Year: 1959
UK: BFI (UK Wide)
Cast: James Stewart, Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara, Arthur O'Connell, Eve Arden, Kathryn Grant, George C. Scott, Orson Bean, Russ Brown, Murray Hamilton, Brooks West, Ken Lynch, John Qualen, Howard McNear, Alexander Campbell, Ned Wever, Jimmy Conlin, Royal Beal, Joseph Kearns, Don Ross, Lloyd Le Vasseur, James Waters, Joseph N. Welch, Duke Ellington, Irv Kupcinet, Mrs Joseph Welch
Director: Otto Preminger
Country: USA
UK: 160 mins
UK Certificate: 12A contains moderate sex references and rape trial theme
UK Release Date: 15 April 2005 (Limited Re-release - London)
UK Distributor


Otto Preminger was neither publicity nor controversy shy and the ingeniously constructed ANATOMY OF A MURDER offers a brilliant example of his taste for both: not content with making a pair of ladies "panties" the centre-piece of a courtroom battle, he also cast Joseph N Welch (the famous army counsel who dismantled Senator Joseph McCarthy on television) as Judge Weaver and selected Duke Ellington to write the sublime jazz score (the first he had ever written for a film). Preminger, who held a law degree himself, took the natural drama of a courtroom and created an irresistible and provoking fictionalised murder trial which has less to do with who's right and who's wrong (we're never really sure), and everything to do with courtroom skirmishes, legal in-fighting and walking a fine line between sensation and validity.

ANATOMY OF A MURDER covers the murder trial of a young Army officer Frederick Manion (Ben Gazzara), held for the shooting of a man who has allegedly raped his wife Laura (Lee Remick). A small town attorney Paul Biegler (James Stewart), aided and abetted by the down-at-heel but resourceful attorney Parnell McCarthy (Arthur O'Connell), agrees to defend the suspect, only to encounter seemingly insurmountable obstacles in finding sympathetic witnesses.

James Stewart (who worked in every film scene, with the exception of one afternoon, during the 8 weeks on location) is impeccable as the quick-witted and shrewd defence attorney Paul Biegler who seems less interested in glory than in fly-fishing and jazz; Lee Remick (who became a star with the part) plays the saucy Laura who's either a slut or just a woman who likes to look good and have fun; Ben Gazzara plays the insolent Lt Frederick Manion who either yielded to an irresistible impulse when he killed Barney Quill because he raped his wife Laura, or lost his temper in a fit of jealous rage, and Eve Arden plays Paul Biegler's wise-cracking secretary Maide Rutledge. Remarkable in the casting are both the show-stopping entry of George C Scott into the courtroom as the domineering prosecuting attorney, and the selection of Joseph N Welch as Judge Weaver whose performance brought to the role an authenticity that no actor could have matched.

ANATOMY OF A MURDER is based on a best-selling novel by Judge John Voelker (pseudonym Robert Traver), which appeared to be based on a real case in which a soldier was tried for the murder of a man alleged to have raped his wife. (This was flatly denied by Judge Voelker - no doubt fearing a legal writ.) Preminger shot ANATOMY OF A MURDER on location in the exact town and place (on the Upper Michigan Peninsula, 400 miles North Detroit, 2000 miles from Hollywood) where the real-life killing took place - the bullet hole in the bar is apparently the original. In order to capitalise on the best-selling status of the book, he shot the film in a mere eight weeks.

ANATOMY OF A MURDER is a triumph from beginning to end: the all-time great credit sequences created by graphic design artist Saul Bass; the exceptional ensemble acting; the wonderfully atmospheric jazz score from Duke Ellington; the magnificently precise yet expansive screenplay and the fluid, choreographed camerawork. ANATOMY OF MURDER was both a commercial and critical success for Preminger (receiving unanimous praise amongst the New York critics) and sees the director at the peak of his career. But, as David Thomson writes, perhaps the director's real triumph lies in his recognition of the power of the personality in the courtroom, over points of law: 'Preminger's real daring was to say that the law is a game or a play determined by the best actors'.

Filmed in black and white.