165. Anatomy of a Murder (Otto Preminger, 1959) #202 in IMDB top 250
It has certainly been a while since I managed to watch anything from the IMDB top 250 so I made a conscious decision to get stuck in with this courtroom drama from Otto Preminger.
Opening with a trademark Saul Bass title sequence, much like The Man with the Golden Arm, we’re introduced to James Stewart’s relaxed lawyer Paul Biegler. He’s persuaded to take the case of Lt. Manion, a man who has murdered a local bar owner. Biegler spends the first hour of the film investigating around the events and building his case. This is where the film takes a turn for something very special. We know Manion killed the man, he admits as much but the reasons why are shrouded in lies, half-truths and intrigue.
The last 80 minutes of the film are mainly in the court itself and it is the platform for the best cinema trial I’ve ever seen. Free of histrionics it relies more on subtlety and the mannered joust between two lawyers. Stewart’s Biegler is up against George C. Scott’s State Attorney, Claude Dancer, and their battle is epic. It’s about every minor detail from where they stand to how they intonate each question, it’s a great depiction of the cut and thrust of argument.
Aside from Stewart and Scott Lee Remick really sizzles as Manion’s outrageously flirty wife. My only real experience of Remick prior to this was her fairly repressed role in The Omen as Damien’s mother. In this she is perfect as the trailer-trash temptress who might be the key to the case. And this is where it gets a little subversive. I’m not sure about the case, I think the ending is excellent but it certainly isn’t typical, but to say anymore would ruin it for anyone who wants to see it – and it comes heartily recommended.
Note: Anatomy of a Murder is listed in the Neon book 1000 Essential Movies on Video under Courtroom Dramas.