Monday, May 21, 2012

Courtroom Drama #7 - Anatomy of a Murder (1959)

I actually put off watching Anatomy of a Murder for a long time, because the thing is three hours long and the beginning is just not exciting, but once I finally got around to watching it, it was not as mind-numbingly boring as I thought it would be. Jimmy Stewart is in it, and he's just a simple country lawyer from Michigan who's defending a man who killed the man who raped his wife - Or did he? It's actually pretty engaging. It leaves you actually guessing about whether or not everyone's story is true, and even the ending is pretty ambiguous (Or I just didn't understand it. That's also an option.) It discusses the rape in frank language that you don't even always see in movies today, and practically never in movies made during the reign of the Hayes Code. I was extremely surprised by that aspect of the movie. It was filmed up in the U.P., because apparently they have buildings there that don't serve to guide ships to shore, which also surprised me.

Anatomy of a Murder is also based on a true story, which makes it the fourth movie in the genre to be so. I'm not really surprised by this - court cases do lend themselves well to entertainment - but didn't expect all of the movies I've seen so far to have some basis in reality. In Cold Blood is even straight-up nonfiction. Almost as surprising as those buildings in the Upper Peninsula (Not to mention that whole town full of people!)

The best parts of this movie are actually totally unexpected. For one thing, for some reason, the judge is totally awesome. He's just always making all kinds of snarky comments and he doesn't put up with Jimmy Stewart's crap and he makes the whole thing so much more entertaining. I don't know why he's like that, but hey, it's cool. He's not even an actor - the judge is played by Joseph Welch, who was the lawyer who represented the U.S. Army in the Joseph McCarthy hearings. You know, in real life. And he's like the best part of this movie.

Another great thing about the movie: The soundtrack is great. It's all jazzy and fantastic. And do you know who it was composed by? Duke Ellington, of all people! It is exactly what you would expect from a movie score by Duke Ellington. It's actually of historic interest, too, because it's the first main-stream movie that wasn't, like, night-club themed or something to feature a jazz score. It's groundbreaking.

I also want to point out that this a great looking black and white film. It's so crisp and the contrast in every shot is just perfect. It was good that I was consciously thinking about it for pretty much the whole movie. It was just so well filmed.

In conclusion: Anatomy of a Murder was surprisingly entertaining, and surprisingly frank, and surprisingly not just three hours of trees, like I would expect a movie filmed in the Upper Peninsula to be. I would watch it again. It also had Saul Bass credits, by the way - That's a good sign for a movie. Look at Vertigo.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Courtroom Drama #8 - In Cold Blood (1967)

I was actually really excited when I saw that In Cold Blood was on this list. I read the book last summer and really liked it, and I don't think I even knew there was a movie. In Cold Blood is a Truman Capote book, and I really like him - I enjoy his writing style and inexplicable film appearances - so the book was a big hit with me. It's nonfiction and about this random murder of a family in Kansas. It's really a character study of the guys who committed the crime, and the story, especially in the movie, follows them more than any other side of the murder. It's very interesting - the story makes a point of making them real people, and even though they aren't portrayed at all sympathetically, there still not just flat-out evil. It also comes right at the beginning of the time when they were starting to get some information on the phenomenon of serial killers - the idea of people killing just for the sake of it was just becoming a real theory at the time - So it was interesting to see them discuss that in the movie.

 The whole thing is a lot like Rope to me, which is an Alfred Hitchcock movie about Leopold and Loeb (They murdered a man as an intellectual exercise) from way back in 1940. The two men in that movie have a very similar relationship to the men in In Cold Blood, at least as far as their murdering dynamic goes. It should be noted that I don't actually think their relationships are similar in any other way. The dynamic they have is interesting to me though, because even with only the two instances of it, it gives the impression that that sort of dynamic is common in murder, that you get two people pushing each other toward that to...impress each other, basically, often. It's interesting to me that you can see the same relationship between two unrelated sets of murders. It's very strange.

But the movie - It is wonderfully Sixties. I really liked the way it was filmed. The music was very guitar-y and plucky and it was filmed in that 60's way with all the weird angles and like filming from above and musical montages and things - Think a darker West Side Story. It was in black and white but the picture was real sharp, so I liked the contrast. The whole thing was very enjoyable to watch. It does drag a little at the end and in the middle, when they're in Mexico, but it picks up, so that's okay. The only thing I really didn't like was that they filmed the movie in the house where the actual murders occurred. That just seems...icky to me. I'm not a fan of that.

I really liked In Cold Blood - It was interesting and it was well filmed and it had good music. I thought about it way more than I thought about A Cry in the Dark. Also, Paul Frees just randomly showed up in the middle, which was a fun surprise.

Courtroom Drama #9 - A Cry in the Dark (1988)

So, Blogger just updated itself and you guys - I can't figure out how it works. I am just not quite hip enough. So bear with me if anything weird happens to the formatting.

A Cry in the Dark was...boring. Really, really boring. It's about that woman who was arrested in Australia because she said that a dingo ate her baby, but everyone thought she murdered it. I know - That sounds interesting. It isn't. Meryl Streep is in it, and it has some commentary on media sensationalism, and the phrase "A dingo ate my baby" is hi-larious, but somehow that does not all add up to entertainment. I just....It did not make an impression on me. It was so Eighties, and not in a fun way - I mean come on: Look at the poster. It wasn't terrible, but it wasn't engaging at all. Judgement at Nuremberg at least made me feel something. It made me think about things. This movie just didn't. That's the peril of the early part of the list, of course. We all remember Reds, for example, and Blue Velvet. There are always a couple of movies that I just don't really care about. Movies that don't make we want to say anything about them. I assume we'll have to work through a lot of this once I get to the sports movies, unfortunately.

But enough about that - Here's the thing, you guys: I have 229 days until the end of the world, and seventy movies, give or take. This is possible. But I really have to buckle down. I have to zoom through these Courtroom Dramas and get right on to the Gangsters (Which should be fun), the Sports (Which should be torture), and the Westerns (Jury's still out on the Westerns). Then it's the Romances, the Comedies, and the Romantic Comedies. And then Citizen Kane. I can do this. This can happen. And the next movie actually was really good, so I'll have something to say about that, at least.