Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Anatomy of a Murder: Film Fiction Draws From Raw Reality

Anatomy of a Murder: the adult story and language broke down censorship barriers in 1959. Classic graphics are by Saul Bass.
Anatomy of a Murder is a 1959 classic courtroom movie that was once for adults only. The story, based on the ‘58 best-selling novel, is drawn from a real murder trial, written by the actual defense lawyer. Today, Anatomy would be a reality show or a Lifetime movie.

Jimmy Stewart pulling client Lee Remick out of the Mount Shasta bar.
The actual murder occurred in July 31, 1952. Coleman Peterson was the real life killer and Maurice Chenoweth was the actual bar owner victim. The murder was over the accused rape of Peterson’s wife by the barkeep. In the book and movie, they were fictionalized as Frederick Manion and Barney Quill.

The following words were used on screen for the first time in Anatomy of a Murder: Panties. Slut. Bitch. Sperm. Penetration. Rape. Contraceptive. The line that jolts me out of ‘50s movie melodrama in Anatomy is when Manion, quoted about his wife, that upon release, he’d “kick that bitch from here to kingdom come.”

Otto Preminger, the controversial director, broke down boundaries in language and subject matter. In films like The Moon is Blue, the word “virgin” was used for the first time, or heroin addiction was depicted in The Man with the Golden Arm. After Anatomy, Preminger hired blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo for Exodus and gave him a screenwriter credit.

Creepy Ben Gazzara as the creepy murder defendant.
The “irresistible impulse” insanity defense for this Michigan murder case had not used since 1886. Bada bing! Like the movie, the real murderer was found guilty by reason of insanity, examined by a psychiatrist two days after the verdict, declared sane, and divorced his wife shortly after.

Michigan Supreme Court Justice John D. Voelker wrote under the pen name Robert Traver, and in wrote about himself as Paul Biegler in Anatomy of a Murder. Got all that?

Up in Upper Michigan: Thunder Bay, as Jimmy Stewart pulls up to the town where the murder took place.
Anatomy of a Murder was the first movie filmed entirely on location, in Upper Michigan—Ishpeming, Marquette, Michigamme, and Big Bay—where the actual murder took place. Not only were local exteriors used, Preminger even used Voelker’s Ishpeming house for the home of the lawyer’s fictionalized self—played by Jimmy Stewart.

The real lawyer's Ishpeming house was used as Stewart's home in the film.
Anatomy of a Murder’s judge is not only the real deal, but Joseph N. Welch was the man who shut down Sen. Joseph McCarthy during his Army hearings: “Have you no sense of decency, sir?” Anatomy’s movie jurors are also some of the murder case’s actual jurors.

Lana Turner: "Otto wants me to wear...off-the-rack clothes!"
Lana Turner was cast first as Laura Manion, but backed out a month before filming. Lana as hotsy-totsy Laura might have been a turn-on. But Preminger wanted the army wife character to be dressed from department stores; Turner wanted her anatomy dressed by a favorite designer. The director stood his ground; Lana walked. Instead of playing gritty Laura Manion, Lana played glamorous actress Lora Meredith, in the super-soap Imitation of Life!

Lee Remick, 14 years younger than Lana, replaced her. Remick was also later asked to replace Marilyn Monroe when she was fired from Something’s Got to Give. Marilyn’s co-star, Dean Martin, said no to substitutes. When Monroe died suddenly, the movie was totally re-cast.

Lee Remick, who replaced Lana, wasn't worried about her anatomy!
Anatomy of a Murder made Lee Remick a star as the sensual Laura. Remick is empathetic and appealing as the erotic enigma: Was she or wasn’t she raped? Was she adulterous or just fun-loving? Or both?! Anatomy also proved that reptilian Ben Gazzara made a better villain than leading man! It’s hard to believe that Ben originated the role of dreamy Brick in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof on Broadway.

The Detroit, Michigan premiere of "Anatomy of a Murder."
Jimmy Stewart at the piano with Duke Ellington.
Anatomy of a Murder gave Jimmy Stewart his last Oscar nomination as the small-town lawyer and George C. Scott his first, as the sly prosecuting attorney.

George C. Scott was born in Detroit, where the world premiere of Anatomy of a Murder was held. Ishpeming’s Butler Theater hosted the Upper Michigan premiere.

Anatomy of a Murder’s poster and opening credits are some of designer Saul Bass’ most memorable. Anatomy was also noteworthy as Duke Ellington’s first film score.


Anatomy of a Murder: Out on Blu-Ray.
Anatomy of a Murder came out on Blu-ray for Criterion in 2012, complete with lots of bonus features. This movie is 2 hours and 40 minutes, but despite its deliberate pace, Anatomy is an adult, gripping courtroom cinema case. The engrossing story and great ensemble cast—Stewart, Remick, Gazzara, Scott, Welch, along with Eve Arden, Arthur O’Connell, Murray Hamilton (the mayor in Jaws), Kathryn Grant (Bing Crosby’s wife), and Duke Ellington as Pie-Eye—make this a fine example of classic movie-making entering the era of modern-day film-making.

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