Anatomy of a Murder

Anatomy of a Murder

Infobox Film
name = Anatomy of a Murder

image_size = 225px
caption = film poster by Saul Bass
director = Otto Preminger
producer = Otto Preminger
writer = Story:
John D. Voelker
Wendell Mayes
starring = James Stewart
Lee Remick
Ben Gazzara
Arthur O'Connell
George C. Scott
music = Duke Ellington
cinematography = Sam Leavitt
editing = Louis R. Loeffler
distributor = Columbia Pictures
released = 1 July fy|1959
runtime = 160 minutes
country = FilmUS
language = English
budget =
gross =
imdb_id = 0052561

"Anatomy of a Murder" is an American fy|1959 trial court drama film directed by Otto Preminger and written by Wendell Mayes based on the best-selling novel of the same name written by Michigan Supreme Court Justice John D. Voelker under the pen name Robert Traver. Traver based the novel on a 1952 murder case in which he was the defense attorney. ["Anatomy of a Murder", ISBN 9780312033569, ISBN 0312033567, large print ISBN 0783816669.] The picture stars Jimmy Stewart, George C. Scott, Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara, Arthur O'Connell, Eve Arden, Kathryn Grant, Orson Bean, and Murray Hamilton. [imdb title|id=0052561|title=Anatomy of a Murder.]


In the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, small-town lawyer Paul Biegler (James Stewart), a prosecuting attorney who lost his re-election bid, takes the case of loutish Army Lieutenant Frederic Manion (Ben Gazzara), charged with first degree murder for shooting a barkeeper who allegedly raped Manion's flirtatious wife, Laura (Lee Remick). Matched against a high-powered big city prosecutor (George C. Scott) sent by the Governor to help out the local D.A. (Brooks West), Biegler and his alcoholic colleague Parnell McCarthy (Arthur O'Connell) and sardonic secretary Maida Rutledge (Eve Arden) try to win Manion's freedom with a defense of irresistible impulse -- a claimed part of an insanity defense. Biegler's folksy speech and laid-back demeanor hide a sharp legal mind and a propensity for courtroom theatrics that have the visiting judge (real life lawyer Joseph N. Welch, of Army-McCarthy hearings fame, in his only film role) busy keeping things under control.

The original murder that inspired this occurred at Big Bay Point Light at a time when it was being used to house Army personnel; but in the book and screenplay takes place in a 'Yooper' bar.


The movie, inspired by a 1952 Big Bay Lumberjack Tavern murder trial in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, was adapted by Wendell Mayes from the novel by Robert Traver (pen name of John D. Voelker, a Michigan Supreme Court judge from 1957-1959).

It was filmed in Big Bay, Marquette, Ishpeming, and Michigamme, Michigan. Some scenes were actually filmed in the Thunder Bay Inn in Big Bay, Michigan, one block from the Lumberjack Tavern, the site of a murder that had inspired much of the novel. The movie was directed by Otto Preminger, and was noted for featuring unusually frank dialogue for 1959. It was among the first Hollywood films to challenge the Production Code, along with Billy Wilder's "Some Like It Hot" (1959) and Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho" (1960).

The role of the judge was offered to both Spencer Tracy and Burl Ives, but ultimately went to Joseph Welch, a real-life lawyer who had made a name for himself when representing the United States Army in hearings conducted by Senator Joseph McCarthy. It was Welch who famously asked of McCarthy, "Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?" It is to be noted that the judge, played by Joseph Welch, is a self-effacing and modest arbiter, who strives to work in the community to which he is transplanted, respecting its folkways, while trying to keep the case on an even keel toward a reasonable (not necessarily perfect) resolution, based upon the record presented and the mandates imposed by law.


* James Stewart as Paul Biegler
* Lee Remick as Laura Manion
* Ben Gazzara as Lt. Frederick Manion
* Arthur O'Connell as Parnell Emmett McCarthy
* Eve Arden as Maida Rutledge
* Kathryn Grant as Mary Pilant
* George C. Scott as Asst. State Atty. Gen. Claude Dancer
* Orson Bean as Dr. Matthew Smith
* Russ Brown as George Lemon
* Murray Hamilton as Alphonse Paquette
* Brooks West as Dist. Atty. Mitch Lodwick
* Ken Lynch as Det. Sgt. James Durgo
* John Qualen as Deputy Sheriff Sulo
* Howard McNear as Dr. Dompierre
* Alexander Campbell as Dr. W. Gregory Harcourt
* Joseph N. Welch as Judge Weaver

Cast notes:
*Chicago newspaper columnist Irv "Kup" Kupcinet has a small uncredited role in the film, and Joseph Welch's wife appears as a juror, also uncredited. Duke Ellington appears as "Pie-Eye", the owner of a roadhouse, with whom Jimmy Stewart's character plays piano.


"Anatomy of a Murder" is noteworthy for being one of the first films to extensively feature jazz in the musical score – the entire musical soundtrack was composed by Duke Ellington and played by his orchestra. Several of the Ellington band's sidemen, notably Johnny Hodges, Paul Gonsalves, Harry Carney, Russell Procope, and William "Cat" Anderson, are heard prominently throughout the film, and Ellington himself appears briefly as "Pie-Eye," the owner of a roadhouse where Paul Biegler (Stewart) and Laura Manion (Remick) have a confrontation.

The soundtrack, containing thirteen tracks, was released on May 29, fy|1959. A CD was released on April 28, fy|1995.clr

Legal aspects

The film examines the apparent fallibility of the human factor in jurisprudence. In various ways all of the human components – the counsels for defense and prosecution, the defendant and his wife, and the witnesses – have different positions on what is right or wrong, and varying perspectives of what constitutes: integrity and justice; moral and immoral; ethical and not.

One controversial legal issue in this film is possible witness coaching, a violation of legal canons. The only plausible defense Lt. Manion has – the insanity defense – is virtually spelled out to a befuddled Manion by his prospective counsel. Witness coaching by the prosecution is even more blatant as they call in other jail inmates awaiting sentencing to testify against Manion, and is portrayed as subornation of perjury to an extent. The first suggests that the defendant may be concealing the truth and manipulating his story in order to obtain the best possible verdict, and the latter that the prosecution dangled a possible lighter sentence ("See also", Plea bargain) as an incentive to perjury. [ [ Asimow, Michael] . "Picturing Justice," film review from a legal perspective, February 1998.]

In protracted litigation, confabulated memory – filling in the blanks and recreating memories – is common, and research has documented the tendency. Repetitive and suggestive questioning tends to plant the seeds of memory. [ [ Underwood, J. & Pezdek, K. (1998). Memory suggestibility as an example of the sleeper effect. "Psychonomic Bulletin & Review", 5, 449-453.] ] This book and the movie are among the most cogent examples of the lawyers' dance. “Horse shedding" of witnesses is well known, if controversial and potentially unethical; it is not just an occasion to directly orchestrate perjury. More problematic, it is probable to reach a point where “if you believe it, then it isn’t a lie.” Thus, even letter-perfect "bona fide" certainty of belief is not equivalent to a certification of accuracy or even truthfulness. This process is called "horse shedding," "sandpapering" or "wood shedding" – the first and last names relating to the place of the "collaboration." [ "See" Bryan A. Garner, "Black's Law Dictionary, 7th Ed." (West Group, St. Paul Minnesota, 1999), pp. 742, 1342 and 1598) ISBN 0-314-22864-0. "See also," [,M1Gerhart, Eugene C. Gerhart, "Quote it Completely!: World Reference Guide to More Than 5,500 Memorable Quotations" (Wm. S. Hein Publishing, 1998)] ISBN 1575884003.]

Comparisons of film to novel

The issue of the insanity defense was more thoroughly explored in the novel, and a key scene in which Biegler destroys the credibility and professionalism of the prosecution's psychiatric expert for proffering an opinion without examining the subject is watered down in the film almost to insignificance.

Critical reception

UCLA law professor, Michael Asimow, calls the picture "probably the finest pure trial movie ever made." [ [ Asimow, Michael] . "Picturing Justice," film review from a legal perspective, February 1998.]

Critics note, among other things, the moral ambiguity, where small town lawyers triumph by guile, stealth and trickery. They note that this may be Preminger's finest movie, and laud the performances (especially of Jimmy Stewart in his "finest performance") and highly-regarded performances by Lee Remick and George C. Scott. The movie is frank, even brutal in its approach. Language and sexual themes are direct, forceful and unblinking, at variance with the times (and other movies) when it was produced. The black and white palette is seen as a complement to the harsh Upper Peninsula landscape. [ [ A collection of professional reviews,] . Last accessed: November 22, 2007.]

"New York Times" film critic Bosley Crowther thought the film was an excellent example of how trial courtroom dramas should be filmed, and wrote,

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," which opened at the Criterion and the Plaza yesterday. It is the best courtroom melodrama this old judge has ever seen. . . . Outside of the fact that this drama gets a little tiring in spots—in its two hours and forty minutes, most of which is spent in court—it is well nigh flawless as a picture of an American court at work, of small-town American characters and of the average sordidness of crime. [ [ Crowther, Bosley] . "The New York Times", film review, "A Court Classic," July 3, 1959.]

In 1989, the American Bar Association rated this as one of the twelve best trial movies of all time. [ [ Verone, Patric M.] , "The 12 Best Trial Movies" from the "ABA Journal", November 1989 reprinted in "Nebraska Law Journal".]

In June 2008, the American Film Institute revealed its "Ten top Ten"—the best ten films in ten "classic" American film genres—after polling over 1,500 people from the creative community. "Anatomy of a Murder" was acknowledged as the seventh best film in the courtroom drama genre. [cite news | publisher = American Film Institute | title = AFI's 10 Top 10 | date = 2008-06-17 | url = | accessdate=2008-06-18]

The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 100% of critics gave the film a positive review, based on thirty-six reviews. [rotten-tomatoes|id=anatomy_of_a_murder|title=Anatomy of a Murder. Last accessed: June 19 2008.]


* New York Film Critics Circle Awards: NYFCC Award Best Actor, James Stewart, Best Screenplay, Wendell Mayes; 1959.
* Venice Film Festival: Volpi Cup; Best Actor, James Stewart; 1959.
* Grammy Awards: Grammy; Best Soundtrack Album, Background Score from Motion Picture or Television, Duke Ellington; 1959.
* Laurel Awards: Golden Laurel; Top Drama; Top Male Dramatic Performance, James Stewart; Top Male Supporting Performance, Arthur O'Connell; 1960.

* Academy Awards: Oscar; Best Actor in a Leading Role, James Stewart; Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Arthur O'Connell; Best Actor in a Supporting Role, George C. Scott; Best Cinematography, Black-and-White, Sam Leavitt; Best Film Editing, Louis R. Loeffler; Best Picture Otto Preminger; Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium, Wendell Mayes; 1960.
* British Academy of Film and Television Arts: BAFTA Film Award, Best Film from any Source, Otto Preminger, USA; Best Foreign Actor, James Stewart, USA; Most Promising Newcomer, Joseph N. Welch, USA; 1960.
* Directors Guild of America: DGA Award Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures, Otto Preminger; 1960.
* Golden Globe Award: Golden Globe; Best Motion Picture - Drama; Best Motion Picture Actress - Drama, Lee Remick; Best Motion Picture Director, Otto Preminger; Best Supporting Actor, Joseph N. Welch; 1960.




* Robert Traver. "Anatomy of a Murder" New York: St. Martin's Press, 1958. ISBN 978-0517204450

External links

* [ "Anatomy of a Murder"] at American Film Institute
* [ Baulch, Vivian M., "The Detroit News"] , "When Hollywood Came to the Upper Peninsula."
* [ Bergman, Shirley J., “The Real Trial”, "Michigan History", November/December 2001.]
* [ Michigan Supreme Court Historical Society, John D. Voelker Biography and bust.]
* [ 50th Anniversary Celebration of Anatomy of a Murder] at Northern Michigan University
** [ Reader's Guide]
** [ Voelker Collection]
* [ 50th Anniversary. September 14, 2008] at "Detroit Free Press"
* [,1607,7-160-15481_19271_19357-118411--,00.html Michigan Archive, Michigan History Arts and Letters, John D. Voelker.]
* [ Shaul, Richard D., “Anatomy of a Murder”, "Michigan History", November/December 2001.]
* [ Two trailers for Anatomy of a Murder at]

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