Involving even at 160 minutes, which must be
record for a courtroom sit, Anatomy Of AMurder lured seekers after frank discussion of sex
matters that was 50's signature of directing Otto Preminger. He'd go to war
with a crumbling Code, then further the fight against would-be TV censors when
Anatomy tried for network placement in 1966. Does it still sizzle? Maybe not,
but clinical is still clinical, even if thrill of till-'59 unspoken words has
diminished since. Performances are the show, legal combatants like James
Stewart and George C. Scott never bettered even by gloves-off permissiveness of
TV Law and Order served night-after-latter-day-night. Jim was in final roar before
give-up to Sandra Dee, Billy Mumy, and befuddled-Dad decline (notwithstanding a
couple for John Ford and Flight Of The Phoenix).
If only parts so good as Anatomy could have followed him into the 60's.
Preminger had legal background himself, so aims for conviction, but drama
license requires some whopper outbursts that would land any real-life lawyer in
a holding cell.
And speaking of license, here's Anatomy's
crowning absurdity: Jim agrees to represent Ben Gazzara in exchange for a
promissory note to pay his fee. That's right, no fee up front ... and it's a
murder charge, where the most vulnerable party ends up being the lawyer,
especially when outcomes don't suit an ingrate client. JS would have
been more believable to call representation pro-bono from a first jailhouse
interview, but then he'd look even more of a chump. In real world terms, a fee
discussion is the most important one attorneys have in a capital case, since
they invariably give up lifeblood handling each. Anatomy's most realistic
scene? The finalone when Stewart realizes Gazzara has skipped town and stiffed
even the worthless note he signed. At least Jim's reaction shows he's been down
this road many a time, and will go there again before taking in his shingle.