Archive for July, 2008

Anatomy of a Murder (1959)

“Anatomy of a Murder” (1959)


jazzed lawyers

As far as i can tell, this film may have established the courtroom ‘genre’. Not that it was the first film to feature a trial and the courtroom, of course, but it was one of the first ones to make the narrative dynamics develop around the story the lawyers can create out of invented or manipulated facts. The funny things to observe in this kind of court depictions, and cat and mice game between defenders and prosecutors is how words, and the interpretation one makes of words, and how words are thrown (this includes expressions, body and facial ones) can completely change the reality of things. The film is, as the title suggests, the dissection of an event we never get to see, occurred in sets with which we are not so much in touch with. So we have to visualize, and we do that through words and the opinion we form of the characters (witnesses) we are allowed to see so in a way we are at the same level of the jury. What’s strong about this film, and why it worked well to me, is that, even though we spend the film following Stewart and the defense, we’re never led to believe that we should believe Gazzara’s character or story. There are a lot of subtleties, questions left open. Ultimately, the two theories exposed in court made sense, but we really don’t know which one (if any of them) is true:-were the facial bruises of the wife made by the murdered or the murderer? -were the panties really where found, or were they planted? -did the wife ever betray the husband?… I enjoyed this ambiguity.

Sex was present throughout. I am young, and this is a good way to see how certain things were regarded than: sex and religion. The fuss over the use of the word ‘panties’ in the courtroom, of course, but also how the prosecutor tries to dismiss the wife by alleging her disregard towards her religion. How that could blow a case in the minds of the jury (and i suppose, the audience 50 years ago). We had two kind of screen female characters depicted: the flashy overtly sexy Lee Remick (whose character would go to a bar with bare naked legs!) and the introspective, closed and mysterious Kathryn Grant. As a screen character i am more interested in the second, as i saw the film i made the mental exercise of switching their parts, or at least, make Remick look more like Grant. I recommend you do that.

On purely visual/cinematic concerns, there are two things to point out here, pretty competent and which made the experience worthwhile, to me: one is how the camera moves: it inherited most of what Hitchcock had been making in previous years; including the beautiful ‘Rope’ and ‘Rear window’, both featuring Stewart; this means we have a seeking camera, a curious camera which in this case is worried more with characters than with space, even though space usually unfolds as a consequence of what characters do. This is pretty competent, and had been done with a very high level 2 years before, with Lumet’s ’12 angry men’. I think here we have a mid term between Hitchcock and Lumet’s attitude. It’s less consequent, not original, but still a pretty competent camera work. The other thing is jazz. Ellington, who even does a cameo playing with his band. Stewart’s characters plays the piano also, and the virtuous beat of the Duke really does it. It’s a cinematic glue, something that carries the films, as much as the inflated performance by Stewart or our inner questions regarding the veracity of the case we’re being exposed.

My opinion: 4/5

This comment on IMDb