Anatomy of a Murder

1959 | Courtroom Drama | 160 minutes | In English


Paul Biegler, a retired small-time Michigan lawyer, is contacted by Laura Manion and asked to defend her husband, Lt. Frederick Manion. Pushed by his alcoholic mentor and friend, Parnell McCarthy, Biegler agrees to take the case. Lt. Manion was arrested for the first-degree murder of bar owner Barney Quill. Manion does not deny the act, but he states he did it because Quill raped his wife, Laura. Biegler knows  this will not be enough to exonerate his client. However, Biegler feels he may be able to  use as a defense, “temporary insanity” or “irresistible impulse.” This may not be easy. The local district attorney is being assisted by the big city prosecutor Claude Dancer,  coming from the Attorney General’s office. As the two gifted attorneys battle it out, Judge Weaver does a masterful job keeping them and the witnesses  on  tight leashes. Biegler’s initial victory is secured when Judge Weaver allows the rape to be part of the deliberations. Witnesses and psychiatrists all testify. The case begins to focus on Laura’s promiscuous relationships and Lt. Manion’s state of mind at the time of the murder. The trial and the verdict now seem to hinge on one fact: Will Lt. Manion be found “not guilty by reason of insanity.”   

James Stewart (Paul Biegler) / Lee Remick (Laura Manion) / Ben Gazzara (Lt. Frederick Manion) / George C. Scott (Claude Dancer) / Joseph N. Welch (Judge Weaver)
Why Stream This Film?
The film broke ground with its graphic descriptions of rape, the use of such unheard words like “contraceptive,” “climax,” “spermatogenesis,” and the display of panties in the courtroom. It was temporarily banned in Chicago and excoriated by many civic leaders and the clergy. But it also brilliantly portrayed the various ways everyone in the trial had different perspectives on integrity, justice and morality. Many in the legal profession called this film “probably the finest pure trial movie ever made.”
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score (Critics Consensus): 100%
  • Metacritic Score: 95
  • Academy Awards: Nominations- Best Picture; Best Actor, Leading Role (James Stewart); Best Actor, Supporting Role (Arthur O’Connell and George C. Scott); Best Screenplay (Wendell Mayes)
  • Directors Guild of America (DGA) Award: Outstanding Directorial Achievement in a Feature Film (Otto Preminger)
  • Golden Globe Awards: Best Picture, Drama; Best Performance by an Actress (Lee Remick); Best Director (Otto Preminger); Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (Joseph N. Welch)
  • Duke Ellington won a Grammy Award for BEST SOUND TRACK ALBUM
  • The film was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

Now streaming on:

Director Preminger has confidence in his performers and faith in his intelligent viewers: a happy combination. That’s an overview what makes the film great. Its pleasures are another matter, well deserving of another thousand or so words.
Jaime N. Christley

SLANT Magazine

After watching an endless succession of courtroom melodramas that have more or less transgressed the bounds of human reason and the rules of advocacy, it is cheering and fascinating to see one that hews magnificently to a line of dramatic but reasonable behavior and proper procedure in a court. Such a one is ANATOMY of a MURDER. It is the best courtroom melodrama this old judge has ever seen.
Bosley Crowther

The New York Times

ANATOMY of a MURDER is a daring, cynical gem. And check out the extras: Duke Ellington’s jazzy score and Saul Bass’ famous opening credits.
Chris Nashawaty


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