Anatomy of a Murder (12A)
Time Out saysThough its title may promise a clinical procedural, ‘Anatomy of a Murder’ cloaks itself in smartly tailored ambiguity and irresolution, and never altogether strips off. Coolly absorbing, nonchalantly cynical, the film incited controversy upon its 1959 release for references to rape, ejaculation, and women’s undergarments, but Preminger refuses the standard payoffs of the courtroom thriller – no impassioned closing arguments here, and the requisite cross-examination bombshell comes as no surprise to the audience. It’s definite that Second Lieutenant Frederick Manion (Ben Gazzara) killed barkeep Barney Quill, but why? Did Manion act out of jealous wrath, having caught his missus Laura (delectable Lee Remick) – a sweet, coltish voluptuary in pedal-pushers – in a compromising position? Or was the young officer spurred by legally defensible ‘irresistible impulse’ after Quill raped his wife? And who gave Laura that nasty shiner – Quill or her cuckolded spouse?
Shabby-genteel defence lawyer Paul Biegler (James Stewart, again tweaking his wholesome persona a year after ‘Vertigo’) never appears halfway assured of his client’s innocence, but he’s hardly averse to subtle witness-coaching: ‘See if you can remember how crazy you were,’ he suggests to smooth and cagey Manion. Facing off against unflappable prosecutor Claude Dancer (George C Scott, like Remick making his first major film appearance), Biegler makes it perfectly clear that he’d rather be fishing, or playing jazz piano – Duke Ellington cameos as a duet partner, and provides the sensational score. No one entirely means what they say, except the presiding judge played by Joseph Welch, whose impassioned censure of Joseph McCarthy during the Army-McCarthy hearings hastened the senator’s downfall – though here his immortal ‘Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?’ becomes ‘Now, Mr Dancer, get off the panties – you’ve done enough damage.’ Perched on his bench, avuncular and wearily tolerant of his charges’ calculated histrionics, he sits atop a lonely moral high ground.