Anatomy of a Murder (1959)

“Probably the finest pure trial movie ever made.” – UCLA Law Professor, Michael Asimov

Anatomy of a Murder, starring James Stewart, Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara, Arthur O’Connell and Eve Arden was directed by Otto Preminger for Columbia Pictures in 1959. It’s based on a real murder case that happened in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (U.P)…

…and the entire film was shot on location close to where it took place, in Marquette County.

Anatomy of a Murder is the story of a jealous husband who’s on trial for killing the man that “allegedly” raped his wife. Laura Manion (Remick), the accused’s wife herself calls local attorney, Paul Biegler (Stewart) and begs him to take the case to defend her soldier husband (Gazzara). Biegler reluctantly decides to take it, in part because it’s getting a lot of attention in the U.P. which he thinks might finally get him the business that will let him make the money he needs to fund his fishing trips, and, pay Maida (Arden), his assistant…but mostly fund his fishing trips, despite Maida’s demands.

“You’re fired” – Biegler

“You can’t fire me until you pay me!” – Maida

It winds up being a whirlwind courtroom drama filled with clever ploys and constant bickering between Biegel and the “big city attorney from Lansing,” Claude Dancer (George C. Scott). It’s a heavy, riveting movie that’s as much about the human condition at that time as it is about a serious crime. Judge Weaver (Joseph N. Welch) does an excellent job of keeping the attorneys in line and even provides a little brevity just when we need it the most:

“One judge is quite like another. The only differences may be in the state of their digestions or their proclivities for sleeping on the bench. For myself, I can digest pig iron. And while I might appear to doze occasionally, you will find that I am easily awakened, particularly if shaken gently by a good lawyer with a nice point of law.” – Judge Weaver.

 

The film is based on the bestselling novel from 1958 by Robert Traver, the pen name for John D. Voelker, The book is based on an actual case of Voelker’s in the U.P. where he was the defense attorney in a murder trial. Voelker was also a prosecutor in the U.P. and was later appointed a Michigan Supreme Court justice. Voelker said he used a pen name when he wrote his novels because he felt it would be inappropriate for a sitting judge to also be a crime novelist. Eventually he retired from the bench to concentrate on his passion for writing novels.

John D. Voelker is the attorney who Paul Biegler, played by James Stewart, is based on. Anatomy of a Murder spent 65 weeks on the best seller list and Illustrated two of Voelker’s passions: the law, and fly-fishing. (On a side note: Voelker became close friends with Joseph N. Welch, the actor who portrayed Judge Weaver, during filming. It was a friendship that would last their lifetimes).

While the town and place names are fictitious in the movie, they are closely based on places along U.S. highway 41, Michigan state highway M-28 and Marquette county highway 550. The street scenes in the movie were filmed in Marquette and Ishpeming. The courthouse scenes were all filmed at the county courthouse in Marquette. The Thunder Bay Inn, where the bar scenes were filmed used to be called the Big Bay Inn at the time, but is now, you guessed it, The Thunder Bay Inn. (Big Bay, Michigan has a little bit of a tourist shrine devoted to the movie and it’s worth a stop if you’re up that way), and the trailer park where the Mannions lived is an actual campground in Michigamme. All of these places are still there.

Anatamy of a Murder director Otto Preminger was known for films like Laura of 1944, and the film noir Fallen Angel of 1945 as well as other high-profile adaptations of novels and plays. He had a tendency to direct films with themes that were taboo and therefore on the radar of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), who approved and rated movies. There’s no doubt Preminger was an expert at defying the censors with this movies – In 1953 he directed The Moon is Blue, its storyline was about losing virginity was the reason it couldn’t attain MPAA approval. The Man With the Golden Arm (1955) couldn’t get MPAA approval because of its drug addiction plot. In 1962, Advise and Consent, didn’t get MPAA approval because it touched on homosexuality.

In Anatomy of a Murder, the taboo subject this time was rape. And boy are there frank discussions of rape and sex in this movie. It is said that the censors of the day objected to anything and everything that related to sex and rape but in the end, Preminger only made one concession in the film: he allowed them to substitute the word “violation” for “penetration,” which allowed the movie to be released with MPAA approval.  Many other “questionable” words were left in the script.

Once again, Judge Weaver eased us through a little of it:

“There’s a certain light connotation attached to the word ‘panties.’ Can we find another name for them?” – Judge Weaver

“I never heard my wife call ’em anything else”. – District Attorney Mitch Lodwick (Brooks West)

“Mr. Biegler?” – Judge Weaver

“I’m a bachelor, Your Honor.” – Paul Biegler”

That’s a great help. Mr. Dancer?” – Judge Weaver.

‘When I was overseas during the war, Your Honor, I learned a French word. I’m afraid that might be slightly suggestive.”  – Mr. Dancer.

“Most French words are.” – Judge Weaver.

Anatomy of a Murder was nominated for seven Academy Awards and its Duke Ellington soundtrack won the Grammy for Best Soundtrack album.

The American Bar association rated Anatomy of a Murder as one of the twenty-five best legal dramas ever made. I know it’s the best one I’ve ever seen. The fact that it all takes place and is filmed in the U.P is a bonus for me. We’ve spent a lot of time on road trips up there because of my huge crush on Lake Superior. We’ve taken the route in the movie dozens of times, always paying attention to the film’s locations….and while it’s fascinating and a lot of fun to know I may have walked the same sidewalks Jimmy Stewart once did, it’s the beautiful scenery that takes my breath away every time. Road trip!

This post is my entry in the Celluloid Road Trip Blogathon hosted by Hometowns to Hollywood.

Sources:

Northern Michigan University
Life In Michigan

6 Favorite Movies From The 60s

May 16th is National Classic Movie Day! I love any reason to celebrate classic movies, and this is a fun way to do it. Thank you to Rick at the Classsic Film & TV Cafe for hosting this, The 6 From The 60s blogathon. The guidelines for this blogathon are simple: list your six favorite films from the 1960s and explain why they deserve such an honor! This post is my entry. I love comedies and the common thread running through these movies is that they made and still do make me laugh every time I watch them.

You can see all the blogathon entries by clicking here. I’m looking forward to seeing the other movies that have the honor of being someone’s “favorite!”

It’s no surprise that Walter Matthau shows up in three of the movies here, and that Jack Lemmon is in two of them. Watching these two just makes me so happy.

1-The Odd Couple, 1968

Why is The Odd Couple one of my favorite movies from the 60s? The friendships. It’s displayed in every scene. I see it and feel it from every character and it’s pure comfort for me. I admit, anything with Walter Matthau is good for me. Especially The Odd Couple.  From the poker game scenes, to the date with the neighbors, to the scenes with just a frustrated Oscar (Walter Matthau) and frustrated Felix (Jack Lemmon). Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon play these characters in such a way that we care about them both. Even though Felix’s neurotic nature makes us nuts, we care about what happens to him.  Even though Oscar is sloppy, we admire him and the way he carries himself. I love this movie for the kindness I see when I watch it. It’s sometimes sarcastic and playful, a little bit serious and painful, but the underlying kindness is always evident to me, even when they’re mad at each other. Despite all of the things that can and do go wrong, they all still care about each other in the end. And it’s funny as hell.

2-Cactus Flower, 1969

Why is Cactus Flower one of my favorite movies from the 60s? It’s a meaningful story chock-full of a lot of reasons to laugh from likable characters. Julian Winston (Walter Matthau), is a dentist that lies about being married to avoid commitment to marriage with Toni (Goldie Hawn). Nurse Dickinson (Ingrid Bergman) is there, thankfully, to keep Julian organized and to eventually set everything straight. All three actors, Walter Matthau, Goldie Hawn and Ingrid Bergman play off each other like they’ve done it for years….and this is Goldie Hawn’s first movie! Cactus Flower is a lot of fun!

Did I mention Ingrid Bergman was in it? She does comedy so well. I did not expect this, but oh my, is she good at it. Ingrid Bergman steals the show for me. And it’s wonderful!

3-Bachelor in Paradise, 1961

Why is Bachelor in Paradise one of my favorite movies from the 60s? It’s a gorgeous glimpse into mid-century American culture embedded in an interesting story line. I wrote about this movie here a few weeks ago because it’s always had such a positive effect on me. Lana Turner is wonderful.

From my April 10, 2020 post:

Bachelor in Paradise is light-hearted, mid-century comedy that has the power to make me laugh out loud and forget about things for a couple of hours. It’s filled with glorious mid-century decor, fashion and lifestyle. This movie doesn’t pretend to be a deep, societal observation, but there is an important feminist message here, especially for 1961, I suspect, mostly delivered to us via Bob Hope’s peppy narrating as Niles. Lana Turner’s beautiful, independent intelligence as Rosemary, along with the intelligent, thoughtful women of the neighborhood, make this one of my all-time favorite movies.

And yeah, it’s funny!

4-Charade,1963

Why is Charade one of my favorite movies from the 60’s? Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn.

The end.

5-Some Like It Hot, 1959

Why is Some Like It Hot one of my favorite movies from the 60’s? It’s rhythm. It clips along at a good pace with a plot that keeps me engaged by always wondering what in the world could possibly happen next. It’s one of the best movie-watching experiences I can think of. Paying attention to the three main characters-Joe (Tony Curtis), Jerry (Jack Lemmon), and Sugar (Marilyn Monroe) is easy because they’re all sincerely likeable and engaging. They’re good people that I find myself rooting for every time I watch this. From the first scene where Joe and Jerry  witness the Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago in 1929 to that sweet ending, everything that happens moves along so….perfectly? I never find myself cringing, bored or rushing to get it over with. It feels like a brave movie too, and I like that it takes chances. This movie feels like it’s been thoroughly thought out and put together so well by the director (Billy Wilder) and writers (Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond) that actors that just melt into the story. It’s perfect. But then, that’s Billy Wilder for ya.

6-The Thrill of it All, 1963

Why is The Thrill of it All one of my favorite movies from the 60s? Because Doris Day plays a character, Beverly Boyer, that comes up against sexism and still makes her own decisions in the face of it. Despite the chaos it causes her within her family, she follows her heart. That takes guts now, let alone in the 1960s. Her husband, Dr. Gerald Boyer (Garner) is not happy about any of what she decides to do, and he makes it difficult for her. Still, I love that everything that happens here is ultimately Beverly’s decision and not her husband’s. Even in the end. Some have called this movie sexist, and there is an overall atmosphere of it, but she’s successfully navigating through it on her own terms. It isn’t always fun for her and every step she takes is a challenge, but she does it, and it’s inspiring. On top of that, The Thrill of It All is hilarious!

That pool scene…..

The chemistry between Doris Day and James Garner is addictive. I wish they’d done more movies together.

Thank you to Rick at Classic Film and TV Cafe for hosting 6 From The 60s!

What’s YOUR favorite movie from the 1960s?