Anatomy of a Murder

Carol Clover is a professor of rhetoric and Scandinavian studies at UC Berkeley. She has written extensively about the courtroom in cinema and is currently finishing a book titled Trials, Movies, and the Adversarial Imagination.

An attorney himself, Preminger explored the courtroom in a half-dozen films, from Whirlpool to The Court Martial of Billy Mitchell. In Anatomy of a Murder, the trial becomes not so much a search for truth as a theater piece in which staging and histrionics stand in for juridical pursuit. James Stewart plays Paul Biegler, a backwoods lawyer whose rural exterior hides a bounty of countrified cunning. The accused, Lt. Manion (Ben Gazzara), claims to have killed his wife's rapist in a justifiable rage; his sultry spouse, Laura (Lee Remick), proclaims her innocence while seducing the surrounding manpower. The bristling set pieces in which Stewart's bumpkin lawyer exchanges barbs with George C. Scott's big-city prosecutor are performed with legal ease. Filled with mounting tension, this courtroom conundrum indicts certainty itself-actions are never quite clarified, motives never quite disclosed. The jury is still out, but many consider Anatomy of a Murder to be Preminger's most skillful prosecution of infallible truth.

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