Anatomy of a Murder (1959)

160-161 mins | Drama | July 1959

Director:

Otto Preminger

Writer:

Wendell Mayes

Producer:

Otto Preminger

Cinematographer:

Sam Leavitt

Editor:

Louis Loeffler

Production Designer:

Boris Leven

Production Company:

Carlyle Productions, Inc.
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HISTORY

Robert Traver, the name of the novel’s author, is a pseudonym for Michigan Supreme Court Justice John D. Voelker, who served as technical advisor on the film and was the defense attorney on the real-life case on which the novel was based. The murder occurred in the small town of Big Bay in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. On 31 Jul 1952, Lt. Coleman Peterson, who had recently returned from Korea, shot and killed tavern owner Mike Chenoweth, allegedly because Chenoweth raped Coleman’s wife, Charlotte. Although Voelker entered a plea of temporary insanity on Peterson’s behalf, Peterson was never incarcerated because a psychiatrist testified that he was now sane and no longer dangerous. After being freed, Peterson left town without paying Voelker his fee. The action in the film closely parallels that of the novel. The major difference is that in the novel, "Mitch Lodwick," who defeated "Paul Bielger" in his bid for re-election as district attorney, is running for the same congressional seat as Biegler. Consequently, the outcome of the trial, in which Biegler and Lodwick are pitted against each other, will affect the outcome of the election.
       According to various HR news items, in Oct 1957, Voelker made a deal with playwright John Van Druten in which Van Druten would write a play based on his novel to be produced on Broadway. Van Druten would reportedly receive 60% of the Broadway profits and Voelker 40%, and both authors would evenly split the sale of the motion picture rights. Van Druten and Voelker then made a deal to license the screen rights to the novel to ... More Less

Robert Traver, the name of the novel’s author, is a pseudonym for Michigan Supreme Court Justice John D. Voelker, who served as technical advisor on the film and was the defense attorney on the real-life case on which the novel was based. The murder occurred in the small town of Big Bay in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. On 31 Jul 1952, Lt. Coleman Peterson, who had recently returned from Korea, shot and killed tavern owner Mike Chenoweth, allegedly because Chenoweth raped Coleman’s wife, Charlotte. Although Voelker entered a plea of temporary insanity on Peterson’s behalf, Peterson was never incarcerated because a psychiatrist testified that he was now sane and no longer dangerous. After being freed, Peterson left town without paying Voelker his fee. The action in the film closely parallels that of the novel. The major difference is that in the novel, "Mitch Lodwick," who defeated "Paul Bielger" in his bid for re-election as district attorney, is running for the same congressional seat as Biegler. Consequently, the outcome of the trial, in which Biegler and Lodwick are pitted against each other, will affect the outcome of the election.
       According to various HR news items, in Oct 1957, Voelker made a deal with playwright John Van Druten in which Van Druten would write a play based on his novel to be produced on Broadway. Van Druten would reportedly receive 60% of the Broadway profits and Voelker 40%, and both authors would evenly split the sale of the motion picture rights. Van Druten and Voelker then made a deal to license the screen rights to the novel to Ray Stark’s Seven Arts Productions, Inc. Under that agreement, Van Druten and Voelker would have received a total $100,000 plus a percentage of the profits. However, after Van Druten’s untimely death on 19 Dec 1957, plans for the theatrical production were canceled. Because Van Druten died before signing the agreement with Voelker or Stark, Voelker’s publisher, St. Martin’s Press, reopened bidding for the screen rights. Otto Preminger then secured the screen rights for $150,000 in May 1958.
       In Oct 1958, the Van Druten estate filed a suit to block Preminger’s production on the grounds that Van Druten never agreed to sell the screen rights to Preminger. Stark, who was partnered with Eliot Hyman in Seven Arts, also protested the sale of the screen rights to Preminger, claiming that under agreements signed between the Van Druten estate and Voelker, the transfer of motion picture rights was to go to Seven Arts. According to a Dec 1958 DV news item, the Van Druten suit was resolved in favor of Preminger and Columbia, who agreed to pay the Van Druten estate $50,000 for the screen rights to Van Druten’s play. Stark’s claim was settled when Seven Arts was granted a percentage of the profits from the production. In Apr 1959, Edward Specter Productions, the company that was to produce the Broadway play, filed a suit to enjoin the production and distribution of Preminger’s film on the grounds that Van Druten delivered a version of the play before his death, and that, according to their agreement with St. Martin’s Press, the play would be produced prior to the film’s release. According to a Jul 1959 DV news item, that suit was overruled. The play was never produced.
       A Feb 1958 HR “Rambling Reporter” column noted that at that time, Stark was considering Gregory Peck to star. According to various HR news items, Lana Turner was initially cast as “Laura Manion,” but withdrew from the production following a dispute with Preminger. A Dec 1958 HR news item noted that Preminger was negotiating with Richard Widmark to appear as “Lt. Frederick Manion.” Mar 1959 HR news items add that James Daly replaced Pat Hingle in the role of Mitch Lodwick after Hingle was injured in a fall down an elevator shaft. Daly then left the production to appear in a Broadway play and was replaced by Brooks West, the husband of Eve Arden, who appeared as “Maida Rutledge” in the film. Emile Meyer was initially cast as “Sheriff Battisfore,” but was forced to withdraw after he broke his arm in a car accident. Although a Mar 1959 HR news item noted that Don Taylor was negotiating for a role, he did not appear in the released film.
       In his autobiography, Preminger stated that he wanted Spencer Tracy or Burl Ives for the role of “Judge Weaver.” When both actors turned him down, he approached Welch'>Joseph N. Welch, the Boston lawyer who represented the U.S. Army during the Army-McCarthy Senate hearings, which dominated national television from Apr-Jun 1954. The hearings were convened to investigate whether Senator McCarthy used improper influence to win preferential treatment for David Schine, a former member of his staff who had been drafted. McCarthy counter-charged that the army was using blackmail and intimidation to derail his investigation of army security practices. In those hearings, Welch’s remark to McCarthy, “Have you no sense of decency?” brought Welch international fame and precipitated McCarthy’s downfall. Anatomy of a Murder marked Welch’s only screen appearance, and featured the first feature-length film score composed by Duke Ellington. Although a May 1959 HR news item places Harriet Lawyer in the cast, her appearance in the released film has not been confirmed.
       An Apr 1959 NYT article noted that the film was shot entirely on location in the Ishpeming-Marquette area of Michigan. Because of the production’s isolated location, Preminger worked with a completely independent unit that was capable of operating in the field without the usual studio assistance. The production’s camera servicing department, film editor’s room and wardrobe and makeup facilities were all set up in a hotel basement. The courtroom, jail and hospital scenes were shot in their actual counterparts in Marquette. Paul Bielger’s office was Voelker’s actual law office in Ishpeming. Richard Griffith, the curator of the New York Museum of Modern Art Film Library, wrote a book titled Anatomy of a Motion Picture , which documented the location filming in Michigan.
       Despite the film’s frank treatment of a rape trial, it was granted a certificate of approval by the Production Code Administration after the producers agreed to several minor deletions. In a letter from Geoffrey Shurlock of the PCA to Preminger, contained in the film’s file at the AMPAS Library, Shurlock instructed Preminger to delete the words sperm, sexual climax and penetration and to restrict the use of the words panties and rape. A Jul 1959 HR news item reported that The National Catholic Legion of Decency placed the film in a “separate classification” on the grounds that it “exceed[ed] the bounds of moral acceptability and propriety in a mass medium of entertainment.” According to a 3 Jul 1959 HR news item, the film was scheduled to open in Chicago on 2 Jul 1959, but the screening was canceled after the Police Film Censor, backed by Police Commissioner Timothy J. O’Connor and Mayor Richard J. Daley, ruled that the film could not be shown unless two sequences containing the words “intercourse,” “contraceptive” and “birth control” were deleted. HR and NYT news items on 9 Jul 1959 add that, after Preminger brought a suit for a permanent injunction against the ruling, Federal Judge Julius Miner overruled the censor board, stating that the film could not be considered obscene because “[it] does not tend to excite sexual passion or undermine public morals.” The Var review noted that the film contained language “never before heard in an American film with the Code Seal.”
       The film was nominated for the following Academy Awards: Best Actor; Best Cinematography (black and white); Best Film Editing; Best Picture and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium. In addition, both George C. Scott and Arthur O’Connell were nominated for Best Supporting Actor. Stewart won the award for Best Actor at the Venice Film Festival and received the Best Actor award from the New York Film Critics Circle. The film’s unusual trailer opens with a bailiff calling the court to order and announcing that “there is a new movie coming to this town. All those involved will now be sworn in.” Preminger then stands up and swears in the principal actors, asking each if they “swear to have done their job in the picture to the best of their ability.” When Preminger calls on Voelker, the writer protests that there cannot be a trial without a jury. Preminger then replies, “the judge and jury sits out there, the millions and millions of people in the theater.” Bass’s credits then appear, followed by snippets of sequences from the film.
       According to a Jul 1960 Var news item, Hazel Wheeler, the widow of murdered tavern owner Mike Chenoweth, filed a $9,000,000 libel suit against Columbia and Dell, the publisher of the paperback version of Voelker’s book. That suit was dismissed, according to an Apr 1962 FD news item. A Jan 1966 NYT news item noted that Preminger brought an injunction against Columbia Pictures Corp. and Screen Gems Inc. to prevent them from interrupting the film with commercials when it was televised. Preminger charged that if the film was cut and interrupted by commercials, his reputation would be damaged and its “commercial value challenged.” The court ruled that the producer’s right to final cutting and editing was limited to a film’s theatrical release and not its televised showing. Sep 1995 Var news items note that Preminger Films threatened to sue Universal Pictures because Universal’s poster for the 1995 film Clockers bore a “striking resemblance” to Saul Bass’s stylized design for Anatomy of a Murder . Universal then changed the design of the Clockers poster. Although an Aug 1967 HR news item noted that Otto Preminger’s brother, Ingo Preminger, entered into a deal with M-G-M TV to produce a ninety-minute television series based on Anatomy of a Murder , that series was never produced.

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SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
American Cinematographer
Jul 59
pp. 416-17, 443
American Cinematographer
Aug 60
pp. 476-78.
Box Office
6 Jul 1959.
---
Box Office
13 Jul 1959.
---
Chicago Tribune
1 Aug 1952.
---
Chicago Tribune
3 Jul 1959.
---
Chicago Tribune
8 Jul 1959.
---
Daily Variety
11 Dec 1958.
---
Daily Variety
1 Jul 59
p. 3.
Daily Variety
6 Jul 1959.
---
Film Daily
1 Jul 59
p. 8.
Film Daily
6 Apr 1962.
---
Filmfacts
19 Aug 1959
pp. 163-165.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Oct 1957.
---
Hollywood Reporter
2 May 1958
p. 1, 4.
Hollywood Reporter
5 May 1958
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
31 Oct 1958
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
23 Dec 1958
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
7 Jan 1959
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Jan 1959
p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Feb 1959
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
3 Mar 1959
p. 1, 4.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Mar 1959
p. 1, 13.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Mar 1959
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Mar 1959
p. 14.
Hollywood Reporter
19 Mar 1959
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
20 Mar 1959
p. 28.
Hollywood Reporter
2 Apr 1959
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
3 Apr 1959
p. 1, 6.
Hollywood Reporter
8 Apr 1959
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
9 Apr 1959
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Apr 1959
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
8 May 1959
p. 35.
Hollywood Reporter
12 May 1959
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
15 May 1959
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Jun 1959
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
1 Jul 59
p. 2-3.
Hollywood Reporter
2 Jul 1959
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
3 Jul 1959
p. 1, 4.
Hollywood Reporter
7 Jul 1959
p. 1, 3.
Hollywood Reporter
9 Jul 1959
p. 1, 4, 7.
Hollywood Reporter
9 Aug 1967.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
24 Jul 59
p. 324.
New York Times
12 Apr 1959.
---
New York Times
3 Jul 59
p. 10.
New York Times
9 Jul 1959.
---
New York Times
20 Jan 1966.
---
Saturday Review
11 Jul 1959.
---
Time
13 Jun 1959.
---
Variety
8 Apr 1959.
---
Variety
1 Jul 59
p. 6.
Variety
27 Jul 1960.
---
Variety
14 Sep 1995.
---
Variety
18-24 Sep 1995.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
An Otto Preminger Film
Otto Preminger presents
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
Asst dir
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Lighting tech
Key grip
Still photog
Still photog
Asst cam
Cable
Best boy
ART DIRECTOR
Prod des
FILM EDITORS
Asst ed
Asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dressing
Asst set dresser
Props
COSTUMES
Cost coord
MUSIC
SOUND
Sd eff
Rec
VISUAL EFFECTS
Titles des
Spec eff
MAKEUP
Makeup
Makeup
Hairdressing
Hairdresser
PRODUCTION MISC
Scr supv
Asst to the prod
Prod mgr
Tech adv
Dog trainer
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel Anatomy of a Murder by Robert Traver (New York, 1957).
AUTHOR
DETAILS
Release Date:
July 1959
Premiere Information:
World premiere in Detroit, MI: 1 July 1959
New York and Los Angeles openings: 2 July 1959
Production Date:
23 March--16 May 1959
Copyright Claimant:
Carlyle Productions, Inc.
Copyright Date:
1 July 1959
Copyright Number:
LP14706
Physical Properties:
Sound
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
160-161
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

Ever since losing his bid for reelection as the district attorney of Iron City, Michigan, attorney Paul "Polly" Biegler has sought solace in his two favorite hobbies, playing jazz on the piano and fishing. One day, when a woman named Laura Manion phones Paul and begs him to represent her husband Frederick, who has been arrested for murder, Parnell McCarthy, a lapsed lawyer who views life through the bottom of a liquor bottle, urges his friend Paul to accept. Because Paul had been on a fishing trip at the time of the murder, Parnell tells him about the case. Manion, an army lieutenant serving at a nearby base, has been charged with killing Barney Quill, a bartender who allegedly raped Laura. The next morning at the jailhouse, Paul meets Laura, who is sporting a black eye that she claims was inflicted by Quill during the rape. When Manion insolently asserts that the murder was justified by the rape, Paul experiences doubts about taking the case. After completing his conference with the Manions, Paul relates his feelings to Parnell, who urges him to take the case because he needs the money. Following Parnell’s advice that it is a lawyer’s duty to “guide” his client to the correct defense, Paul coaches Manion to say that he was insane at the time of the murder. Upon returning to his office, Paul finds the seductively dressed Laura waiting to see him. When he asks her to recount the night of the rape, she states that Quill offered her a ride home, but when they found the gates to her trailer park locked, he pulled off the road and ... +


Ever since losing his bid for reelection as the district attorney of Iron City, Michigan, attorney Paul "Polly" Biegler has sought solace in his two favorite hobbies, playing jazz on the piano and fishing. One day, when a woman named Laura Manion phones Paul and begs him to represent her husband Frederick, who has been arrested for murder, Parnell McCarthy, a lapsed lawyer who views life through the bottom of a liquor bottle, urges his friend Paul to accept. Because Paul had been on a fishing trip at the time of the murder, Parnell tells him about the case. Manion, an army lieutenant serving at a nearby base, has been charged with killing Barney Quill, a bartender who allegedly raped Laura. The next morning at the jailhouse, Paul meets Laura, who is sporting a black eye that she claims was inflicted by Quill during the rape. When Manion insolently asserts that the murder was justified by the rape, Paul experiences doubts about taking the case. After completing his conference with the Manions, Paul relates his feelings to Parnell, who urges him to take the case because he needs the money. Following Parnell’s advice that it is a lawyer’s duty to “guide” his client to the correct defense, Paul coaches Manion to say that he was insane at the time of the murder. Upon returning to his office, Paul finds the seductively dressed Laura waiting to see him. When he asks her to recount the night of the rape, she states that Quill offered her a ride home, but when they found the gates to her trailer park locked, he pulled off the road and raped and beat her. After Laura leaves, Paul asks Parnell to work with him on the case, but warns that he must “lay off the booze.” Paul then informs Manion that he will represent him, and Manion, pleading poverty, asks the attorney to accept a promissory note. Later, as Laura flirts with Paul outside the jailhouse, Paul warns that her husband is watching. Knowing that Manion is insanely jealous, Laura flinches. Paul then proceeds to the bar in Thunder Bay where Quill worked. Although bartender Alphonse Paquette curtly responds to his questions, Paul ascertains that Mary Pilant, who manages Quill’s Thunder Bay Hotel, now runs the bar. Paul’s secretary, Maida Rutledge, and Parnell then try to unearth information about Mary and learn that she recently moved to Thunder Bay from Canada and that Quill was fiercely protective of her. That evening at a nightclub, Paul sees a rowdy Laura dancing with some soldiers and takes her home, warning that she must appear demure in order to give credibility to her husband’s case. Laura shocks Paul when she responds that she would be glad if her husband was convicted, because then she could get away from him. With two days left before the start of the trial, Manion confers with army psychiatrist Matthew Smith, who diagnoses that he is suffering from “disassociative reaction” or, in layman’s terms, an irresistible impulse to shoot Quill. While scouring the law books for a precedent on which to base their case, Parnell and Paul come upon an 1886 ruling in which the court concluded that the defendant was forced to commit a crime because of an impulse he was powerless to control. The following Monday, as the court is convened by visiting judge Weaver, Laura enters the room, dressed in a baggy suit, horn rimmed glasses and a hat. Mitch Lodwick, the relatively inexperienced new district attorney, has requested that Claude Dancer, an assistant attorney general from the “big city,” serve as co-counsel. As testimony begins, Paul charges that the prosecution is suppressing evidence about the rape in order to insure that his client is convicted. When George Lemon, the manager of the trailer park, testifies that Manion admitted murdering Quill, Paul steers him into acknowledging that Laura had been severely beaten and that screams had been heard at the park gates on the night of the murder. Sgt. James Durgo then takes the stand, and Paul tricks him into admitting that the district attorney instructed him to substitute the phrase “some trouble” for rape. Overruling Mitch’s objections about introducing the rape, the judge allows Paul to continue his line of questioning. Durgo then avers Laura was raped, although her panties were never found at the scene of the crime. Incensed by the turn of events, Dancer takes over the questioning and tries to portray Laura as a seductress. Paul rebuts his charge by stating that Laura’s beauty drove her husband to murder the man who defaced her. Parnell had left the courtroom during the trial, and once court is adjourned for the day, Durgo informs Paul that his friend has been injured in an automobile accident, then takes him to Parnell’s hospital room. There Parnell, who does not possess a driver’s license, tells Paul that he drove to Canada to investigate Mary’s past and has learned that she was Quill’s illegitimate daughter. When the trial reconvenes, Paul tries to establish Laura’s veracity by introducing the fact that she swore to her husband on a rosary that she was raped. As Dancer calls Laura to the stand, Mary enters the courtroom. After eliciting that Laura had previously been divorced, Dancer establishes that she has been ex-communicated from the Catholic Church and therefore her oath was meaningless. Dancer then suggests that her panties were never found because she was not wearing them and implies that she lied about being raped to prevent her insanely jealous husband from beating her. Paul then calls Dr. Smith to the stand to testify that the shooting was a case of “disassociative reaction.” In his cross-examination of Smith, Dancer asks if Manion would have known right from wrong in that state. When Smith answers in the affirmative, Dancer smugly calls for a conference in the judge’s chambers and argues that because Manion knew right from wrong, he cannot be adjudged legally insane. Paul then hands the judge a law book and asks him to turn to the 1886 court ruling that established the precedent for Manion’s defense. Outfoxed by a man he incorrectly deduced was a folksy attorney, Dancer returns to the courtroom to call a surprise witness, Duane “Duke” Miller, an inmate who had been incarcerated with Manion. When Duke swears that Manion boasted that he fooled his attorney, his psychiatrist and that he will also fool the jury, Paul asks for a copy of the inmate’s record. Paul then impugns his testimony by reading the litany of crimes for which he has been convicted, calling him an inveterate criminal and liar. After Paul returns to his seat, Maida whispers that Mary, who earlier had left the courtroom, is waiting in the hall to talk to him. Once Paul ushers Mary into the courtroom, she takes the stand and testifies that after learning of the missing panties, she returned to the hotel where she found them in the laundry chute next to Quill’s room. When Dancer, believing that Mary was Quill’s mistress, argues that someone else could have put them in the chute and that Mary brought them to court in revenge for Quill’s interest in Laura, Mary invalidates his argument by revealing that she was Quill’s daughter. The jurors adjourn after closing arguments and soon return with a not guilty verdict. After Manion is released, Paul and Parnell drive to the trailer park to collect Manion’s promissory note. Upon arriving at the park, they are greeted by Lemon, who informs them that the Manions have gone. Lemon hands Paul a note from Manion, and tells him that Laura was in tears as the trailer pulled out. In the note, Manion explains that he was seized by an “irresistible impulse” to leave. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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