Anatomy of a Murder (USA, 1959, Otto Preminger)
The film's subject matter (rape and the insanity defense) was controversial in the 1950s, as was Preminger's approach, which was bluntly direct. The film maintains a cool objectivity as it explores both the psychosexual issues of the central characters and the complex legal issues confronted by lawyer Biegler and his client Manion. It raises prickly and complex questions about legal ethics, while challenging the audience to decide for itself the tricky issues of justice and truth. Presiding calmly over the heated and controversial case is Joseph N. Welch, who in real life was the defense attorney in the Army-McCarthy hearings.
Sam Leavitt's black-and-white cinematography contrasts with the various shades of gray in the moral dilemmas of the characters. Justice appears to be an afterthought in this case in which procedure and self-interest, rather than a pursuit of the truth, control the process. There are no clear-cut good guys and bad guys, and the film's resolution has a willfully ironic edge. An excellent soundtrack by Duke Ellington and superior casting invigorate what could have become a series of methodical courtroom scenes. James Stewart brings a natural integrity to his flawed character, while George C. Scott's gravelly voice and rumpled energy enliven his cinematic debut. Standouts also include Lee Remick, playing somewhat against type as the flirtatious "victim," and Ben Gazzara, who eases effortlessly into his cynical role. In an ingenious piece of casting, noted Boston lawyer Joseph N. Welch, famed for his evisceration of Joseph McCarthy ("Have you no shame, senator?"), is cast as the judge. Anatomy of a Murder was an envelope-pusher in its day, forcing open some of the tightly locked censorial shutters in prudish 1950s Hollywood.