Movie review: Anatomy of a Murder (1959)

Anatomy of a Murder is considered one of the most realistic treatments of a trial—over two-thirds of the movie takes place in the courtroom. The suspense is gripping. I kept waiting for the truth to come out. But of course, it never did. Only conjecture. Only coincidence.

Anatomy of a Murder is based on a novel, which is based on an actual murder that happened on the Michigan peninsula. Jimmy Stewart plays a small town lawyer, originally a district attorney but asked to defend a soldier charged with murdering the man who raped his wife.

Jimmy Stewart’s character is a bit down on his luck, more interested in fishing and playing jazz than actually earning a living. He finagles his long-time partner in nighttime discussions about law to be his partner on the case—as long as he renounces the bottle. He does, even finding key information that led to a witness who clinched the case for the defense.

Duke Ellington is responsible for the score, even showing up as a piano player accompanied by Stewart in one scene! The jury was mostly composed of the jury members from the actual trial (except for those who had passed away).

Anatomy of a Murder is a well-structured and well-acted movie that reveals how lawyers develop cases—in other words, it is not riveting by today’s standards but offers interesting glimpses into a real murder trial. In the end though, once again, justice is not served.

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