Riveting Courtroom Drama 4.5 Stars

Sony brings the 1959 Otto Preminger classic Anatomy of a Murder to 4K UHD Blu-ray as part of their 6-movie Columbia Classics 4K Ultra HD Collection Volume 2.

Anatomy of a Murder (1959)
Released: 13 Jul 1959
Rated: Not Rated
Runtime: 161 min
Director: Otto Preminger
Genre: Drama, Mystery
Cast: James Stewart, Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara
Writer(s): Wendell Mayes, John D. Voelker
Plot: An upstate Michigan lawyer defends a soldier who claims he killed an innkeeper due to temporary insanity after the victim raped his wife. What is the truth, and will he win his case?
IMDB rating: 8.0
MetaScore: 95

Disc Information
Studio: Sony
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution: 2160p HEVC w/HDR
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: Dolby Atmos, English 7.1 Dolby TrueHD, English 2.0 DTS-HDMA, English 5.1 DTS-HDMA, Other
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French, Other
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 2 Hr. 40 Min.
Package Includes: UHD, Blu-ray, Digital Copy
Case Type: 2-disc UHD keepcase with slipcover
Disc Type: UHD
Region: 7
Release Date: 10/12/2021
MSRP: $164.99

The Production: 5/5

Note: the following is from Matt Hough’s review of the 2012 Blu-ray release of the film from The Criterion Collection.

In defending his client Lt. Frederick Manion (Ben Gazzara) on the charge of first degree murder, folksy attorney Paul Biegler (James Stewart) has his hands full to the brim: his legal assistant Parnell McCarthy (Arthur O’Connell) is an alcoholic who may have a hard time staying away from the bottle during the tension-filled weeks of the trial, his client is a hot-headed, possessive, and insanely jealous man capable of losing his temper at the drop of a hat, his client’s wife Laura (Lee Remick) who was raped and beaten by the murdered man is a voluptuous beauty who doesn’t mind showing off her body and flirting with every attractive man in sight, and the somewhat incompetent district attorney (Brooks West) has sent to Lansing to get Claude Dancer (George C. Scott), one of the attorney general’s top litigators, to assist on the case. Biegler is going to have to use every trick he knows and invent a few more to keep himself in the game for the most important case of his career.

Director Otto Preminger spends the film’s first hour exploring the facts and personalities of the case giving his audience time to gauge just exactly what his protagonist is up against, and it’s quite a lot: a defendant whose guardedness makes his character hard to probe or to ascertain his guilt or innocence and his wife, a fundamental piece of the puzzle, who runs hot and cold concerning her husband, her feelings about his chances, and the possibilities of her life with or without him. There are certainly other important personalities connected to the case (the uncooperative bartender played by Murray Hamilton, a young woman – Kathryn Grant – who’s linked somehow to the murdered man) that we get information about, but the accused and his wife are the enigmatic keys to the mystery and continually draw our focus.

Preminger carries his probing into the courtroom, too, as he makes sure throughout the various testimonies that we see more than just close-ups of the lawyers or their witnesses; he’s used the frame to keep others in the background registering what’s happening on the stand and making it so unclear as to the trial’s possible outcome that we have no clue what the jury’s verdict might be (unless we’ve read the book beforehand; the story was based on a true case). Preminger and screenwriter Wendell Mayes rob us of the closing arguments of their two firecracker attorneys; we only hear a bit about what they said in retrospect, but other than that, the director doesn’t make a wrong step as he takes us through the case a careful step at a time and then leaves it up to us to ascertain the guilt or innocence of the accused. As it turns out, we might well have had a different verdict than the jury on that particular trial. And Preminger doesn’t back away from any of the film’s then-controversial aspects. There is frank discussion of the rape’s intensity and the subsequent medical examination, the raped woman’s panties come under intimate discussion, and words like “bitch” are bandied about freely. Preminger was slamming another nail into the coffin of the antiquated Production Code, and the film is altogether the better for it.

James Stewart won the New York Film Critics’ Best Actor prize for his performance, and it was well earned: he’s never been quite so electric as he is thundering away at George C. Scott as the two lawyers play cat and mouse continually with one another during the lengthy, brilliantly played courtroom sequences. George C. Scott had made only one other film prior to this one, but you’d think he’d been doing movie acting all his life so brilliantly taut and controlled is his performance. It’s a master class in acting and reacting that certainly paved the way for his subsequent amazing movie career. Lee Remick is likewise stunning as the gorgeous victim of rape whose sexual freedom seems rather brazen for the mid-20th century. Ben Gazzara also walks the fine line between controlled rage and knowing complicity as the defendant. It’s great seeing Eve Arden as the secretary cracking wise in her dryly familiar style, and Arthur O’Connell is completely believable as the aged lawyer spying one last chance to rebuild his life away from booze. Also very effective in smaller roles are Kathryn Grant, Murray Hamilton, and Orson Bean as a young Army psychiatrist. As for Joseph N. Welch, the lawyer famous for his telling putdown of Joseph McCarthy during the Army-McCarthy hearings, his amateurish line readings and monotone delivery as Judge Weaver somehow seem completely apt surrounded by these towering talents as he is. It’s conceivable that a judge pushed into the limelight on a moment’s notice might appear flustered or hesitant under these circumstances, so it’s one bit of stunt casting that does work in Preminger’s favor.

Video: 5/5

3D Rating: NA

Per the restoration notes in the included booklet, this is the second go-round on restoring Anatomy of a Murder, with a photo-chemical restoration completed back in the late 1990s for its DVD release, and now a digital 4K restoration from the original camera negative (that had portions replaced with duplicate negatives in poor condition) and a rather pristine duplicate negative. This explains the various shots that often appear softer and grainier in spots. That being said, this is possibly the best the film has looked since it first premiered, if not better. Detail is excellent for the most part, providing noticeable fabric textures in the characters’ wardrobes, facial features, and the on-location settings. Where the disc really shines is in its vastly improved greyscale and contrast thanks to the use of HDR10. Black levels are deep with well-refined shadow detail, and various gradations of white are noticeable throughout.

Audio: 5/5

The default Dolby Atmos track is a subtle one, which is to be expected from a film that was originally mono, remixed in 5.1 (“recently” as the restoration notes indicate), and now a new Atmos mix created under the supervision of Paul Ottosson (The Hurt Locker, White House Down). This new Atmos track takes the previous front-heavy 5.1 mix and adds room tones and ambiances (the courtroom scenes have a slight echo-like acoustic to them), providing a wider front soundstage and spreading the stereo Duke Ellington score not only to the surrounds (as the 5.1 mix did) but also into the heights for a bit more immersion. It is not a showy mix by any means, but a pleasing one nonetheless. Sony has included a 5.1 surround and 2.0 mono mix, both in DTS-HD MA, on the UHD disc.

Special Features: 3/5

While the UHD disc contains no extras whatsoever, Sony has included some of the special features on the newly-created Blu-ray (which includes a 1080p presentation taken from the same 4K restored source) that were part of the 2012 Criterion Collection Blu-ray release. Missing from this release are the newsreel footage, photo gallery, and the Anatomy of “Anatomy” documentary.

Gary Giddens Interview (1080p; 21:45): Music critic Giddens discusses the score by Duke Ellington.

Pat Kirkham Interview (1080p; 14:52): Saul Bass biographer Pat Kirkham discusses the opening title sequence and promotional materials.

Foster Hirsch Interview (1080p; 29:43): Otto Preminger biographer Foster Hirsch provides background on the director and his work on this film.

**NEW** Audio Commentary with Film Historian Foster Hirsch: Hirsch goes into much more detail on the making of the film.

Excerpt from “Firing Line” Featuring Otto Preminger (upscaled 1080i; 10:22): Preminger and Buckley debate obscenity and censorship on a 1967 excerpt from the PBS series Firing Line.

Theatrical Trailer (1080p; 4:49)

Digital Copy: An insert contains a code to redeem a digital copy in 4K on Movies Anywhere.

Overall: 4.5/5

Otto Preminger’s Anatomy of a Murder looks and sounds terrific on 4K UHD Blu-ray and is a great addition to Sony’s Columbia Classics 4K Ultra HD Collection Volume 2 set of 6 films. Owners of the 2012 Criterion Collection Blu-ray release may want to hold on to that for the missing Anatomy of “Anatomy” documentary.

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Published by

Todd Erwin

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Johnny Angell

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BTW, the missing doc on the Criterion edition was only excerpts of the doc.

Did you find scenes in which the grain looks more like noise than grain. This happens with plain sky or walls.