Anatomy of a Murder (1959)
Director: Otto Preminger
It is interesting to compare Preminger's film with Sidney Lumet's film 12 Angry Men. Both films look at the uncertainty surrounding facts in trials, but approach it with very different emotions. 12 Angry Men seeks to present the trial-by-jury process at its best, particularly the importance of reasonable doubt, with all persons eventually basing their decision on fact. Anatomy of a Murder, however, is much more cynical about trials, with Jimmy Stewart's ostensibly 'good' lawyer Paul Biegler advising his clients on how to influence the jury in their favour, and how to present facts in a way that supports their arguments.
Knowing Preminger's film came out in 1959, the discussions around the alleged rape and domestic violence are rather surprising. We are never given clear answer to questions, nor do characters necessarily act as we would wish if we want to believe them innocent. Laura Manion says she was raped, but her flirtatious behaviour and lack of apparent emotional trauma makes us question her allegations. We are meant to feel this, just as we are meant to question the spurious assertion that her husband Manny was temporarily insane when he killed Quill.
This is a murky journey into unscrupulous morality, both from the victims and the lawyers. Stewart is terrific as Biegler, a man doing his job - to get his client off - but grappling with the truth of events. George C. Scott is also great as a prosecutor Claude Dancer who is brought in to expose the holes in Biegler's case. Really, everyone delivers wonderful performances which maintain the complexity of their characters. The cinematography is also beautiful in its stark black-and-white, which highlights the grey areas of the story. Courtroom films are some of cinema history's greatest films, and Anatomy of a Murder is up their with the best of them (and has one of the best posters as well!).