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Cast of Murder propels insightful courtroom drama

Anatomy of a Murder

Directed by Otto Preminger.

Written by Wendell Mayes, based on the novel by Robert Traver.

Starring James Stewart, Ben Gazzara, Lee Remick, Eve Arden, Arthur O'Connell, and George C. Scott.

LSC Friday Classic.

By Raul Gonzalez

Ihave never been particularly interested in Otto Preminger's films. However, I must admit that Anatomy of a Murder amused me with its satirical view of the justice system and the people who run it.

This film first presents us with a lawyer, played by James Stewart, who desperately needs money. Then, opportunity comes when an army lieutenant (Ben Gazzara), requires the attorney's services to defend him in court; he is charged with killing the man who raped his flirtatious wife (Lee Remick).

In the courtroom, the trial unfolds in an unexpectedly accurate way. From the preliminary hearings to the final sentence we are presented with several long scenes, rich in details, that serve the purpose of describing the roles of the several people involved in the trial.

The most remarkable feature of Anatomy of a Murder is Preminger's use of the courtroom scenario as a means to portray and satirize society. He achieves this critique by showing how the different people involved in the trial need each other in their various roles (judge, prosecutor, defendant, defense attorney); but, as we see in the course of the film, they do not really care about the fate of anyone else.

One of the best things about Anatomy of a Murder is the ensemble cast. James Stewart gives one of his greatest performances, seeming to be not much on the ball, but surprising everyone with his hidden rhetorical abilities as he intellectually overpowers the prosecution's big guns. George C. Scott brings an edgy tension to his role as a big-city lawyer brought in to argue for the prosecution.

Ben Gazzara plays the role of the murderous lieutenant with a convincing animosity, and delivers one of the funniest endings to a courtroom drama I've ever seen. Lee Remick was usually cast in "girl next door" roles, but proves here that her range is not limited to "sweetness and light."

Joseph Welch, who plays the judge, rose to prominence as a lawyer in the U.S. Army-McCarthy hearings. He's the person who publicly asked Joseph McCarthy if he "had no shame," thereby leading to the senator's political demise. Welch, an amateur actor, later became a federal judge.

Duke Ellington contributes an excellent jazz score for this film, and makes an appearance in a minor role. There are so many pleasures to be savored in Anatomy of a Murder that you have to get there early to see it - the film screens at 6:30 p.m. rather than the usual Classics hour.

Remember, if you buy a Classics double feature ticket for just $3, you can see the late show of Star Trek: Generations, or revel with the antics of Jackie Chan in Drunken Master II on Saturday night, or catch the Coen Brothers' Miller's Crossing on Sunday.