Monday, November 2, 2009

Jimmy Stewart's Panties!

Well, not Stewart's; they're actually Lee Remick's, as we eventually learn in the Otto Preminger classic Anatomy of a Murder, airing overnight tonight at 12:45 AM ET on TCM.

Stewart plays a small-town lawyer in Michigan's Upper Peninsula who is down on his luck, but soon gets a chance to turn that luck around. This comes in the form of Army man Ben Gazzara, who's got a young wife in Lee Remick, and gets charged for murder. However, he's got a novel alibi: he killed in a fit of honorable temporary insanity after learning that his wife was raped. It's a big case, and in order to get a conviction, the local authorities bring in a bigwig prosecutor from downstate (George C. Scott), leading to the second half of the movie being a courtroom drama. As for the panties? Well, they're an important piece of evidence but, needless to say, everybody in the courtroom titters when Stewart mentions the word "panties".

Anatomy of a Murder is filled with the standard plot devices you'll see in a courtroom drama: Stewart's aw-shucks, small town attorney in need gets matched up against a bombastic, politically-motivated prosecutor. The defendant is of questionable sympatheticness (and indeed, there's a question of whether or not Remick was even raped, or whether she willingly had sex with the murder victim), and a lot of people in town have secrets they'd like kept secret. You'll recognize many of these tropes from a movie like Trial.

That, however, does not mean that Anatomy of a Murder isn't a good movie. Everybody, including Stewart, is a character of ambiguous or dual moralities, especially the defendant and his wife. But even with Stewart, we begin to wonder how much he believes in his client, and how much he just wants to win a case. There are also excellent portrayals amongst the supporting actors, notably Eve Arden as Stewart's secretary. The movie is also helped tremendously by its atmosphere. It was filmed on location in the Upper Peninsula, and really looks like a place prosperity pased by.

Anatomy of a Murder has made its way to DVD, but according to Amazon only in a panned and scanned version. That's a huge shame, and means you'll have to watch the TCM showing to get the movie in all its glory.

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