Friday, February 20, 2015

Oscar Movie Review: "Anatomy of a Murder" (1959)

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Oscar Movie"Anatomy of a Murder"
Year Nominated: 1960
Director: Otto Preminger
Rating: UR
Running Time: 2 hours, 40 minutes
Did It Win?: No.

Former prosecutor and current defense attorney Paul Biegler (Jimmy Stewart) takes the case of Lt. Frederick Manion (Ben Gazzara) at the behest of the accused's wife Laura (Lee Remick). Lt. Manion is on trial for the murder of Barney Quill, who he shot after being told Quill had raped his wife. Since Lt. Manion was witnessed and has admitted to shooting Quill, his only chance for acquittal is a temporary insanity plea. Now, all Paul has to do is make the jury believes it. 

"Anatomy of a Murder" is a movie title we have always recognized and one we knew was nominated for many Academy Awards, but beyond that, we knew very little about it and had not seen until just prior to writing this review. Now that we have finally seen it, we will admit it is a solid movie. Jimmy Stewart is excellent as always as defense attorney Paul Biegler, who is simply trying to earn a buck by taking what appears to be a cut and dry murder case. Stewart can be both calculated and quick, as well as lovable, trusting and dull, too. George C. Scott also does a fine job as Assistant State Attorney General Claude Dancer, who believes they have an open and shut murder case, too. Ben Gazzara is really who shines in this film, though. He plays the accused murderer Lt. Frederick Manion, who admittedly killed the man who raped his wife, the very seductive and attractive Laura Manion, played by Lee Remick. We as the audience never really get the sense that he's telling the truth, especially since he is a very gruff, easily agitated military man, and there is something about him that doesn't seem quite right. Beyond some good performances and some interesting camera work here and there, this is a pretty straightforward courtroom drama. A man who killed his wife's rapist believes his murder was justified, and the defense attorney has to find a legal loophole to get him acquitted by pleading temporary insanity and then proving it. Biegler goes around talking to witnesses, contacting psychologists and reading through law books to find precedent. While this goes on, the prosecutors paint Manion as a jealous husband who killed a man seduced by his unfaithful wife. The truth about Manion is never truly divulged as we only get to see the outcome through the court's decision. The overall situation of justifiable homicide and insanity pleas is one we've seen time and time again throughout the years, and though this is an earlier film that likely did it first, or at least before many others, there are certainly other films that have come along since then that have done it better. Though it doesn't quite reach that "must absolutely see at least once in your lifetime" list, it is a good enough film to give it a watch if you come across it for the performances alone.

My Rating: 7.5/10
BigJ's Rating: 7.5/10
IMDB's Rating: 8.1/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 100%
Do we recommend this movie: Yes!

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