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Anatomy of a Murder

August 27, 2010

342. Anatomy of a Murder
Directed by Otto Preminger
USA, 1959
IMDB | allmovie

Reviewed by Rachel
First viewing


An army lieutenant is accused of murder after he shoots and kills a man, but pleads temporary insanity in view of the fact the victim beat and raped his wife.

Essential Scene:

Attorney for the defence, Paul Biegler (James Stewart), interviews Laura Manion (Lee Remick) regarding her rape. It is very clear what ‘type’ of woman the viewer is supposed to think she is. She opts for a beer rather than water, she’s wearing her hair in a modern fashion with tight clothing and she leans back in very relaxed stance. She starts to tell the story, remarkably calmly for someone who has had such a terrifying experience.

Anatomy of a Murder

Biegler asks her about the man, Barney Quill, and asks whether she suspected he would make a play for her.

Paul: Doesn’t a woman sort of instinctively know when a fellow’s on the make?

Laura: Oh sure, but that’s only usual with me, with almost all men. Ever since I was a kid. You, for instance. You’re interested.

Already the viewer could begin to doubt her story. But why should we? Because she’s a confident and sexual woman? Are any doubts due to her body language, or due to her words?


I’m a sucker for films that bring up questions of morality, ethics and the state of law. Anatomy of a Murder is one of those films, but it doesn’t bombard you with these issues. You’re not getting a lecture, these questions arise subtly as you try to work out the characters and their motives. Even before the courtroom scenes begin, the viewer becomes a juror. You change your mind about people, you find out facts about them to influence your opinion, and you possibly find out something about yourself and your own judgement.


Reviewed by Ally
Third viewing

Essential Scene:

Defence attorney and self-styled “humble country lawyer” Paul Biegler develops a rivalry with slick city prosecutor Claude Dancer (George C. Scott). The two play a number of sly tricks on each other throughout the trial, making insinuations which, although stricken from the record, are certain to stick in the minds of the jurors. Dancer, whilst cross-examining Mrs. Manion, blocks Biegler’s view of her.

Biegler: Your Honor, the counsel has deliberately cut off my view of the witness.
Dancer: I’m sorry Mr. Biegler, I wouldn’t want to interfere with your signals to Mrs. Manion.
Biegler: Well I object to the implication I was signaling the witness, this is the shabbiest courtroom trick I’ve ever seen!
Dancer: You haven’t lived, Mr. Biegler.


Anatomy of a Murder is celebrated for its realistic depiction of the justice system. It questions the reliability of testimony and the defensibility of murder. It also attacked the restrictive Motion Picture Production Code, discussing the subjects of sex and rape more frankly than any Hollywood film up to that point. And it’s worth it just to hear James Stewart say the word “panties.”

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Jim Lawrence permalink
    September 1, 2010 2:06 pm

    Bit of a surprise to see this one on the list, but it’s a terrific film. I’m not a huge fan of courtroom dramas, but this one’s gripping. And Lee Remick is irresistible.

    • September 1, 2010 2:20 pm

      Careful there, Jim! You don’t want Ben Gazzara to shoot you now, do you?

    • Rachel permalink
      September 1, 2010 11:43 pm

      But if he does shoot Jim, we may get James Stewart to say “panties” again..

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