Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Anatomy of a Murder (1959)

Paul Biegler (James Stewart) is a lawyer who lost his drive when he lost his District Attorney position, so he spends his time mostly fishing and chatting with his alcoholic lawyer friend (Arthur O’Connell). He is urged to take the case of a young Army officer who murdered the man that raped his hot hot wife (Lee Remick). Urged mostly by his assistant (Eve Arden) who would like to be paid again.

Courtroom dramas can be problematic. Procedures and even the law itself is thrown out the window for the sake of drama. Quite a bit of that goes on here. Stewart’s Paulie must struggle to have the (alleged) rape admitted in the defense of his (allegedly) temporarily insane client. Things said in open court that should have been said in sidebar, and don’t get me started with the surprise witnesses.

All that aside, we wonder if the defendant was insane, or if the hot hot wife was actually raped, and what plot twist will come next. What the verdict will be, and what it should be, is always in question.

Older readers may recognize Eve Arden from Our Miss Brooks. I recognize her as Principal McGee from Grease (1978), and to a lesser extent, Grease 2 (1982). Murray Hamilton, the mayor of Amity (and Mr. to the adultering Mrs. Robinson), played the prosecuting district attorney. A youngish George C. Scott had a sizable role.

But the real story is the hot young Remick. She played the questionable victim in a very Lolita-esque manner. She flirts with Stewart’s Paulie and hangs out with strange men while the husband waits in lockup. Stewart again is excellent, having fully graduated from Rom-Com roles. Remick didn’t do many feature films, then died young of cancer.

Anatomy of a Murder, despite its court procedure shenanigans, is quite entertaining. Otto Preminger (you know, Mr. Freeze) was a master filmmaker, this being one of his best. Not one to shy from controversial issues (his next project was Exodus, openly written by blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo), Anatomy is unflinching with its discussion of the (alleged) rape. To the point that Stewart’s father urged people not to see it. No big whoops by today’s standard, but you can see how Hollywood was slowly evolving from the provincial palace it was once. A very entertaining watch. AMRU 3.5.
“Now, Mr. Dancer, get off the panties. You've done enough damage.”

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