A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Anatomy of a Murder (Otto Preminger, 1959)

Joseph N. Welch, Lee Remick, and George C. Scott in Anatomy of a Murder
Paul Biegler: James Stewart
Laura Manion: Lee Remick
Lt. Frederick Manion: Ben Gazzara
Parnell Emmett McCarthy: Arthur O'Connell
Maida Rutledge: Eve Arden
Mary Pilant: Kathryn Grant
Claude Dancer: George C. Scott
Judge Weaver: Joseph N. Welch

Director: Otto Preminger
Screenplay: Wendell Mayes
Based on a novel by John D. Voelker (as Robert Traver)
Cinematography: Sam Leavitt
Music: Duke Ellington

An exceptional film, far more deserving of the year's best picture Oscar than the bombastic Ben-Hur (William Wyler), Anatomy has a lot of great things going for it: the wonderful courtroom conflict between old Hollywood pro James Stewart and Method-trained newcomer George C. Scott; the tension and volatility of Ben Gazzara as the defendant; the presence of such scene-stealers as Arthur O'Connell and Eve Arden in the supporting cast, along with other character actor stalwarts like Murray Hamilton, John Qualen, Orson Bean, Howard McNear, and Jimmy Conlin. And even the "stunt casting" of non-actor Joseph N. Welch, famous for the integrity he showed in his confrontation with Senator Joseph McCarthy during the Army-McCarthy hearings five years earlier, pays off handsomely, with Welch bringing both gravitas and humor to his role as the trial judge. The soundtrack by Duke Ellington also adds a touch of greatness to the movie, which  David Thomson calls "magnificent." Where I think it falls short of magnificence is in the treatment of the rape victim played by Lee Remick. There is, of course, some ambiguity remaining in the film as to whether she was in fact raped, but the part as written by Wendell Mayes and the performance as directed by Preminger turns the presumed victim into an air-headed sex kitten. It's possible that Hollywood, so long precluded by the Production Code from even treating the subject of sexual assault, hadn't yet developed a grammar and vocabulary for dealing with the subject. Remick was a fine actress, and she does manage to show moments of vulnerability in her performance, but the general impression of the character given by the film verges on the despicable "she was asking for it." Preminger had been taunting the Code since The Moon Is Blue (1954) and The Man With the Golden Arm (1955), challenging the strictures on language (the words "virgin" and "seduce") in the former and drug use in the latter. Anatomy continued the assault on prudishness, though few who watch it today will be shocked by its rather clinical discussion of whether Laura Mannion was indeed raped, or be inclined to sniff daintily, as Time magazine did in its review, that the film "seems less concerned with murder than with anatomy."

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