The (Un)necessary Remake Dept: ‘Anatomy Of A Murder’

Anatomy Of A MurderOtto Preminger is a directer of some renown, having directed 42 features according to IMDB.

And of those 42 films, I am only aware of four:  Carmen Jones, The Boy With The Golden Arm, Porgy and Bess and Anatomy Of A Murder. And of those four, I have only seen Anatomy of A Murder.  

Twice.  

It’s an entertaining movie, though it has always bothered me because, despite such a heavyweight cast that includes actors like James Stewart, Lee Remick, George C. Scott, Ben Gazzara and Murray Hamilton, it feels like is a product of it’s time–1959–and hasn’t aged particularly well.

James Stewart plays Paul Biegler, an attorney who’s convinced by his friend and fellow attorney, Parnell Emmett McCarthy (Arthur O’Connell) to take the case of Lt. Frederick Manion (Gazzara), who’s accused of murdering a man who may have attempted to rape his wife, Laura (Remick).

The movie is well-acted but at times seems so relaxed that for long stretches I was not quite sure what feelings Preminger was trying to evoke.  In fact it often felt somewhat like a meandering stage play, oddly rural and countrified, while the music by Duke Ellington is dangerous, filled with switch-knives and bright lights.

Such slinky, at times almost brazenly erotic music needs a movie as subversive as it is. And unfortunately, Anatomy comes up short, that is till we meet Assistant State Attorney General Claude Dancer (Scott).

He brings an edginess–and an incredibly mocking stare–to his role that’s missing from anywhere else in the movie.  And speaking of “edginess” his face, with his aquiline nose and noble features, seems almost carved from a block of granite.  The tension comes from the way he gives the feeling that, despite being on the side of the angels, you can tell that he’s more than a little bit acquainted with devils.

The man is a predator, and within the dichotomy of his character Ellington’s music makes sense. If only he was in the movie longer.  Instead, he only turns up during the trial scenes and takes any tension the movie generates with him.

Two years earlier another courtroom drama, 12 Angry Men, by Sidney Lumet, came out and approached things from the perspective of a jury deliberating a case, as opposed to lawyers dueling with words.  In fact, the accused on trial for murder appears only once, and even them for no more than for a minute or two–and has a much better balance between music and images, making it feel tighter and more effective, despite it taking place in essentially one room.

You can tell how dynamic Ellington’s score for Anatomy Of A Murder is by checking out the opening titles, with visuals by Saul Bass.  They begin with a credit for Preminger, and then the actors are introduced, accompanied with a body part or two. It’s pretty awesome.  And speaking of Saul Bass, I assume that he was the preferred title title designer for Alfred Hitchcock, and did the opening for Psycho, Vertigo, and North By Northwest, among others.

Anatomy Of A Murder Opening Tiles by Saul Bass, Music by Duke Ellington

Psycho Opening Title by Saul Bass, Music by Bernard Herrman

Vertigo Opening Titles by Saul Bass, Music by Bernard Herrman

North By Northwest Opening Titles by Saul Bass, Music by Bernard Herrman (and Yes, that’s Alfred Hitchcock himself who misses the bus at the end of the opening.  He’s notorious for making bit appearances in his own movies.)

 

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