scott, Remick, Gazzara). Preminger spares no detail, and keeps the camerawork sure and steady, making this two-and-a-half hour drama mostly set in one room highly satisfying. Highly recommended.
Cameron W. Johnson
Cameron W. Johnson

Super Reviewer

April 14, 2013
160 minutes, this film better actually give me a detailed study on the process of murder on a cellular level that dissects the mentality of a killer. ... Oh yes, because that would be infinitely less boring than a little bit of filler around the edges of a juicy drama. If this film doesn't tell us that you can pull off really long legal dramas, then it's Oliver Stone's "JFK"... as well as "A Few Good Men", F.F. Coppola's "The Rainmaker", "The Firm", "Amistad", "A Time to Kill", "Judgment at Nuremberg", Nikita Mikhalkov's "12" and "...And Justice for All", which feels like it runs somewhere between 130 minutes and two-and-a-half hours. Jeez, people, I know you're able to find plenty of material outside of the courtroom to sustain a hefty length, but for goodness' sake, at least make an attempt at tightening things up. Hey, maybe this film has earned the right to be overlong, not just because Otto Preminger was nothing if not a man who knew a thing or two about making really long films (Dude, why did it take Paul Newman three-and-a-half hours to get around to occupying a boat, then going on a small-scale military mission in "Exodus"?), but because it's audacious enough as an extensive discussion on rape and murder in 1959, which is why it's a masterpiece... I guess. Yes, critics, I know that this film was edgy when it first came out, but forget nostalgia, I just want this film to be good on a general standard. Well, in that case, it's a good thing that this film is, in fact, quite good, though this effort would be even better if it wasn't guilty of making some mistakes.

This talkative thriller has plenty of time to flesh out the depths of its substance, and certainly does do a generally decent job of breathing life into development in certain spots, though not as many as there probably should be, thus making for an exposition-driven drama that doesn't wholly fulfill its expository potential, and leaves enough holes in substance to feel kind of undercooked to the point of slowing down momentum, though not as much as the atmosphere's, well, actual slow spots, of which there are more than I expected. The film is adequately entertaining, but when things slow donw, as they very often do, while dullness never ensues, momentum limps out pretty considerably, and atmosphere dries up just as considerably, blanding things up to a disengaging point that very rarely, if ever leaves the film to dip its toes in underwhelming waters, but decidedly throw things off. Films this talkative need to be careful if they're going to slow down and dry up, and luckily, this film doesn't limp out so often that it falls flat as consistently bland, but there are bland spells, and they retard kick, or at least assist padding in retarding kick. With all of my talk about how this film, at a whopping 160 minutes, is too long, this somewhat minimalist story's execution's relatively sprawling runtime is not simply highly unexpected, but highly unnecessary, being partially achieved through material that outstays its welcome, often going so far as not simply bloat, but tread circles. This film's formula is too tight for the final product to be as lengthy at it is, rarely doing anything outside of building information outside of the courtoom, then dissecting the information found earlier within the coutrtoom, and such a formula, while backed by enough juice to compel through and through, can be drawn out for only so long before it begins to slip into repetition, and sure enough, it doesn't take long for the dynamicity of this over two-and-a-half-hour dialogue drama to grow thin. Whether it be because repetition isn't as severe as it could have been, or simply because compensation for shortcomings is reasonably strong, this film keeps you going as genuinely gripping, but there are nonetheless moments in which grip loosens, occasionally thanks to lulls in exposition, and mostly thanks to bland bloating that could have driven this promising effort into underwhelmingness. Needless to say, underwhelmingness does not claim this film, which is flawed, most certainly, but boasts even more strengths, even within the underexplored musical aspects, which, in all honesty, aren't entirely cleansed of their own issues.

Arguably lengedary musician Duke Ellington composes a score for this film that is not used too often, and often has its share of issues when it does, in fact, finally show up, having a lively jazziness that is hardly all that dynamic, and doesn't always gel with this film's conceptually heavy subject matter, but more often than not, Ellington's efforts, when heard, throw in a worthy color to this film that reinforces entertainment value and, to a certain degree, artistic integrity. Even more explored and fitting artistic touches include, of course, Sam Leavitt's cinematography, which, in all honesty, isn't too terribly striking, even for the time, but was still impressive for its time, and has sustained impressiveness throughout the ages, playing with black-and-white limitations of the '50s through clever lighting that graces visuals with a kind of bleak depth that compliments the intrigue of this subject matter, and sometimes proves to be fairly handsome by its own right. Both the musical touches and photographic efforts behind this film play an adequate role in livening up the telling of this tale, though not too large of a role, as the film's more stylish aspects feel a bit underexplored, both in terms of quantity and in terms in richness, thus substance must sustain itself primarily by its own hand, which, of course, makes it a good thing that this film's substance is so valuable. It's not like this film's subject matter is all that unique in concept, and it's not like the ultimate telling of this story is all that smooth, having undercooked spots and relatively limp spells, though not so many that you don't still get a pretty firm grip on the intrigue of this story, because we are dealing with fairly promising material that some filmmakers of the '50s probably could have brought to life more, but wouldn't be done as much justice by most '50s filmmakers as it is in this film, largely thanks to Wendell Mayes' script. Sure, the censors had to draw lines somewhere, so we're not really looking at a legal thriller that is as unapologetically mature in its dialogue as something along the lines of "JFK", but when they say that this film, for 1959, got to be pretty edgy with its references during the courtroom sequences, they weren't kidding, as there is some down and dirty talk in the discussions pertaining crimes as brutal as rape and subsequent vengeful murder that are not too shocking in this day and age, but were daringly made at the time so that this film could break down barriers and further flesh out its story's depths, and such flesh-out, unlike shock value, can never be taken away from the final product, whose audacious and extensive exploration of its depths as a legal thriller is still not too terribly profound, but just insightful enough to create some well-rounded thrills in the dialogue department, thus putting some degree of reinforcement behind unevenly distributed exposition, which is further complimented by believable characterization that is itself complimented by pretty strong portrayals behind most every major note to this film's character roster. Whether it be the subtly soulful George C. Scott, or the lovely Lee Remick, or the charismatic James Stewart, most everyone has his or her opportunity to command your attention and breathe some life into this film's depths, though not as much as a certain offscreen performance, because without the inspiration of Otto Preminger, the final product would have collapsed as underwhelming. Preminger's efforts aren't too outstanding, but when his storytelling hits, it grips, sometimes with dramatic intrigue, sometimes with a bit of tension, and consistently with a soul that may not be able to obscure this film's flaws or predictable spots, but manages to grip you, for although there is no getting around this film's behind flawed, Preminger, backed by worthy writing, acting and other touches, drives this courtroom drama as genuinely rewarding.

When the case is closed, the film is left wounded by some underdeveloped spots, and takes some serious damage from slow spots that intensify the sting excessive padding, which eventually inspires the repetition that could have driven the final product into underwhelmingness, but doesn't, as there is enough fair liveliness to score work and cinematography, audacity to writing, compellingness to writing and inspiration to direction to subtly, but surely sustain intrigue through and through, and make "Anatomy of a Murder" an intriguing legal drama that could have slipped from bonafide goodness, but makes up for its mistakes enough to reward as compelling, maybe even reasonably worthwhile.

3/5 - Good
Eduardo T

Super Reviewer

February 28, 2012
What a very well produced film. I went into this not knowing what to expect. I didn't look up what the rating was on other sites and on this one before I watched it because I didn't want anything to influence my rating. Once again my rating was close to what the critics rated it. The plot was good just like in other court room dramas. The first half was dragging out to long but once they got to the court scenes the drama started spicing up. This was one of those films where you had to listen closely to understand what was going on. The writing in this was really good. They where using words that I didn't know and the script could have easily have been a book. This has a script that I would enjoy reading except that it would be to long. The film didn't feel long that's if you pay attention. The ending and the overall resolution of the film still bugs me. I don't know what to think whether he's innocent or guilty. All this technical law stuff sure is difficult for me to take in. I would never want to be a lawyer. The acting was good except the judge's. I understand that he wasn't an actor but a real life judge and it was his only role ever in a film. I felt as if he was reading directly from the script. This film also had some bad language for the time of course. If you like classics or films with good and lots of dialogue then this is for you.
John B

Super Reviewer

July 22, 2007
This was the first Preminger work that I had seen...well except for his less than star turn as Mr. Freeze on the original Batman and I see that he should have stuck to directing. This is the only late career James Stewart that I have seen and I thought he truly made the film.
Alec B

Super Reviewer

June 21, 2011
Better than the standard courtroom drama, the final ten minutes cram way too much into the plot, but its not enough to totally undue the effect of the story. For a film of its time there is remarkable moral ambiguity and even cynicism. I was expecting some big final closing argument speech from Stewart that sums up the lesson of the movie, but there isn't one, at least not one that Otto Preminger was interested in. I also believe that this is one of Stewart's finest performances, he has his normal charm but here it seems to be hiding serious depression and regret.

Super Reviewer

January 31, 2010
Completely blew me away.
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