I've seen quite a few great classic performances lately. Peter O'Toole in Lawrence of Arabia, Marcello Mastroianni in 8 1/2, Anthony Quinn in La Strada but I must admit, no one of these beats Jimmy Stewart in Anatomy of a Murder.
He's pitch perfect as Paul Biegler, the kinda slacky and slow-acting but clever and theatralic small town lawyer and former district attorney who defends Army lieutenant Frederick Manion (Ben Gazzara in the second best performance of the film) who is accused of murdering the rapist of his wife.
Court room dramas are awesome. As much as I love some of the 90s adaptations of John Grisham's novels (A Time to Kill, Runaway Jury) or Sidney Lumet's classic 12 Angry Men, Anatomy of a Murder is both the most realistic court room film (as far as I can tell) and overall the best one I've seen yet.
The 160 minutes fly by, although much of the film is concerned with Paul Biegler's investigations and the cross-examinations in court (which is not really action film material), it's pretty tense and perfectly paced.
There are things going on all the time and the film's ending (although it might be unsatisfying for some) is just a work of genius. Anatomy of a Murder has one of the best scripts of all-time (not so much the dialogue, but the structure and plot) - how it reveals the moral ambiguity of all the characters and the weaknesses of the juridical system (without being too abrasive) is remarkable.
For all fans of detailed and elaborated storytelling, court room action and great acting - and for all others too - expand your horizons, basterds!