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CRITERION

MOVIE INFO

Director:
Otto Preminger
Cast:
James Stewart, Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara, Arthur O'Connell, Eve Arden, Kathryn Grant, George C. Scott
Writing Credits:
Wendell Mayes, John D. Voelker (novel)

Synopsis:
A virtuoso James Stewart plays a small-town Michigan lawyer who takes on a difficult case: the defense of a young army lieutenant (Ben Gazzara) accused of murdering a local tavern owner who he believes raped his wife (Lee Remick). This gripping envelope-pusher, the most popular film by Hollywood provocateur Otto Preminger, was groundbreaking for the frankness of its discussion of sex—but more than anything else, it is a striking depiction of the power of words. Featuring an outstanding supporting cast—with a young George C. Scott as a fiery prosecutor and the legendary attorney Joseph N. Welch as the judge—and an influential score by Duke Ellington, Anatomy of a Murder is an American movie landmark, nominated for seven Oscars, including best picture.

MPAA:
Rated NR

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio:
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
English Monaural
Subtitles:
English
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
None

Runtime: 161 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 2/21/2012

Bonus:
• Interview with Otto Preminger Biographer Foster Hirsch
• Excerpts from 1967 Firing Line Episode with Otto Preminger
• Interview with Critic Gary Giddins
• Interview with Writer Pat Kirkham
• Newsreel Footage
• Photo Gallery
• “Anatomy of Anatomy” Featurette
• Trailer
• Booklet


PURCHASE @ AMAZON.COM

EQUIPMENT
Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


Anatomy Of A Murder: Criterion Collection [Blu-Ray] (1959)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 29, 2012)

Although I never actively considered a career in law, I always found films and stories related to the profession interesting and compelling. There's something about the stark showdown of the courtroom and the natural drama inherent in such proceedings that I find fascinating and stimulating.

As such, I tend to favor law-related films that stick to the court and avoid as many other plot complications; that's why I didn't much care for efforts like The Firm, as they have little to do with law and a lot to do with soap opera fluff. Otto Preminger's terrific 1959 film Anatomy of a Murder finds itself more firmly rooted in the law, as it spends the majority of its 161-minute running time where it belongs: in the courtroom.

Actually, I was shocked at how much time this film devoted to the depiction of a trial. Anatomy enters the courtroom at a little before the one-hour mark, which surprised me; movie trials normally don't last longer than a half an hour or so. I wondered how the film would proceed after the court segments ended, since I was sure there had to be an extended period following the verdict.

However, that wasn't accurate; once the case began, it lasted until almost the end of the film. That's nearly 100 minutes of legal fun, and although I think some of the proceedings wouldn't hold up to scrutiny – movies don’t tend to follow the scriptures of the law very precisely - the action moves at a satisfying rate and the battle creates some crackling drama.

The elements of the story are simple: shortly after Laura (Lee Remick) gets raped, her husband (Ben Gazzara) kills the offender. Lawyer Paul Biegler (James Stewart) takes the case and we go from there.

The plot itself is nothing special, but the movie executes the tale extremely well, as Preminger paces Anatomy at a crisp rate. Obviously, the film is too long to really crank through the action, but the movie moves much more briskly than you'd expect from a picture that approaches three hours; few dull moments set in once thing gets underway.

I don't want to relate many details, but I found that Anatomy seemed more morally ambiguous than I'd expect from a movie of this one’s era. As the story proceeds, quite a lot of questions arise that involve the participants, and many of these never really receive a satisfactory explanation. Although we eventually know the outcome of the trial, we never feel very certain as to what the truth of the situation actually was. Some may attribute this to sloppy filmmaking, but I think the vagueness was intentional; we're left to draw our own conclusions, and I like that.

I knew little about Anatomy when I first viewed it in 2000, and that extended to its cast and crew. I was aware that Preminger directed it and that Stewart starred in it, but that was it.

As such, I was astonished to see the list of notable talent in the project. Perhaps none of these names startled me as much as that of Duke Ellington, who composed the film's score. You don't see famous musicians like that attached to movies everyday, and I initially figured the picture must have just used Ellington's music in the same way Kubrick utilized various classical pieces in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

However, that wasn't the case. Indeed, Ellington wrote the music explicitly for the movie; it's an unusual score but it definitely was done solely for the film. Ellington even offered a cameo in Anatomy; he turned up as - surprise! - jazz musician "Pig Eye" in a bar. It's a cute and fun touch.

In addition to my surprise over Ellington's contribution, I also was astonished to see the list of notable actors in Anatomy. From leads Remick and Gazzara through supporting cast like George C. Scott, Murray Hamilton, and Orson Bean, this sucker was replete with well-known names.

All acquitted themselves well, especially Scott. As usual, Stewart's performance anchored the film, and he actually showed a bit more fire than we'd expect; he added spark and verve to Biegler that seemed unusual for him, and he made the part shine. As good as Stewart was, Scott upstaged him during their scenes together. Scott played a big city lawyer who helped the local district attorney prosecute the case, and he offered the character a wonderful air of smugness and superiority; the coolness with which he unnerved witnesses and Biegler was terrific. The piece as a whole was well-acted, but Scott stood out among the crowd.

And that's saying something in this film, since it's a fine piece of work. I feared that a film as long and potentially tedious as Anatomy of a Murder would be a bore, but my concerns were completely unfounded. It's a thoroughly engaging and entertaining movie that holds up extremely well even after more than 50 years.


The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B/ Bonus B

Anatomy of a Murder appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. While not without some minor concerns, this was usually an excellent presentation.

For the most part, sharpness appeared great. Although a few shots displayed a smidgen of softness, the majority offered nice clarity and delineation. I think some of the softness stemmed from the original photography, by the way; the film offered shallow depth of field, so it didn’t ake much for elements to lose focus. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, but I saw occasional instances of edge haloes.

Print flaws were quite minor. I noticed a handful of small specks but nothing more, as the movie was almost always clean. I detected no signs of digital noise reduction, as the film boasted nice, natural grain, and blacks were terrific; dark tones demonstrated solid depth. Shadows were also strong, and the film showed a good sense of contrast, as it never appeared either too dark or too bright. With the occasional instances of softness and specks, I had to “downgrade” my rating to a “B+”, but that shouldn’t make anyone think this was anything other than an attractive presentation.

In addition to the film’s original monaural soundtrack, the film came with a new DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack. Across both, dialogue tended to be a bit metallic – a factor exacerbated by the echo heard in the courtroom – but the lines were always intelligible and lacked edginess or notable problems. Effects felt about the same; they didn’t get a lot to do in this chatty affair, but they were reasonably accurate and concise.

Music varied notably between the two. In the mono track, Duke Ellington’s score was more than acceptable, as it showed fine clarity and warmth. However, I thought the music demonstrated more pep and vibrancy in the multichannel mix; the material sounded surprisingly good given its age and offered nice zing.

Of course, the soundscapes differed, though music remained the biggest difference. The 5.1 track used the side and rear channels to involve the listener in the score, and it did so well; the instrumentation spread around the room in a satisfying way. Effects also opened up the setting in a moderate manner, as vehicles moved from side to side and other elements popped up in logical spots. However, that was a less engaging aspect of the track when compared with the music; as I noted earlier, this was a dialogue-oriented film, so the effects didn’t get a lot to do.

Which track did I prefer? I thought it was a toss-up, honestly. As a general rule, I prefer original mixes, and I’d probably stay with the mono audio for future viewings. However, the 5.1 version did have its appeal, largely due to the higher quality of the music. The use of the side and rear speakers didn’t add much to the experience – at least not for me – but I did like the sound of the score. That made the 5.1 track a more than viable option, even if I ultimately would go with the mono mix simply due to my own preferences.

How did the picture and sound of this Blu-Ray compare with those of the original DVD from 2000? Both worked better, especially in terms of visuals. Not only did the Blu-ray offer the film’s original aspect ratio – it was 1.33:1 on the DVD – but also it was cleaner and tighter with deeper blacks and stronger contrast. Audio also sounded warmer and richer, and of course, the Blu-ray delivered the 5.1 option as well. The Blu-ray became easily the superior version of the movie.

The Blu-ray comes with a slew of new supplements. An Interview with Otto Preminger Biographer Foster Hirsch runs 29 minutes, 45 seconds and features Hirsch’s notes about the filmmaker. We learn about Preminger’s early life, how he got into films and came to America, and some of his other efforts. Much of Hirsch’s chat focuses on Anatomy, though, as he provides an overview of various production aspects. It plays like a mini-commentary, really, and Hirsch gives us a nice take on Preminger and Anatomy.

For info from the director himself, we go to Excerpts from 1967 Firing Line Episode with Otto Preminger. This reel lasts 10 minutes, 41 seconds as Preminger chats with host William F. Buckley about film morality, the Production Code, and censorship. It’s good to hear from Preminger himself, and it’s fun to get this slice of history, especially since the discussion between Buckley and Preminger gets a bit contentious at times; that ensures the piece never becomes dull.

Two more interviews follow. The first comes from Critic Gary Giddins and goes for 21 minutes, 47 seconds. Giddins discusses composer Duke Ellington and the film’s score. We get a lot of good insight here, as Giddins digs into the musical motifs and themes with gusto.

During the 14-minute, 53-second Interview with Writer Pat Kirkham, we learn about graphic designer Saul Bass. Kirkham tells us about the Anatomy opening titles as well as the genre in general and thoughts about Bass. Like the other interviews, this one proves to be compelling and informative.

Newsreel Footage goes for five minutes, two seconds and shows the Anatomy production on location in Michigan. Much of this is advertising hyperbole, but we also get some shots from the set, as we watch part of a rehearsal. That helps make the newsreel more useful than most.

Next we get a Photo Gallery. Shot by Life magazine’s Gjon Mili, we get 55 shots here. These mix publicity elements, images from the film, and behind the scenes pictures. They add up to a nice collection.

For a “work in progress”, we go to Anatomy of Anatomy. In this 30-minute, 11-second piece, we find segments of an incomplete still-being-made documentary about the Michigan area in which the film was shot – and where the events that influenced the story occurred. Narrated by Joan G. Hansen – whose book prompted this project – we get notes from locals Bob Brebner, Paul Bonetti, Norman Kukuk, Millie Menze, Lou Chappell, Bob Brumm, and George Johnson. We get a warm, enjoyable remembrance here; it’s a likable, engaging program.

In addition to the film’s Trailer. the set includes a booklet. The 28-page affair provides an essay by journalist Nick Pinkerton, a 1959 Life magazine article about actor Joe Welch, and some credits. Criterion usually delivers good booklets, and this is another winner.

Anatomy of a Murder was a terrific movie that translated well to home video. The film maintained a fine pace from start to finish and kept me thoroughly involved in the story. The Blu-ray delivered very good picture, more than acceptable audio, and a nice roster of supplements. Criterion gave this movie the treatment it deserved via this quality release.

Viewer Film Ratings: 5 Stars Number of Votes: 3
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Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main