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Blu-ray Review Anatomy of a Murder Blu-ray Review

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Matt Hough, Feb 15, 2012.

  1. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Director
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    One of the greatest courtroom dramas ever made and one whose courtroom scenes still sizzle today more than fifty years later, Otto Preminger’s Anatomy of a Murder is a one-of-a-kind showcase for brilliant acting, intelligent writing, and superb direction, direction so controlled that over two and a half hours seems like ninety minutes. It’s one of the greatest achievements in the careers of just about everyone connected to it.



    Anatomy of a Murder (Blu-ray)
    Directed by Otto Preminger

    Studio: Criterion
    Year: 1959
    Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1   1080p   AVC codec
    Running Time: 161 minutes
    Rating: NR
    Audio: PCM 1.0; DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
    Subtitles: SDH

    Region: A
    MSRP: $ 39.95


    Release Date: February 21, 2012

    Review Date: February 15, 2012




    The Film

    5/5


    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 Quality

    5/5


    The film is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is offered in 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. It’s an astonishing transfer, one of the boldest, sharpest, and most impressive and expressive black and white encodes Criterion (or anyone else) has ever offered. Details come blazingly to the fore in shot after shot in hair, faces, and clothes. Contrast is magnificently applied to make blacks about the deepest ever seen and whites beautifully offered without blooming. There are no age-related artifacts, and the image is as film-like and alluring as it’s possible to be. The film has been divided into 18 chapters.



    Audio Quality

    4.5/5


    The soundtrack is offered in both the original mono using PCM (1.1 Mbps) or an alternate DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix. The surround encode offers more resonance to the dialogue track in the center channel (and in a movie this heavily verbal is the one I preferred), and, of course, Duke Ellington’s monumental jazz score gets a much greater spread and sounds exceptional without in any way intruding on the film’s essential character. There is a slight bit of hiss noticeable occasionally in the DTS track, hiss that wasn’t noticeable in the PCM 1.0 mix, but either track will offer the film’s aficionados a treat, and it’s a terrific option to have both tracks available.



    Special Features

    5/5


    Unless otherwise noted, the video featurettes are in 1080p.


    Biographer Foster Hirsch offers an entertaining biography of producer-director Otto Preminger and then discusses his work in particular on Anatomy of a Murder. Filmed in 2011, this runs 29 ¾ minutes.


    Otto Preminger and William F. Buckley debate obscenity and censorship on a 1967 excerpt from Firing Line which runs 10 ¾ minutes and is presented in 1080i.


    Music critic Gary Giddins offers a brief biography of Duke Ellington and then discusses the score for the film in terms of individual themes and the players in Ellington’s band who were featured playing various cues. This runs 21 ¾ minutes.


    Biographer Pat Kirkham discusses Saul Bass who created the opening credit sequence and the poster art for the film as well as his work on many Preminger projects. This fascinating look on one of the film world’s sometimes neglected artists runs 14 ¾ minutes.


    There is 5 minutes of newsreel footage showing the cast and crew gearing up for the film’s location shooting (the film was shot completely in Michigan and not in a studio) and a look behind-the-scenes at the first day of production.


    A photo gallery offers dozens of black and white and a few color production shots, stills, portraits, and behind-the-scenes glimpses of the cast and crew at work.


    Anatomy of “Anatomy” is a 30 ¼-minute making of-documentary about the film’s production in Michigan featuring those who remembered the filming and who took part. The real murder trail the book and film were based on is also discussed.


    The film’s clever theatrical trailer runs for 4 ¾ minutes.


    The enclosed 30-page booklet contains cast and crew lists, some production stills, film historian Nick Pinkerton’s essay on Preminger’s career and particularly this film, and a reprint of a Life magazine piece on Joseph Welch’s experiences in front of the camera.


    The Criterion Blu-rays include a maneuvering tool called “Timeline” which can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc and the title of the chapter you’re now in. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.



    In Conclusion

    5/5 (not an average)


    One of Otto Preminger’s greatest films and one of the greatest courtroom films ever made, Anatomy of a Murder comes to high definition in the perfect package: a pristine transfer of the film, two different audio offerings, and a superb selection of bonus material to complement the viewing experience. Highest recommendation!




    Matt Hough

    Charlotte, NC

     
  2. RickER

    RickER Producer

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    Thanks for the review Matt. I rented the DVD of this months ago, and I have to say, I did not enjoy it at all! I thought it was rather slow, and honestly, I thought an hour of Perry Mason has more "style". Dont get me wrong, I love 50s noir like Perry Mason. Maybe I shouldnt compare the two. It wasnt until I started reading the review that I remembered, hey I know this film! I would LIKE to like this movie....must be something wrong with MY expectations, cause I damn near forgot I saw it, only months ago!
     
  3. benbess

    benbess Producer

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    What a great review. Many thanks. May need to pick this one up!
     
  4. Charles Smith

    Charles Smith Extremely Talented Member

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    Methinks I won't be waiting for any July B&N sale to grab this one.
     
  5. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator
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    It's good to finally get this title in its OAR.







    Crawdaddy
     
  6. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Director
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    Yes, previously I only had that full frame Columbia DVD issued in the early days of the format, but didn't Sony a few years ago update that transfer with an OAR version on DVD? I didn't buy it, but I thought I remembered one being issued.
     
  7. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator
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    I don't think a Region 1 DVD with the OAR has been released individually and Amazon is still showing the 2000 DVD release available for ordering.
     
  8. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Director
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    I guess I'm just thinking about TCM's constant broadcasts of the letterboxed version rather than the full frame version I had on disc. Thanks for checking.
     
  9. Vegas 1

    Vegas 1 Supporting Actor

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    Recently picked this up on BR, very nice. I also have the old Columbia dvd which is 1:33 but states that it is the original theatrical radio, confusing.
     
  10. Paul Rossen

    Paul Rossen Supporting Actor

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    If one looks close enough one can see George C. Scott really having a good time of it watching James Stewart in the courtroom scenes...
     
  11. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Director
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    It may have been filmed with an open aperture, but I doubt any big studio movies in 1959 were being exhibited in 1.33:1.
     
  12. Bob Furmanek

    Bob Furmanek Insider
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    [/quote]
    There is a lot of ignorance and confusion with home video departments and repertory theaters confusing an open matte academy print or element with the intended ratio. The understanding of this situation is slowly getting better, but there are still aspect ratio mistakes being made. It doesn't help that a lot of wrong information is now on-line. Some people consider a quick visit to IMDB to be adequate research. Bob
     
  13. benbess

    benbess Producer

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    Not sure why it took me so many years to finally watch this film all the way through, but I finally did. Very good movie. Excellent pq on this blu-ray.
     

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