Streaming Spotlight | Anatomy of a Murder | 1959

By the time Otto Preminger's courtroom drama, Anatomy of a Murder has come to an end, the audience understands the verdict, but we're not quite sure we agree with it. That's the beauty of Preminger's fierce, uncompromising exploration of the American legal system, which presents two equally plausible scenarios for the crime in question, effectively turning the audience into the jury.

We root for Jimmy Stewart because, well he's Jimmy Stewart. We root against George C. Scott's belligerent prosecuting attorney because of the way he bullies the witnesses. Yet, the facts that he presents are nevertheless compelling. That's the brilliance of Anatomy of a Murder, it forces us to take into account things that we may not have otherwise considered. Are our perceptions of the case colored by how likable the attorneys are? Are we influenced, perhaps, by factors beyond the facts presented in the case? Preminger, who himself held a law degree, understood that a trial is merely theatre by another name, and the way in which cases are presented are often just as important as the facts themselves. When Stewart leads a witness to present opinions that the jury is then ordered not to take into account, his client asks him: "how can they disregard something they've already heard?" With a glint in his eye, Stewart deadpans: "They can't."

Preminger constantly holds his cards close to the chest, never letting on what actually happened, while bucking Production Code standards with frank discussions of rape, panties, and sperm. Instead, he lets the sparring attorneys pull the audiences this way and that, holding us in their thrall for nearly 3 hours right up until the very end. In fact, the actual verdict is almost treated as an afterthought. Ultimately, the verdict here doesn't matter. The decision reached by the jury makes sense; it fits the facts presented. Yet even in that moment of supposed clarity, the nagging thought remains - so does the alternative.

Now streaming on Filmstruck through Jan. 21, 2018!


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