Rating (3.5 out of 5)
Great all around cast and great court scenes come together to make Anatomy of a Murder another solid offering for James Stewart. This 1959 classic is 2 hours and 40 minutes in length and does get mired in the journey to the court room.
Plot: Lt. Frederick Manion’s (Ben Gazzara) wife, Laura Manion (Lee Remmick) is allegedly raped, and the Lieutenant admittedly kills the alleged rapist. Paul Biegler (James Stewart) is recruited by Laura to be Lt. Manion’s attorney and pleads temporary insanity. Will Paul win the case?
What I Liked: The banter back and forth between the lawyers and the judge was fun. I particularly enjoyed the judge’s attitude toward many objections. For example, at one point the conversation turns to a missing pair of panties. He requests the lawyers over to discuss intelligently the appropriate word to use for panties. The judge then solemnly addresses the whole court room about using the appropriate word and instructs the audience no laughing will be tolerated.
The film never confirms the exact details of the alleged rape and/or murder. The audience, like the jury, rely merely on the testimony of Lt. Manion and Laura Manion and other circumstantial evidence. As the movie ends, the audience doesn’t know if the couple are telling the truth or lying. The lack of clarity works effectively for a trial drama and after the movie has finished you depart wondering if the jury was right.
What I Didn’t Like: The pure length of the movie. At 2 hours and 40 minutes, the movie drags in parts. The build up to the trial is rather slow; Paul drives home, walks into his quaint house and guts the fish etc., too much character building. Once the trial commences the pace of the movie picks up and the audience is hooked to the end of the trial.
The local district attorney Mitch Lodwick (Brooks West), who has replaced Paul’s as D.A., is portrayed as incompetent. Paul is more quick-witted and shrewder than new Mitch. Mitch has to call in a big wig D.A (George C. Scott) from the big city to assist him. A better portrayal would be young and inexperienced, rather than an incompetent buffoon.
Conclusion: Anatomy of Murder is well acted court room drama that is about 20 minutes too long. If this comes up on some classic channel and you have 3 hours, take the opportunity to watch this classic film, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to buy it.