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Anatomy of a Murder

Just about everybody loves Jimmy Stewart movies, but we'll go out on a limb here — Otto Preminger's 1959 courtroom drama Anatomy of a Murder features Stewart's finest performance in a career of memorable ones. Period. Stewart plays rural Michigan lawyer Paul Biegler, an easygoing attorney who finds himself in over his head when he takes the case of Army officer "Manny" Manion (Ben Gazarra), accused of killing a man who raped his wife Laura (Lee Remick). The case appears open-and-shut before it even starts, as Manion shot the alleged rapist in cold blood, but when an insanity defense is undertaken, Biegler has to find some way to get the rape evidence into a capital murder trial, where such things normally are ruled as inadmissible. Controversial in its day for some rough language and its clinical courtroom discussion of women's undergarments and sperm residue, Anatomy of a Murder was a theatrical success and multiple Academy Award nominee largely because of the beloved Stewart, whose easygoing, noble manner lent a great deal of credibility to a film that walked on the ragged edge of the notorious Hays Code. But besides the compelling script, lively dialogue, and dynamic composition from Preminger (working mostly on just one set), Anatomy of a Murder is also remarkable for featuring the first major film role for George C. Scott, who portrays the unyielding prosecutor Claude Dancer. Columbia certainly saw Anatomy as a Stewart vehicle from start to finish, but the young Scott took advantage of every moment he had, delivering each line with a remarkably understated menace. It's not hard to see why he became a legendary movie star in his own right, or why he won the Oscar that year for Best Supporting Actor. Score by Duke Ellington (who also makes a cameo appearance). Columbia TriStar's DVD edition of Anatomy of a Murder, part of the "Columbia Classics" series, features a solid full-frame transfer (1.33:1) from a digitally remastered source print that has excellent low-contrast details, with audio in the original mono (Dolby 2.0). Fun photo montage with Ellington's score, talent files, trailers for Anatomy of a Murder, A Few Good Men, and Philadelphia. Keep-case.
—JJB



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