Anatomy of a Murder: One of the Great Legal Films of All Time

The 1959 movie, Anatomy of a Murder, is an enduring legal thriller. Not only does it have a twist, but the film features outstanding performances by some of Hollywood’s most admired actors and it addresses topics that were taboo for the time, making it quite a risk to produce.

A Review of Anatomy of a Murder

The film begins with a look at the life of country attorney Paul Biegler (Jimmy Stewart), who recently lost a re-election campaign for district attorney. Now he works just enough to finance his trips to the local fishing hole. Until Biegler gets a phone call from a woman named Laura Manion (Lee Remick). She asks him to defend her husband, Lieutenant Manion (Ben Gazzara), who has been arrested for the murder of bar owner, Barney Quill. Biegler meets with Lieutenant Manion at the local jail and discovers that this case is anything but cut and dried. The courtroom exchanges between big-shot prosecutor Claude Dancer (George C. Scott) and Biegler are an entertaining mixture of sharp dialogue and humor. The trial is filmed in a way that makes an audience hold its breath waiting for each witness’ next answer.

Anatomy of a Murder was the first of many movie featuring compelling courtroom scenes; it sparked an interest in courtroom drama that led to many well-received productions. This intense, ground-breaking film introduced moviegoers to the well-written courtroom drama, such as And Justice for All, The Verdict, and Inherit the Wind.

Controversy in Anatomy of a Murder

This film deals with many controversial subjects. The first one is the question of whether Lieutenant Manion was justified in murdering the man who raped his wife. Beigler opts for a defense that claims Manion murdered the man as a result of a psychological condition called, ‘irresistible impulse.’ In other words, he tried to convince the jury that Manion was in a sort of mental fog when he committed the murder. During the courtroom scenes, the attorneys talk frankly about rape, which was a controversial subject in films at that time.

Surprises in Anatomy of a Murder

There are also some pleasant surprises in the film. For instance, Duke Ellington and his music make an appearance when the characters visit the local dance hall. Also, the superb actress Eve Arden plays Biegler’s faithful secretary. It’s not surprising that this film was nominated for seven academy awards, including Best Picture, in 1959. Moviegoers admired the director Otto Preminger as well as the cast for their courage to make a film that pushed established boundaries in Hollywood.

Make this film your choice for your next movie night.


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