Thursday, August 03, 2006

Anatomy of a Murder


Dir: Otto Preminger (The Man With the Golden Arm; Exodus; Porgy and Bess)

I rewatched what is probably my favorite court room drama after a recent vacation to Michigan's Upper Peninsula, the setting for this fantastic film. A soldier is accused of murder after he shoots a man who allegedly raped his wife. Country lawyer Jimmy Stewart is enlisted in defense, and George C. Scott is brought up from the big city to prosecute.

What we get is a fascinatingly detailed trial, still frank in its treatment of sexualized aggression even after all these years. Put in the context of the late 50's, the film is positively scandalous. It challenges the viewer to reconsider the ethical responses to that sort of violation, but puts the events in a grey zone that rewards careful attention to the nuance of the performances. The court room scene is well over an hour, but never drags or gets redundant. It is brilliantly writtent.

But the acting is even better. Stewart and Scott taker their time before clashing, like two rams stalking each other before butting heads. Their contrasting styles play well off of each other, and fit the unique talents of each man. When Scott is finally unleashed, it is something to behold; chilling, almost evil, but amazing lawyering. Lee Remick is also great as the victim, a femme fatale to rank among the best.

The secondary stories running through, Stewart's stewed partner, the mysterious manager of the deceased, are all welcome complements to the intensity of the court case. Lord, even Duke Ellington writes the score. So many good elements to this movie.

On this viewing, I could appreciate the remarks of the judge about the different, laid back ways of the UP. It was a great, great trip, by the way, beautiful and relaxed at the same time. That is transferred into Stewart's character, and goes a long way to cementing the unique feel of this film.

I never get tired of this movie. Anatomy of a Murder is the cream of the crop for legal films, a riveting experience.