Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Otto's Anatomy of a Murder

This is probably the greatest courtroom drama ever made and it features one of James Stewart's finest screen performance and Lee Remick is just perfect as Laura Mannion - not quite a tramp but enjoys her power to excite men - which goes too far one night when she is brutally raped. Controversial in its day for using words like "panties" and "sperm", Otto Preminger's film still enthralls with its close examination of a murder trial - one could see it as a companion piece to his 1962 ADVISE AND CONSENT - reviewed recently here (dramas, gay interest labels). As Michigan hick lawyer and jazz fan (cue Duke Ellington) Stewart is drawn into the case and comes up against flash big town prosecutor George C. Scott (in his breakthrough role). Their courtroom duels and stunts are mesmerising, revealing an America in 1959 leaving its traditional moral values behind as that new decade the '60s dawn, so it has that 1959 look in spades and is a key American film of that year, like NORTH BY NORTHWEST, SOME LIKE IT HOT etc. Its a long film which never dawdles but fizzes along.
The real courtroom judge presides over the case, Saul Bass's credits are exemplary as usual and as the young trailerpark couple Lee Remick and Ben Gazzara (he died last year, RIP label) have perfect chemistry too. Arthur O'Connell has a great role too as Stewart's sidekick redeeming himself while Eve Arden has not much to do but it is great to have her there as their secretary.
The case is interestingly worked out to the final denoument, with Kathryn Grant as a key witness (she soon gave it all up to be Mrs Bing Crosby). A key 50s film then and one of Otto's major works before his work fizzled out by the late 60s. After those two with Kim Novak in 1958 this was really the start of Stewart's character roles. Lee Remick has always been one of my favourites, as per my many posts here on her, I met her in 1970. She left us far too young.

 Ben Gazzara is the hothead army soldier (he slaps his wife around now and then)  who shoots the respected local inn-keeper who raped his wife, then pleads insanity or an "irrrestible impulse". Lee is great as the suggestive tease who leaves you questioning her motives throughout. She and Stewart have some nice scenes together as he coaches her to be less trampy and how to conduct herself in court. There is that great moment when she lets her hair down ... This was a sensational film at the time, I remember getting the paperback, great to see it holds up marvellously over 50 years later.

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