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Anatomy of a Murder (1959)

Last years number one bestseller. This years (we hope) number one motion picture!

Directed by:

Otto Preminger

Rating: 8/10

Running Time: 160 minutes

US Certificate: Unrated UK Certificate: 15

On DVD

Country: United States

When The Fresh Prince told us that “parents just don’t understand”, he really was onto something. Still not convinced? Just ask James Stewart. When he starred in ‘Anatomy of a Murder’ in 1959, the film was instantly acclaimed by audiences and critics alike, culminating in a whopping SEVEN Oscar nominations at the following year’s ceremony. But that wasn’t enough for Mr Stewart Snr. Oh no, while everyone else was revelling in Jimmy’s electrifying performance in this wonderful courtroom drama, what was Popsy doing? He was taking out an ad in his local paper calling it a “dirty picture” and urging the public not to go see it. Gee, thanks for the support, Dad!!!

As you can probably guess from Papa Stewart’s ever-so-slightly unreasonable level of concern, the subject matter of this one was considered pretty controversial at the time. Starring The Jimster as the feisty attorney defending an army lieutenant (Ben Gazzara) accused of murdering the man who raped his wife (Lee Remick), Wendell Mayes’ screenplay looks at the issue of rape in considerable detail for the time and seldom holds back on the dialogue front. At one point, the script even uses the word “panties”. Ooh er, maybe Daddykins had a point after all!

Of course, nowadays we’re well used to hearing such matters discussed on screen, and we’re similarly spoiled when it comes to our exposure to lengthy courtroom dramas (let’s face it – there have been loads of them). But look at ‘Anatomy’ in its sheltered late-50s context and it shines. Austrian helmsman Otto Preminger serves up a Viennese Whirl, exercising a directorial style so considered that’s it’s verging on stubborn, refusing to do anything other than take his time and build tension in the way he wants it built. Given extensive screentime and huge chunks of (often witty) dialogue, Stewart excels. It’s probably true that most of those taking up the supporting roles are less on-the-ball, but Stewart is so good that the weaknesses of those around him barely seem to matter.

Requesting that audiences sit through over two-and-a-half hours of courtroom back-biting is, of course, a big ask, and it’s probably for that reason that – verging on half-a-century later – this one isn’t as well-remembered or fondly-discussed as so many other Jimmy Stewart flicks. But it’s a rewarding experience if you have the patience, and an achievement in cinema that is difficult to see being matched at any point in the near future.

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It's Got: Objection!

It Needs: Sustained.

DVD Extras Filmographies, a stills gallery, some trailers and a look at some of the original ad posters. Version reviewed: Anatomy Of A Murder DVD Extras Rating: 4/10

Alternatives:

Rear Window, Rope

Summary

James Stewart delivers one of his finest displays in this hard-bitten courtroom pot-boiler – with or without the approval of his dear old dad.

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