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The James Stewart/Lee Remick courtroom classic gets a lovely Blu treatment from Criterion....
Criterion / 160 Minutes / 1959 / Unrated / Street Date: February 21, 2012
A military officer (Ben Gazzara) is accused of first-degree murder for the shooting death of a man at a bar, who he believes raped his wife (Lee Remick). But the officer claims he remembers none of the murder and gets a talented, and mildly eccentric, local attorney (James Stewart) to help him conquer a conviction with not guilty for reasons of "insanity at the time." However, with strong evidence against the officer that he was in possession of his faculties at the time of the murder, and that he maintained a clean military record (though he had manhandled his wife more than a few times) his insanity plea remains a long shot for his attorney to prove. But they go forward and begin to unravel an odd, gripping set of events during the night in question.
Anatomy of a Murder's screenplay is written by Wendell Mayes and based on the best-selling novel by John D. Voelker (who is published as his author alias Robert Travers, though credited as Robert Travers in the film). Voelker based it off of a real life slaying in 1952 in Big Bay, Michigan, and according to the production notes, producer/director Otto Preminger wanted to capture the realism so he ."..decided to shoot Anatomy of a Murder entirely on location in the Michigan townships of Marquette, Ishpeming, Big Bay and Michigamme, including the Marquette County courtroom."
After eight weeks of filming, the movie opened July 2, 1959 to rave reviews and garnered 7 Academy Award nominations. Rightfully so in my book, because the first-rate, distinct line up of actors flesh out every character detail and held my attention throughout. Breaking out of a Norman Rockwell painting, James Stewart plays the attorney with his ruddy, easygoing attitude earnestly (and predictably) explodes like a loose cannon. But Stewart is very sincere and convincingly puts his heart into this demanding role. It's also refreshing to see Eve Arden (now probably most famously known for her portrayal as the uptight principal in Grease) as Stewart's assistant.
Though I respect, but am admittedly not a huge fan of George C. Scott, he completely stole the show for me as the icy but brilliantly composed attorney brought in to help the town's own whining, incompetent prosecuting attorney. Stewart's courtroom outbursts are emotionally ignored by Scott, and he easily pressed forward with his savvy grilling and contrived plan to convict. This was a refreshing contrast and easily made Scott shine outside of Stewart's charismatic, engulfing shadow.