Anatomy of a Murder (1959)

Anatomy of a Murder (1959), produced and directed by Otto Preminger.

A compelling courtroom procedural story. I don't know why it is so watchable, but it seems faster than its 2h40m running time. The story is set in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and strangely enough that's where it's filmed.

James Stewart is an ex-prosecutor now in shabby private practice. He'd rather be fishing and often is. He takes the case of a fiercely jealous army officer (Ben Gazzara) who certainly did murder a man he says raped his wife (Lee Remick). Their defense: he was temporarily insane because he had an "irresistible impulse" to kill.

It's praised for its legal realism and detail, although the story it tells is not exactly Civics 101. Stewart is in no way convinced of his client's innocence or the wife's truthfulness or conduct. Without instructing him to lie he guides his client to the insanity defense. His zealous advocacy makes him something of a showboater in court. At one point when questioning one of them on the witness stand he almost seems to plead for the truth, however unwise it may be to reveal that in public.

It should be no surprise to see Stewart playing something more ambiguous than a boy scout. He always had a dangerous ragged edge under the folksy demeanor.

At times the camera has an early hand-held look, without being shaky. It crowds the actors, sometimes casting a visible shadow.

The wikipedia article has interesting background. The story was suggested by a real incident and the author of the book was a former prosecutor and judge who, as you might guess, also wrote books on trout fishing.

Duke Ellington score.

Criterion Blu-ray with a superb image. I think one or two reels may have required different treatment than the others, but it is all very fine.