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One of cinema's greatest courtroom dramas, Anatomy of a Murder is tense, thought-provoking, and brilliantly acted, with great performances from James Stewart and George C. Scott. Read critic reviews

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Movie Info

Semi-retired Michigan lawyer Paul Biegler (James Stewart) takes the case of Army Lt. Manion (Ben Gazzara), who murdered a local innkeeper after his wife (Lee Remick) claimed that he raped her. Over the course of an extensive trial, Biegler parries with District Attorney Lodwick (Brooks West) and out-of-town prosecutor Claude Dancer (George C. Scott) to set his client free, but his case rests on the victim's mysterious business partner (Kathryn Grant), who's hiding a dark secret.

Cast & Crew

James Stewart
Paul Biegler
Lee Remick
Laura Manion
Ben Gazzara
Lt. Frederick Manion
Arthur O'Connell
Parnell Emmett McCarthy
Eve Arden
Maida Rutledge
Kathryn Grant
Mary Pilant
Joseph N. Welch
Judge Weaver
Brooks West
Dist. Atty. Mitch Lodwick
George C. Scott
Asst. State Atty. Gen. Claude Dancer
Murray Hamilton
Alphonse Paquette
Sam Leavitt
Cinematographer
Boris Leven
Production Design
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Critic Reviews for Anatomy of a Murder

All Critics (48) | Top Critics (12) | Fresh (48)

  • The film is lengthy, with an ending that is both enigmatic and ironic, but presented with such finesse and pace that it is guaranteed to hold your interest from start to finish.

    June 18, 2020 | Full Review…
  • At 160 minutes, Anatomy is longer than the subject warrants, but the pace seldom slackens -- thanks to the competence of Director Otto Preminger.

    April 24, 2009 | Full Review…
  • To me Remick's damaged, dysfunctional presence is the really subversive thing about the picture. And Stewart's grandstanding attorney propels this long film to its final verdict.

    October 23, 2007 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…
  • Preminger purposely creates situations that flicker with uncertainty, that may be evaluated in different ways. Motives are mixed and dubious, and, therefore, sustain interest.

    October 23, 2007 | Full Review…
  • As an entertaining look at legal process, this is spellbinding all the way, infused by an ambiguity about human personality and motivation that is Preminger's trademark, and the location shooting is superb.

    October 23, 2007 | Full Review…
  • Coolly absorbing, nonchalantly cynical.

    June 24, 2006 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Anatomy of a Murder

  • May 26, 2020
    Classic crime, courtroom drama that's delivers a verdict of being flawless.
    Aldo G Super Reviewer
  • Jul 28, 2018
    Warning, this review contains spoilers... Fantastic acting, excellent shots on location in Michigan, entertaining courtroom scenes, but a flawed script, and a little overrated. The premise is simple. A former prosecutor (Jimmy Stewart) is convinced to come out of retirement to defend a man (Ben Gazzara) accused of murder. There really isn't any doubt he's done it, since he's confessed. After some encouragement from Stewart, his plea is not guilty by reason of temporary insanity, that he simply 'lost it' after finding out that his wife (Lee Remick) was raped, and went out and killed the guy. Stewart turns in an outstanding performance, effortlessly combining intelligence and wit, and sparring with the prosecutor brought in from Lansing (George C. Scott). The scene where he questions his own client after a surprise piece of evidence is introduced by another inmate, real doubt in his eyes, is wonderful. Scott is also brilliant, sharp and reptilian, quickly surpassing the local prosecutor. The scene where he deliberately moves back and forth to obscure Stewart's view of a witness is great, and well shot by director Otto Preminger. Joseph N. Welch as the judge is also strong and such a natural, in one scene appearing in the background with this arm wrapped around his head so that his hand rests on his opposite cheek as he listens intently. It was also nice to hear jazz from Duke Ellington, and in one scene to see him playing briefly with Jimmy Stewart, though I'm not sure the music always fits. The trouble is, even if this is based on a real case, legally and morally, it's a mess. I certainly didn't want Stewart as protagonist in the role of the defense attorney, where it feels he's in the wrong, starting with him nudging the guy to claim he was temporarily insane. It's apparent that the only real question is whether that was true, and yet, most of the trial revolves around whether his wife was actually raped, and worse yet, what her possible culpability was in that. Was she wearing clothing that was too suggestive, was she promiscuous, etc. Even if you can get past the misogyny of attacking a rape victim, which is a disturbing reality, it's absurd to me that it became so central to the trial, Stewart's 'apple core' argument notwithstanding. Also, her missing panties get far too much attention throughout the movie, including the dramatic find at the end, when they're irrelevant. In tone, there are several aspects that didn't ring true. Remick's playfulness and flirtation with Stewart a short while after being brutally beaten and raped, and with her husband charged with murder. The victim's daughter (played unconvincingly by a constantly wide-eyed Kathryn Grant) remotely considering helping the defense. The level of levity in the courtroom for a trial involving rape and murder. In one absurd sidebar, the judge and attorneys sidebar to discuss what panties should be referred to as. With a very serious look on his face, Scott says "When I was overseas during the war, Your Honor, I learned a French word. I'm afraid that might be slightly suggestive", to which the Welch replies "Most French words are". The courtroom then cracks up when he announces that the garment in question will be referred to as panties. More than once, one attorney or another is surprised by a witness being produced, without having had a chance to independently interview them. More than once, an attorney will ask a question that he clearly doesn't know the answer to, one that he has no business asking. Most likely, Preminger amplified all of these theatrics - the jokes, the obsession with Remick and her panties, the banter between attorneys, the little doggie inexplicably being brought into the trial so he can jump up into Stewart's arms - all for entertainment value. The central theme of what justice should be doesn't get explored enough. Perhaps that's Preminger's point, that in the circus of a trial with sharp minds on both sides, circling each other like sharks, the system of justice is fallible. If it was though, the ending doesn't bear that out. During the 160 minute run time, I kept hoping for a plot twist that never came. That the guy doesn't just skip out on his bill at the end, he kills his wife in a rage, and calmly deadpans that he did that one too because of an "irresistible impulse". That the wife reveals she was never raped that night, and manipulated her husband into killing. That either the fellow bartender or the victim's daughter were somehow involved in a setup, for the money. Nope. As it is, Stewart's a hero, and if anyone has any qualms about it, they try to pin a happy face on the whole thing by saying his next case is going to be helping the victim's daughter with her estate. Oh, wow, well that makes it all right then, and let's all leave the theater happy. The film is still worth seeing for the performances - Stewart at 51 is still quite an actor, and endearing as well - but prepare to be conflicted, and a little irritated.
    Antonius B Super Reviewer
  • Aug 21, 2014
    With a fantastic cinematography and superb direction, this superlative courtroom procedural unfolds in an unhurried fashion, daring to make outspoken use of sexual terminology (something unthinkable at the time it was made) and presenting a brilliantly complex script centered on a fiery, breathtaking rhetorical combat of the highest quality.
    Carlos M Super Reviewer
  • Mar 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.
    Chris W Super Reviewer

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