Anatomy of a Murder (1959)

Lee Remick and James Stewart
Lee Remick and James Stewart

'Anatomy of a Murder' is a dramatic courtroom movie made in 1959, directed by Otto Preminger and starring James Stewart, George C. Scott, Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara, Arthur O'Connell, Eve Arden and Kathryn Grant.

The movie is an adaptation of the novel by John D. Voelker, a Michigan Supreme Court Justice, using the pen name Robert Traver. His novel was a best-seller and was based on a 1952 murder case in which he actually appeared as the attorney for the defense.

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The film received seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Actor as well as Best Supporting Actor nominations for both George C. Scott and Arthur O'Connell, but won none in the year of the blockbusting 'Ben Hur', which won a record haul. James Stewart did win the Best Actor award at the Venice Film Festival and the Best Actor Award from the New York Film Critics Circle for his superb performance. In June 2008, the American Film Institute selected 'Anatomy of a Murder' as the seventh best film in its courtroom drama genre Top Ten.

The subject matter of the movie - a rape trial with explicit, descriptive language - was regarded as controversial when it was released and even today it can be seen as a cynical, no nonsense look at the American legal system and legal profession. It takes a close look at everything a small-town lawyer in northern Michigan does to prepare for the defense in court of a particularly unpleasant and violent murderer. The defendant is an army officer and the critical question of whether or not he was insane or temporarily insane, or merely feigning insanity, is never fully resolved. Unusually for a courtroom drama, it does not use flashback or show the murder or any of the scenes described in court, leaving it up to the audience to join the jury in making a decision about the defendant's guilt.

Preminger, typically, assembles a high quality cast of big names, led by the inimitable James Stewart who holds the whole thing together, and gives a sure and subtle performance in the starring role of the lawyer, Paul Biegler. He is ably supported by the beautiful Lee Remick, as the teasing Laura, George C. Scott as the unrelenting prosecuting attorney and Ben Gazzara as the volatile defendant, Frederick Manion. there are also excellent performances from Brooks West, Eve Arden, Murray Hamilton, and Kathryn Grant (wife of Bing Crosby).

The movie is beautifully acted, cleverly directed and enriched by a vibrant jazz score from Duke Ellington who himself appears briefly as the owner of a roadhouse. Overall 'Anatomy of a Murder' is a first class film, a very enjoyable courtroom drama, full of neat touches and with a masterly and exciting climax.

Main Cast

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
George C. Scott ... Asst. State Atty. Gen. Claude Dancer
Orson Bean ... Dr. Matthew Smith
Russ Brown ... George Lemon
Murray Hamilton ... Alphonse Paquette
Brooks West ... Dist. Atty. Mitch Lodwick
Ken Lynch ... Det. Sgt. James Durgo
John Qualen ... Deputy Sheriff Sulo
Howard McNear ... Dr. Dompierre
Emily Eby ... Mrs. Welbourne
Alexander Campbell ... Dr. W. Gregory Harcourt
Joseph N. Welch ... Judge Weaver
Duke Ellington ... "Pie-Eye"


Director ... Otto Preminger
Producer ... Otto Preminger
Screenplay ... Wendell Mayes
Music ... Duke Ellington
Cinematography ... Sam Leavitt
Format ... B & W
Distribution Company ... Columbia Pictures
Release date ... July 1, 1959
Running time ... 160 minutes

Academy Awards

No Wins:
Seven Unsuccessful Nominations:
Best Picture ... Otto Preminger
Best Actor ... James Stewart
Best Supporting Actor ... Arthur O'Connell
Best Supporting Actor ... George C. Scott
Best Cinematography, Black-and-White ... Sam Leavitt
Best Film Editing ... Louis R. Loeffler
Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium ... Wendell Mayes