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500 Five-Star: Anatomy of a Murder (1959)

July 30, 2011


Almost two hours of Anatomy of A Murder’s (rather long) running time is dedicated to a murder trial; a very detailed, fascinating murder trial, with Jimmy Stewart as the defense lawyer for a soldier accused of killing the man who raped his wife.  This is rarely seen in Hollywood, at least to the best of my knowledge.  Of course, there are plenty of courtroom dramas, but none that go into the depth that this does, dedicating so much time to the courtroom and the nitty-gritty of such a trial.  That it remains consistently entertaining and dramatic throughout its 160 minutes is testament to two things.  First of all, Stewart’s typically charismatic performance as Paul Biegler is a joy to behold.  The courtroom is effectively his theatre; in order to get his ‘not guilty’ verdict, his job is to create a story for the jury, and through his performance, make it believable (in doing so, highlighting some of the faults of the US justic system).  If you’ve ever seen a James Stewart film, you know there isn’t many more perfect for that role.  Almost the entire film is seen from Biegler’s point of view, meaning we know nothing more of the case and its participants than him.  This leads us to the second of the film’s strengths: the audience are effectively given the role of jury.  We never see the murder, never see the events leading up to it…pretty much all we know (minus a few details gathered by Biegler before the trial) is what is presented in the courtroom, giving us the opportunity to decide for ourselves whether the jury in the film get it right.  It is certainly not an open-and-shut case.  There is plenty of ambiguity in the characters and the stories they tell to leave doubt in the viewer’s mind long after the film is finished.  As a result, this is one of the most compelling law-based dramas I have ever seen.



I admit it’ll never be in my all-time favourite films list; though entertaining, it’s an admirable film rather than something which connects personally with the viewer.  Nothing wrong with being admirable though….


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