Review: ‘Anatomy of a Murder’

Director Otto Preminger got his film on the screen for preview only 21 days after the final shooting on Michigan location. This dispatch may be one reason why Anatomy is over-long.

Director Otto Preminger got his film on the screen for preview only 21 days after the final shooting on Michigan location. This dispatch may be one reason why Anatomy is over-long.

Wendell Mayes screenplay otherwise is a large reason for the film’s general excellence. In swift, brief strokes it introduces a large number of diverse characters and sets them in motion. An army lieutenant (Ben Gazzara) has killed a tavern operator whom he suspects of attempting to rape his wife (Lee Remick). James Stewart, former district attorney and now a privately-practicing attorney in a small Michigan city, is engaged for the defense.

Mayes’ screenplay, from the book by the Michigan judge who uses the nom de plume Robert Traver, differs in some respects from the novel. Partly through casting, there is considerable doubt about the real innocence of Gazzara and Remick. This handsome young couple astray of the law are far from admirable.

Preminger purposely creates situations that flicker with uncertainty, that may be evaluated in different ways. Motives are mixed and dubious, and, therefore, sustain interest.

Balancing the fascinating nastiness of the younger players, there is the warmth and intelligence of Stewart and Arthur O’Connell. O’Connell, a bright, but booze-prone Irishman of great charm, is his ally. Joseph N. Welch, Boston attorney, is tremendous as the trial judge. George C. Scott, as the prosecution attorney, has the suave menace of a small-time Torquemada.

1959: Nominations: Best Picture, Actor (James Stewart), Supp. Actor (Arthur O’Connell, George C. Scott), Screenplay, B&W Cinematography, Editing

Anatomy of a Murder

Production

Columbia/Carlyle. Director Otto Preminger; Producer Otto Preminger; Writer Wendell Mayes; Camera Sam Leavitt Editor Louis R. Loeffler; Music Duke Ellington Art Boris Leven

Crew

(B&W) Available on VHS, DVD. Extract of a review from 1959. Running time: 160 MIN.

With

James Stewart Lee Remick Ben Gazzara Arthur O'Connell Eve Arden Kathryn Grant
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  1. Robert Donihue says:

    It’s difficult to take your review seriously, as you mishandled the most basic of the film’s plot points. The murder was purportedly motivated not by an attempted rape, as you stated, but rather by a supposed Actual rape of the primary female character. One’s capability to regard your review with appropriate faith in a prepared critique is hopelessly skewed by this appalling recklessness and lack of serious attention to the subject matter. I would hope for better from you moving forward.

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