It was one of those nights when you wish you were asleep, keeping in mind that you have a lecture to attend the next morning, which you cannot miss as you had already done so a lot of times in the past. But my body didn’t want the sleep, what with the Sunday I slept through. So here I am sting at my desk, sipping at a hot mug of black coffee, and occasionally glancing through the window looking at the dawn breaking. I shall soon go out and enjoy the cool morning freshness. It is not something new to me. But it’s definitely a rare event in college. I am one of those guys who sleep early enough to wake up for the lectures the next day.
I watched Anatomy of a Murder.
Preminger shows a willingness to shake up the status quo with this trial drama – it feels bracingly realistic. Packed with astonishing dialog and bristly performances, this is essential cinema.
Paul Biegler (Stewart) is a small-town Michigan lawyer who agrees to defend a young soldier, Manion (Gazzara), who killed the man who raped his wife (Remick). The trial pits Biegler against a shrewd big-city DA (Scott) and a visiting judge (McCarthy hearing lawyer Welch) who's both smart and witty. Surprise witnesses, back-hallway dealings, unexpected flirtations, outrageous revelations--they're all here, although the truth always seems just out of reach.
This is expert filmmaking--beautifully shot and brilliantly written with a complexity and a sense of detail that we rarely see anymore. Yes, it's a very long film, but it's so compelling that we hardly feel the time passing. Characters are all layered and fascinating, with dark shadings and hilarious asides. Even the side roles have a life of their own. And the entire cast is flawless. Stewart’s was an intriguing character, and Remick's flirtatious minx is unforgettable (Jodie Foster's Oscar-winning role in The Accused, 30 years later, is a direct copy). And of course, one cannot ignore Duke Ellington's gorgeous jazz soundtrack.
In addition to technical and artistic excellence, the plot itself is utterly engaging. Sexual tension gurgles everywhere, along with a constant threat of violence and a gnawing dread that the truth will never emerge, regardless of what the jury decides. Preminger brings an assured gravitas to the screen as he explores the complexity of humanity – no one is all good or all bad. He intriguingly avoids the lawyer's opening and closing arguments and only shows the string of witnesses – just the facts, as it were – while quietly turning the screw tighter and tighter until the final subtle surprise. Perfection.