© 1959 Carlyle Productions

Anatomy of a Murder (1959)

Along with Witness for the Prosecution (1957) and And Justice for All.. (1979), Anatomy of a Murder is a masterpiece in the notoriously difficult genre of the courtroom drama. Based on a real murder case, much has already been written on the detail with which it describes the the American legal system and its shortcomings, as well as the few places where the film gets it wrong. But Anatomy of a Murder also holds an important place in the history of cinema. Director Otto Preminger is doing what he does best, tackling taboos  in a balanced, critical way, critiquing the legal system and tackling the crime of rape head on. Star James Stewart’s father, who was still running his hardware store in Pennsylvania, famously took out a full-page ad in the local paper urging people not to see see this “dirty picture” (in which the word “panties” is used repeatedly). In addition to making the kind of films he wanted, Preminger was also pounding away at the film production code, which had been hampering the artistic freedom of filmmakers since it went into effect in 1934. The code was on its way out by the late ’50s anyway, but Anatomy of a Murder, along with Some Like It Hot, also from 1959, battered it against the ropes, and one year later, Hitchcock would come along with Psycho and knock it out for the count.

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