Otto Preminger’s 1959 “Anatomy of a Murder,” starring James Stewart, Ben Gazzara, Lee Remick and Joseph Welch is a twisty legal thriller with a doubly ironic conclusion. At 160 minutes, it remains surprisingly engrossing.
It is based on the 1958 novel by Michigan Supreme Court Justice John D. Voelker (pen name Robert Traver) about the 1952 murder case in which he was the defense attorney (played by Stewart in the movie). Notable in the cast as the judge, Joseph Welch, Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s country lawyer nemesis in the Army-McCarthy Hearings who uttered the memorable line “Senator… Have you no sense of decency.”
Filmed in black and white, almost entirely in Michigan’s dreary Upper Peninsula, it is considered by many as one of the best, if not the best, courtroom dramas of all time. In 2012, it was selected for preservation by the National Film Registry. To this day, it is presented in many law schools.
The soundtrack was co-written by Duke Ellington, who also appears in the movie. But here is the best part:
The language in the film startled Richard Daly, mayor of largely Catholic Chicago at the time. The movie was briefly banned before Preminger successfully sued. The court ruled that the dialogue was realistic and appropriate within the film’s context. For the very first time in American films, the words contraceptive, (sexual) climax and spermatogenesis were heard.
Shown but once on Chestnut Hill’s largest screen at Woodmere Art Museum, Tuesday, March 21 at 7:30 p.m. Doors open at 7 p.m. Free cookies.