Anatomy of a Murder (1959)
Director: Otto Preminger
Screenplay: Wendell Mayes, John D. Voelker (based on his novel written as Robert Traver)
Stars: James Stewart, Lee Remick, Ben Gazarra, Arthur O’Connell and George C. Scott
The Pitch: “Let’s make a movie based on the best-selling novel Anatomy of a Murder!”
The Tagline: “Last year’s No.1 best-seller … This year’s No.1 motion picture.”
The Overview: Beware of Spoilers…
Stewart plays small town attorney Paul Biegler who’d rather be fishing than practicing law. Biegler’s mentor is Parnell McCarthy (Arthur O’Connell) who’d rather be boozing it up than just about anything. When Biegler is offered the chance to defend Fredrick Manion (Ben Gazara), against a murder charge, he sees it as a way to get McCarthy off the booze. Manion is a soldier accused of murdering the man who raped his wife (Lee Remick).
We spend the first part of the movie learning about the case.
Biegler meets Manion, a quick-tempered, hard-to-like soldier who admits to killing the man who raped his wife about an hour after finding out about it. This wasn’t a heat of the moment murder. After meeting Manion’s wife who is sporting a beat-up face and a casual attitude, Biegler finds himself in a case where nothing is clear cut.
Manion is a jealous, thuggish man who likes his wife to dress provocatively and then gets jealous when men give her attention. Laura Manion likes men, booze and fun. Being married doesn’t stop her from having a good time where she can find it. She married Manion three days after divorcing her first husband and admits that Manion was the reason for the divorce.
Was Laura raped? She was beat-up, but did that happen during the rape or when he husband found out she had been with another man. The clinical evidence is inconclusive. Something happened but under what circumstances?
The second part of the movie takes us into the courtroom for one of the best courtroom dramas ever filmed.
The acting across the board is excellent. Stewart (Best Actor), O’Connell (Best Supporting Actor) and Scott (Best Supporting Actor) were all nominated for Academy Awards. I’m surprised Lee Remick wasn’t as well, because she is that good. The film went on to be nominated for seven Oscars as well as other honors.
To the movie’s credit, the jury comes back with a verdict, but knowing the evidence of the case and the things that we see that the jury doesn’t, the audience may come away with a different verdict. At the very least, there is room for discussion.
The last scene is a treat and adds another layer to the puzzle.
Watch for cameos by: Howard McNear [Floyd the Barber from The Andy Griffith Show] and Duke Ellington!
New York Film Critics Circle Awards –
- Best Actor, James Stewart
- Best Screenplay, Wendell Mayes; 1959.
Venice International Film Festival –
- Volpi Cup
- Best Actor, James Stewart; 1959.
Grammy Awards –
- Best Performance by a Dance Band
- Best Musical Composition First Recorded and Released in 1959
- Best Sound Track Album.
Producers Guild of America Awards –
- Top Drama
- Top Male Dramatic Performance, James Stewart
- Top Male Supporting Performance, Arthur O’Connell; 1960.
Academy Awards –
- Best Actor in a Leading Role: James Stewart
- Best Actor in a Supporting Role: Arthur O’Connell
- Best Actor in a Supporting Role: George C. Scott
- Best Cinematography, Black-and-White: Sam Leavitt
- Best Film Editing: Louis R. Loeffler
- Best Picture: Otto Preminger
- Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium: Wendell Mayes; 1960
British Academy Film Awards –
- Best Film from any Source Otto Preminger, USA
- Best Foreign Actor James Stewart, USA
- Most Promising Newcomer Joseph N. Welch, USA; 1960.
Directors Guild of America Awards –
- DGA Award Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Feature Film, Otto Preminger; 1960.
Golden Globe Awards –
- Best Motion Picture – Drama
- Best Performance By An Actress In A Motion Picture – Drama: Lee Remick
- Best Director – Motion Picture: Otto Preminger
- Best Performance By An Actor In A Supporting Role In A Motion Picture: Joseph N. Welch; 1960.