Thursday, December 13, 2007

Breaking the Code Boxed Set: Anatomy of a Murder (1959)

Are you sick of my boxed set? Too bad. Because I'm not. The postcards are final. What you've seen is what it is. I'm not fussing with it anymore.
Also I decided not to post an article about Suddenly, Last Summer (1959) mainly because the one I used in the booklet is a re-hashing of this previous post.
So here is my embarassingly crude and brazen article on Anatomy of a Murder (1959). This is the last of the five movies. Woohoo!



Broken Code: Rape should never be more than suggested.
Otto Premminger’s Anatomy of a Murder is arguably one of the most outspoken film of the late ‘50s. "Outspoken" being the operative word here as the controversy behind this movie was the language it so brazenly used. Terms like "rape", "slut", "climax", "intercourse", "sperm", "penetration", "contraception" and most notably "panties" were bandied about in the movie. These words were not just highly suggestive, they were downright specific going against the Production Code’s careful restrictions on the use of language. Initially the film is as coy as the main protagonist, James Stewart’s character, defense lawyer Paul Biegler. There is a sense of being cautious. It tip-toes around the story’s central plot which involves a rape that incites a murder. Yet, later in the movie, there is this great scene with Lee Remick’s character, Laura Manion, the rape victim, as she is describing more details of the incident to Biegler. The one key evidence is a pair of ripped underwear. Biegler is cautious about referring to the item specifically. Sexy Manion beckons him to just say it. Say "panties". In James Stewart’s special brand of aw-shucks self-consciousness, he is mesmerized by her seductive charm and brazen sexuality and manages to mouth the word.

Mostly, this film is a being unto itself, not afraid to say what it needs to say and not afraid with how people will react or how they will interpret it. The storyline and its climax go against the very nature of the Code. The concept that a defense lawyer in his right mind can defend someone who’s intent was ambigiously justifiable, is probably a concept radical for its day. The normal chain effect of crime equals punishment does not necessarily apply here. The boundary between good and evil is blurred by the uncertainty of intention when brief insanity comes to play. Sexual tension is the root of the drama with all the film’s central character. Sex here has been used for not only just violence but also a method of manipulation for personal gain. Both Laura and Frederick Manion realize that Laura’s sexuality is what got them into this mess, so that is exactly what will be used to get them out. And the final outcome, is a film that has to be one of the greatest courtroom dramas in film history.

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