Anatomy of a Murder (1959) is an ironic court room drama directed by Otto Preminger that takes issue with the potential weaknesses of the trial-by-jury system. Former Michigan district attorney Paul Biegler (Jimmy Stewart) spends his days fishing, drinking, playing jazz on the piano, and from time to time giving legal counsel to whoever might ask him for it. His best friend is former lawyer Parn McCarthy, whose career failed due to his drinking problems. The two of them often spend the evenings drinking and reading law together.
Biegler is under financial strains; his secretary's type writer has two broken keys and she even has to be patient waiting for her salary to be paid out. Thus, he gladly accepts to defend Lt. Manion, an army lieutenant who killed a bar owner after the latter allegedly raped Manion's wife. Winning the case would not only help Biegler financially but also give him an opportunity to prove that he is more competent, after all, than his successor in the district attorney's office who had once booted him out and whom he considers as inferior. After checking into whether there is a chance to win the case, he takes on the case for $3000 and gets McCarthy involved as his assistant.
Though he does not find his client very likable, Biegler does not seem to care whether he is guilty as charged or not. All that interests him is winning the case. As a defense strategy, Biegler aims at convincing the jury that Manion had a legal excuse, if not justification, for murdering his victim: Manion shot his victim out of “an irresistible impulse” caused by his knowledge that the victim had raped his wife. Although an unusual defense, Biegler and McCarthy manage to find a precedent in Michigan from the year 1886. Now they only need to convince the jury that Manion did in fact act upon an irresistible impulse.
But there are quite a number of obstacles to this goal. Circumstances multiply that seem to undermine the official story presented by the defendant and his wife: A doctor who examined Mrs. Manion after the alleged rape could not find evidence for it. The location of the alleged rape is known as “lovers-lane”, and there are indications that Mrs. Manion herself, though dressing up in court like a faithful wife, is morally loose. But since all that is necessary to win the case is manipulating the jury, Biegler keeps asking strategic questions and publicly volunteering information that, even though dismissed by the judge, are heard by the jury. “How can the jury disregard something it has heard”, asks the defendant his attorney at one point, and the latter answers, “They can't”. The procession of the trial is described with wonderful irony.
The review of this Movie prepared by Dorothea Lotter
Adapted from a novel of Robert Traver, ANATOMY OF A MURDER was directed in 1959 by Otto Preminger. James Stewart accepts to defend an army officer accused of having murdered in cold blood a bartender who assaulted his wife. Will he be able to convince the court that Ben Gazzara was temporarily insane at the moment of the murder ? That's the point of this terrific court movie. A must.
The review of this Movie prepared by Daniel Staebler