This is the first movie we have watched that don’t feel equipped to write about the next day. I suppose I should start by saying that I loved the soundtrack. Duke Ellington won a Grammy for the album, and it was well deserved. For someone who generally feels anxiety while listening to jazz music, this is high praise. I mention the music right off the top because it was a constant presence in the film, and at times, it seemed a bit too light for the subject matter. But hearing Jimmy Stewart play piano by himself, and also sharing the bench with Ellington, was pretty amazing.
The cast was 90% dynamite. Jimmy Stewart was great. It was a bit startling to hear him talk in such a frank manner (for the time) about rape and sex, since I kept expecting him to say something corny about “The Old Building and Loan.” He was in top form, and man alive, I definitely plan to expand my experience with him. Ben Gazara has always been amazing. He was so unlikeable in this movie, and it really set up a lifetime of playing tough guys with low impulse control. George C. Scott had some electric courtroom moments. Stewart’s best friend and co-counsel, an alcoholic lawyer whose career had hit the skids, was played by an actor named Arthur O’Connell. Their relationship was pure joy to behold. You can tell they truly enjoyed playing with each other, and their shared scenes were incredibly fun to watch.
I could not look away from the kittenish Lee Remick. I never would have thought to compare her sexiness with Ann Margaret, but she certainly had “it.” Her portrayal of the “imperfect” rape victim should be shown in classes today to show how our society expects all rape victims to look and behave. She went to a bar alone. She wasn’t wearing a girdle, so she was intentionally jiggling her person about. She swished her hips. Her hair was loose, and flowing. She was barefoot, and wasn’t wearing nylons. She allowed the bartender to drive her home. After being punched in the face, she didn’t scream out for help while she was being raped. She had to convince her husband that she had truly been raped by volunteering to swear on a rosary. She didn’t call the police after she made her way home. In the days after she was raped, she wasn’t hysterically crying in a ball on the floor. She didn’t stop being a person who enjoyed being attractive. She continued to express her sensuality and flirtatiousness. In other words, she was not considered someone who could have been “legitimately raped.” In 1959, and in 2017, we still expect rape survivors to act in a definied manner that allows us to feel that they are contrite for whatever role they played in “allowing” their rape. We still use how much they had to drink, how much they flirted, what they were wearing, as reasons to discount their stories. In short, nothing has changed.
The rape was the trigger for the murder, and the movie really focuses on the level of awareness the husband had in killing his wife’s rapist. There is a lot of back and forth about “irrisistable impulse” and “temporary insanity.” And then, of course, there is the fact that the husband was a brute, himself, and didn’t really have control on any given day over the jealousy he felt about the attention his beautiful wife received.
There was a lot of courtroom language that seemed ridiculously dated, in particular, the scene with the entire gallery tittering wildly over the word “panties.” Absolutely ridiculous. But the movie also used a lot of reproductive words that were shocking to hear in a movie at that time, and would probably still shock your average Kansas farmer today. It definitely pushed some boundaries, and for a courtroom movie that seemed to have wildly innapropriate behavior by the prosecution and the defense, to hear them peppering their questioning with actual physical descriptions of the crime at hand brought the movie back to some level of realism.
I liked Anatomy of a Murder. I liked the actors, and the score. I liked that it showed the way that the legal system deals with crimes against women. I liked that it portrayed a woman who had a sense of herself that didn’t diminish after she was beaten and raped. She was still in control of her own life. I am just not sure that I loved the movie. I wanted to. James Stewart was certainly fantastic. I may have to revisit it later in my life to see how I feel about it. This is the worst review I have written, but I did genuinely like the film. It just left me with some unanswered feelings that I am not ready to address.
Oh, almost forgot this detail: Principal McGee from Grease, Eve Arden, was Stewart’s long-suffering, unpaid secretary. I never thought of her as being in any other movie. I know that is silly because the gorgeous Joan Blondell was also in Grease. But seeing Arden in a different setting than a musical was a bit discombobulating. Her voice is very distinctive.