Oscar Vault Monday – Anatomy of a Murder, 1959 (dir. Otto Preminger)
I first saw this movie during TCM Summer Under The Stars last August and it made me fall in love with Lee Remick. She is something else in this film, a film that also features a stellar ensemble cast. I also feel I must point out that this was the year that Ben-Hur won Best Picture and as much as I like Anatomy of a Murder there’s no comparison between the two. Especially in terms of scope and pure cinematic epicness. Ben-Hur is the kind of film that could only be a film, whereas Anatomy of Murder could have worked just as well as a play. That being said, Anatomy of a Murder is an amazing film and definitely worth your time. It was nominated for seven Academy Awards, though it failed to win a single award: Best B&W Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor Arthur O’Connell, Best Supporting Actor George C. Scott, Best Actor James Stewart and Best Picture. The other films nominated for Best Picture that year were The Diary of Anne Frank, The Nun’s Story, Room at the Top and winner Ben-Hur (which won eleven Oscars).
Despite being nominated by the Directors Guild of America, Preminger was not nominated for Best Director by the Academy; Billy Wilder received the fifth spot (the other four going to Best Picture nominees), for Some Like It Hot, which was not nominated for Best Picture.
This is a strange role for Jimmy Stewart. He’s a little uncouth and unpolished. But Stewart gives a dynamic performance and received his last of five Best Actor nominations for the film. I actually found it kind of hard to watch Stewart in this film at first because it is such an atypical role for him and there are parts of the film where he is pretty nasty. I guess that’s what we call range. In the courtroom scenes Stewart’s Paul Biegler is sharp as a tack, playing off the prosecuting attorneys (played by Brooks West and George C. Scott) wonderfully. I particularly like the tension between Stewart and Scott.
This was very much a Hayes-code breaking film (kind of like Preminger’s 1953 film The Moon Is Blue), equally for its candid discussion of sex and rape during the trial sequences (including a lengthy discussion of Remick’s character’s panties), but also because of Lee Remick’s performance. Remick’s Laura Manion is like a lower class version of the over-sexed women Marilyn Monroe was famous for playing. Everything she does is charged with enough sexual energy to power an electric car for a month. I’m rather surprised Remick, who was 23 at the time, didn’t receive an Oscar nomination for this performance. Perhaps it was just too much for the Academy, I mean Marilyn never got nominated for her iconic performances as similar women either. Remick, however, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for 1962’s Days of Wine and Roses.
Ben Gazzara gives an electric performance as US Army Lieutenant Frederick “Manny” Manion, husband to Laura, who has been arrested for first degree murder. He is charged with killing innkeeper Barney Quill, something he does not deny because it was committed after his wife claimed to have been raped by Quill. I won’t tell you what the truth is because that would ruin the whole film. I will just say that Gazzara matches Remick’s sexual energy punch for punch, only with a more animalistic rage type energy.
I didn’t realize when I chose to write about this film that Arthur O’Connell was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role in this film, just like last week’s Oscar Vault Monday – Picnic. Sadly, O’Connell did not when for either nominated performance and was never nominated again. He is wonderful in this film as Paul’s alcoholic friend and colleague Parnell McCarthy. Though often drunk, Parnell remains an important asset for Paul, assisting him throughout the case.
Even Arden is wonderfully sardonic as Paul’s secretary Maida Rutledge. Arden is one of the best sarcastic women of all cinema, though her sole Oscar nominations was for 1945’s Mildred Pierce. Maida keeps both Paul and Parnell on their toes; she knows they’d be lost without her and she never lets them forget it.
George C. Scott doesn’t show up until nearly halfway through the film I think (or maybe it just felt like that), but he gives a powerhouse performance regardless. He is ruthless as prosecuting attorney Claude Dancer. Like I said earlier, he and Stewart have such great chemistry during the courtroom scenes; it’s almost like a dance. Scott received his first of four Academy Award nominations for his performance in this film.
Kathryn Grant is superb as Mary Pilant, a mysterious Canadian woman living at the Inn owned by the murdered Quill. Although she is suspected of being Quill’s mistress, the truth is far more complicated than anyone would have guessed. Again, I don’t want to spoil the twist for anyone who hasn’t seen the film.
If you’re interested in purchasing this film, you can do so here at our Oscar Vault Monday aStore.
Posted on May 30, 2011, in Oscar Vault Monday and tagged 1959, Anatomy of a Murder, Arthur O'Connell, Ben Gazzara, Eve Arden, George C. Scott, James Stewart, Jimmy Stewart, Kathryn Grant, Lee Remick, Otto Preminger. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.