Plot: What’s it about?
Paul Biegler (James Stewart) is a small town lawyer who knows the courtroom like the back of his hand, but he doesn’t spend much time inside one anymore. Biegler used to be the prosecuting attorney for his small town, but after some time was voted out of office. Since then he has focused his attentions on his personal life and opts to spend his days with a fishing pole rather than law books and documents. But Biegler is about to return to his practice and take on a case that will have him and everyone else searching for answers in every possible place. His client Lt. Manion (Ben Gazzara) is accused of murder and he even admits guilt in the matter, but he claims he is innocent because the murder was a crime of passion. When Manion’s wife informed him she had been raped and who had raped her, Manion took the law into his own hands and killed the man. But Claude Dancer (George C. Scott) says that temporary insanity is not the cause for this crime, but that Manion premeditated the murder and then carried it through. When it comes to this case it seems like everyone has a different story, but we all know only one can be true…
If you consider yourself to be a film buff then I assume you’ve seen this movie. Fans of classic cinema herald this movie as one of the all time best and a riveting courtroom drama, which holds your attention even after the final credits roll. Now imagine you haven’t seen this movie before, but you have heard all this talk about what a classic it is. I’ve seen this movie many times over the years and I do feel it is an excellent overall film with some outstanding performances, but I can see why some could let down upon their first viewing. I showed this movie to some friends a while back and they weren’t that impressed simply because they expected so much, due to all the praise they had heard about the movie. As such I will not tell you this movie is an all time great because I don’t think it is, but I do think it is a fantastic film in all regards. Is it the best courtroom drama of all time? No, but it is a very good one and worth watching and adding to your collection if you love classic cinema. I recommend this movie as a rental to those interested but I advise against buying this disc, since Columbia hasn’t even included the original widescreen version of the film.
This film was directed by Otto Preminger, who has directed several solid movies in his career. I think this movie was his finest work however as it has stood the test of time better than most of his films. The camera work in Anatomy Of A Murder is very good and always keeps us just the right distance from the events. The tension isn’t just built with dialogue in this movie, the camera also plays a role in setting the tone for the trial. If you want to see more of Preminger’s movies I recommend Centennial Summer, Advise And Consent, Forever Amber, and The Man With The Golden Arm. The screenplay was written by Wendell Mayes and was based on the novel by Robert Traver. I don’t usually discuss the musical score in this section, but Duke Ellington’s work on this film is superb and fits the movie to perfection. This film includes what I feel is James “Jimmy” Stewart’s finest performance, which is worth the price of admission alone. Stewart (Vertigo, It’s A Wonderful Life) plays the small town chum very well as usual, but expands the role in this movie. The supporting cast is also excellent and includes Ben Gazzara (The Big Lebowski, Summer of Sam), Kathryn Grant (The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad), Lee Remick (The Omen), and George C. Scott (Patton, Dr. Strangelove).
Video: How does it look?
Anatomy Of A Murder is presented in a 1.33:1 or full frame aspect ratio, which is an open matte of the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. I have no idea why Columbia chose to use this version instead of a widescreen transfer, but I am very disappointed with their choice. While I am not pleased with the included aspect ratio, there’s little else to complain about with this visual presentation. This is a black & white movie so contrast is the main focus and this transfer looks terrific with no errors at all to report. The shadows are dark and well defined and the brighter areas shine without blooming. I didn’t see any compression errors either, but I am still unhappy with the lack of a widescreen version.
Audio: How does it sound?
This release contains the original mono track which provides an adequate, if unmemorable audio experience. I was pleased to find the usual mono hiss is absent in this mix and I could find little to complain about. The music sounds terrific and shows no signs of aging at all, not a hint of distortion is present. The effects seem in order though no heavy duty audio is displayed in the film, and the mix seems to balance it all together well. The main focus is dialogue in this mix and it sounds clear and crisp, though sometimes it seems a little low in terms of volume.
Supplements: What are the extras?
An eight minute photo montage has been included, which cycles through some still photos while the music of Duke Ellington is played. While I don’t always revisit these still galleries I would if more were done along the same lines as this one. The vintage advertising section is made up of four posters which promoted the film and I’m disappointed more materials were not included. You’ll also find talent files and trailers for this movie as well as A Few Good Men and Philadelphia.