Anatomy of a Murder
Film Analysis: Anatomy of a Murder
The Anatomy of Murder (1958) is a novel that had been written by the Supreme Court Justice of Michigan John D Voelker. The story had been based on a 1952 case of murder in which Voeckler was the defense attorney. The novel was then adapted into a movie by the screenwriter Wendell Mayes.
Two humble ex-district attorneys of the Michigan Paul Biegler and Parnell McCarthy took to the United States Army Lieutenant Manion (Ben Gazzara). Manion has been accused of shooting and killing the Thunder Bay Inn Owner, Barney Quill. It is alleged that Quill beat and raped the wife Laura who is known to be at the bar as the seductive and good time lady.
With only a little memory of the real murder, the only defense for Paul is “irresistible impulse.” This is a version of a temporary insanity even though his defense is weak. To add on, the prosecuting attorney Brooks West has called in a very prominent state assistant attorney general George Scott to assist in the prosecution (Bosley, 1959)
In term of the story line, Anatomy of Murder, Ben Gazzara (Fredrick Manion) is a lieutenant in the army and has been arrested for the murder of the bartender Barney Quill. Ben in his defense claims that the victim had raped and had beaten up his wife, Laura (Lee Remick). Even though Laura supports the story of her husband, there is no evidence to be found by the police surgeon that the victim had indeed been raped.
Social psychology comes in the court room during the cross examination of Manion by Paul Biegler, his defense lawyer. He is a lawyer is a humble small town. In the interviewing process, Biegler notices that Manion is very violent, possessive and jealous and that the wife had the reputation of granting her favors to the other men. Such discovery makes Biegler forecast that the prosecution might try to make the court believe that indeed Laura was the bartender’s lover.
Manion had killed him and beaten her up in the mere discovery that they were together. Manion further pleads not to be guilty and Biegler, knowing his case is weak chooses to set out his assistants to investigate the witness that will save Manion. Manion does not deny the murder but affirms that Quill raped his wife. Even with the experienced motivation, it would be tough to get Manion being cleared out of murder. Manion clarifies that he had no memory of the event, and this leads to the suggestion that he could be eligible for the defense against irresistible impulse that is a version of a temporary insanity defense.
The folksy speech of Biegler and his laid-back demeanor tend to hide a sharp legal mind and the propensity for the courtroom theatrics that makes the judge busy with maintenance of things in control. However, the defense case does not sink well primarily because the local district attorney Brooks West is being assisted by the highly-powered prosecutor George Scott, who is from the general office of the attorney.
Moreover, the prosecution at every circumstance tries to block any mention of the motive of Manion to kill Quill. Biegler, therefore, manages to get the rape case of Laura Manion into the record. The tactic used by Biegler and Manion during this moment prompts Judge Weaver to agree to allow such a matter to be a component of the deliberations.
Later on, the psychiatrists also give in some conflicting testimonies to the state of mind of Manion at the moment when he murdered Quill. The dancers, however, affirm that Manion could have suspected his wife Laura of cheating since he had asked the wife to swear on the rosary that Quill had raped him. More doubts are raised as to whether the act by Manion was non-consensual.
During the trial, Laura reveals that Quill tore off the pants while raping her. On the contrary, there was no evidence of the panties being found at the scene of the crime where she alleges that the abuse had taken place. Biegler in his defense suggests that Quill could have dropped the panties in the laundry room’s inn so that he could avoid any suspicion.
The central conflict and the most dramatic fascination from this section of the movie reveal the battle of the legal wits and the personalities that are waged between the defense attorney and those of the prosecution. Upon the watchful eye of the shrewd, the sardonic old judge. The battle is beautifully drawn and maneuvered. It is full of neat little triumphs from both sides thus; the result is an exciting climax and a clear revelation of the principal characters (Asimow, 1998).
The most intensely revealed are the character of the defense lawyer. This part played by James Stewart in his finest performances. He slowly and subtly represents a warm, knowledgeable, competent and a complex personality. Most importantly, the portrait of a trial lawyer in an action upon which can be difficult for any person to surpass. A good lawyer like Biegler would use social psychology in collaboration with the accused to turn the case around and obtain a favorable verdict. Manion and Biegler were the masters of the art as signified by the final outcome of the case. The five minutes section could have been the point that delivered the victory.
Bosley, C. (1959) Anatomy of a Murder Screen: A Court Classic
Asimow, M. (1998). “Picturing Justice Film review from a legal perspective”
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