"Anatomy of A Murder" is the exciting, enjoyable story of Paul Beigler, a small town Michigan attorney who is hired to represent and defend a man accused of killing a man who had allegedly raped his wife. While the plot seems a bit simple, it soon unfolds into a very complex film noir legal drama. Great writing, enjoyable performances and a soundtrack which really sets a rich, noirish tone throughout the film combine to make this film an enjoyable, intense drama which is definitely worth checking out.
The true strength of this film lies in its writing. The original story was written by John D. Voelker, a Michigan Supreme Court Justice who wrote the novel under a nom de plum. The great writing of the original story, possibly based on a similar case that occurred in Michigan is made even better by strong performances by James Stewart (as Beigler), Lee Remick as the alleged rape victim and wife of the accused, Ben Gazzara as Lt. Fredrick Manion, the accused. Also quite good in the film is a young George C. Scott who plays a young lawyer from the Attorney General's office. While Stewart initally doesn't seem very attorney-like, when the story progresses into a courtroom drama, Stewart comes around in the character and the film gets better as a result.
The film does go a bit overboard with the zingers regularly delivered by Beigler (the judge tells a witness to be serious and leave the wisecracks to the attorneys), which detract from the compelling drama unfolding around them. While these do occasionally offer a bit of comic relief, at times they are overdone and seem a bit out of place. The filmmakers generally do a good job of injecting realism into the courtroom scenes, however, these comedic interruptions, such as Beigler's threat to punt opposing counsel out of the courtroom.
The dramatic mood in the film is greatly enhanced by a wonderful soundtrack provided by Duke Ellington. The music is bold at some times, understated at others, but always helps to set the tone of the scenes. This is one DVD which makes you wish that there was an isolated music track.
Although sometimes slow-paced at approximately 160 minutes, when the film transforms into a courtroom drama, the film is at its best, fast paced and intense. Watching this film over 40 years after its initial theatrical release, the film appears to be both reflective of the time in which it was made and a good enough drama to remain enjoyable today. Made in 1959, the subject matters dealt with in the film, namely rape and murder had to have been a bit graphic for the time. This becomes especially apparent in the film, as there is discussion of spermatosis, a recounting of the rape, an extensive discussion over the use of the word "panties" to describe a missing undergarment, and a discussion of the possibility that the alleged victim wasn't wearing any panties when she went to a local bar. At the original mention of this undergarment, there is laughter from the galleys in the court room. This, along with smoking in an attorney's office and the court room demonstrate in what a different time period this film was made. It is a fine testament to the writers of the film, that as bold as this film was in the time in which it was made, it remains compelling today.
"Anatomy of a Murder" is presented in full screen black and white with an aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The picture does often seem a little bit grainy, and there are occasional specks on the film, but they are insufficient to be a distraction, and these bits are likely on the film itself, rather than the transfer.
The sound transfer on this DVD has been freshly remastered, and is presented in Dolby Digital Mono. At times the sound does sound a bit hollow and the viewer may need to increase the volume to clearly hear the dialogue of the film. Given the age of the film, however, this is to be expected.
The bonus materials on this DVD include a photo montage, trailers and advertising for the film, talent files and production notes. The photo montage, set to Duke Ellington's wonderful soundtrack shows photos from both the making of the film and the recording of the soundtrack, is about 10 minutes long and is a nice addition, although it doesn't add too much to the DVD itself, serving more as an opportunity to enjoy Ellington's score once again.
The DVD includes a trailer from the film and also trailers for "Philadelphia" and "A Few Good Men." In addition, the vintage advertising for the film includes a few of the original theatrical posters, including one with reviews for the film. The talent files for the cast of the film are fairly extensive, informative, and up to date.
Finally, the booklet included with the DVD tells a bit about the writing of the book and how the book became a movie, with a great cast assembled in support, including the discussion of the use of the real locations depicted in the film. It's a nice little addition to the film's presentation to DVD viewers.
Although over 40 years old, "Anatomy of a Murder" remains a compelling courtroom drama, which very likely has served for a number of the great legal dramas which have followed it. Although a bit long, this film is an enjoyable, enthralling film which is definitely worth watching.