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.

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