Tuesday, April 29, 2008

'Anatomy of a Murder'

Mix Jimmy Stewart with George C. Scott. Throw in heaping portions of Arthur O'Connell, Ben Gazzara, Eve Arden and the lovely Lee Remick. Sprinkle doses of Duke Ellington every few minutes. Let Otto Preminger stir the whole thing up.

And that, my friends, is the recipe for one groovy little picture, 1959's "Anatomy of a Murder." I spent a couple of hours with it while waking up last Saturday morning and was quite pleased that a second viewing (I had seen it once before, years ago) didn't disappoint.

Stewart is his usual likable self, this time playing attorney Paul Biegler, a man who loves fishing, jazz music and reading the law, pretty much in that order. Paul has spent a few years as his Michigan UP county's district attorney, but he was beaten in the last election by a near incompetent (Brooks West). He can't afford to pay his secretary (Arden) and spends most of his days fishing and most of his nights reading Chief Justice Holmes with the alcoholic aging lawyer Parnell Emmett McCarthy (O'Connell).

Then the Manion case comes into his life.

Lt. Frederick Manion (Gazzara) is arrested for killing a man that allegedly raped his wife Laura (Remick). As time goes along, you don't quite believe either of them, but Paul takes the case and instructs his client to plead temporary insanity.

The district attorney brings in a star lawyer, Claude Dancer (Scott), from down state to help with the case. And he and Biegler lock horns in one of the most engaging courtroom exchanges to ever be put to film.

Preminger's directing is stellar. This fine cast turns in performances to remember. And somebody had the bright idea to ask Ellington (who appears in the film) to compose the soundtrack.

All in all, it makes for a fine little film, somewhat controversial for its time, a perfect little way to spend a Saturday morning on the couch. File this one under the "they don't make 'em like this anymore" category.

"Anatomy of a Murder" is available on DVD.

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