Dynamic courtroom case now on 4K – “Anatomy of a Murder” Columbia Classics Vol. 2
Updated: Jun 5, 2022
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
Right, legendary actor James Stewart as the easy-going small town attorney Paul Biegler and District Attorney Mitch Lodwick (Brooks West), during the murder trial of Army Lt. Fredrick “Manny” Manion.
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“ANATOMY OF A MURDER” – COLUMBIA CLASSICS COLLECTION VOL. 2
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital Copy; 1959; unrated; Streaming via Amazon Prime Video (4K), Apple TV (4K), Movies Anywhere (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)
Best extra: A 30-minute featurette with film historian Foster Hirsch
OTTO PREMINGER’S fierce courtroom drama “Anatomy of a Murder” is another of the outstanding, remastered films among the six-movie Columbia Classics 4K Ultra HD Collection – Volume 2” released by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The story is based on a real-life case that occurred in Michigan in the early 1950s, chronicled in a novel by Michigan Supreme Court Justice John Voelker (pen name Robert Traver).
The setup: A woman is raped; the husband, furious and vengeful, murders the perpetrator. The film was considered scandalous when it was released for using the words “panties” and “rape,” but became the standard for courtroom dramas to come.
Shot on location in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where the case unfolded, Preminger (“Laura,” “Carmen Jones”) maintained realism by shooting in the Marquette County Courthouse, hospital, and jail.
“It’s not only the look of the place that I want to get on the screen, I want the actors to feel it, to absorb a sense of what it’s like to live here…This is a story that requires reality.” – Producer/director Otto Preminger
(1) Based on the 1957 novel “Anatomy of a Murder,” the motion picture premiered in Detriot, Michigan on July 1, 1959. The Saul Bass title sequence is spread across five different body parts, in an almost puzzle-like fashion. (2) The town drunk Parnell McCarthy (Arthur O’Connell), is a former lawyer and best friend with Paul Biegler. (3) After a day of fishing Biegler plays a jazz tune on his piano. (4&5) Biegler and O’Connell listen to Mrs. Laura Manion (Lee Remick), as she requests Biegler’s services to defend her husband Lt. Fredrick Manion in the killing of bartender Barney Quill. She tells them that Quill raped her.
The black and white film runs two hours and forty-one minutes. It was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and Best Actor for James Stewart as easy-going small town attorney Paul “Polly” Biegler, who devotes his spare time to trout-fishing. Scenes filmed of Biegler’s law practice and home were actually shot in the author’s home in Ishpeming, Michigan.
Two Best Supporting Actor nods went to Arthur O’Connell, who plays Biegler’s best friend, former lawyer and town drunk Parnell McCarthy, and George C. Scott (“The Hustler,” “Patton”) in one of his first big-screen performances as hotshot state prosecutor Claude Dancer. He’s paired with local District Attorney Mitch Lodwick (Brooks West) as they go toe-to-toe against Biegler.
The defendant is Army lieutenant Frederick “Manny” Manion, a Korean War veteran, played by Ben Gazzara (“The Big Lebowski”). His wife Laura, played by Lee Remick, returns to their trailer-camper home hysterical, saying she’s been raped and beaten by bartender Barney Quill. Manion gets his gun, heads to the tavern, and pumps five bullets into Quill. Afterward, he says he doesn’t remember what happened. He’s arrested, and his defense rides on a plea of temporary insanity.
Former U.S. Army attorney Joseph N. Welch, a lawyer in the famous Army-McCarthy hearings of 1954, delivers a surprising performance as Judge Weaver, who conducts the murder trial.
(1) Paul Biegler tells his secretary, Maida Rutledge (Eve Arden) he doesn’t have the money to pay her or to fix her typewriter. He hopes Lt. Manion will have the funds to pay for his attorney fees. (2) Laura Manion takes off her sunglasses exposing the huge burse she received during the attack. (3) Biegler and Laura visit Lt. Manion at the county jail. (4) Manion and Biegler take about what happened that night when he shot and killed Barney Quill.
Sony Pictures is Hollywood’s leader in full restoration of its best catalog of films. The majority of the original 35mm camera negative (1.85:1 aspect ratio) was still intact, except for a couple of damaged sections replaced by a poorly made duplicate negative. Unsatisfied, Sony’s techs searched for something better.
A second-generation, fine-grain master positive would’ve been the most desirable, but all they could find was another third-generation duplicate negative, and two inferior fine-grain masters. On the positive side, the duplicate negative was in far better condition than the one used decades ago. The new pieces and the original negative were scanned in 4K at Cineric Inc., in New York. The scanned files were then assembled at Roundabout Entertainment in Santa Monica, and then sent to Prasad headquartered in India for the complete clean-up and restoration. The final 4K master was then returned to Roundabout for its HDR grading.
The results are superb, providing exceptional clarity and a good balance of natural film grain from start to finish. There’s a slight softening and larger grain in the duplicate negative scenes. Still, the HDR10 and Dolby Vision grading give the overall grayscale a much wider spectrum from highlights to mid-tones, and rich, dark shadows. Sam Leavitt’s (“The Defiant Ones,” “Exodus”) Oscar-nominated B&W cinematography has never looked better, with his well-composed wide shots.
The original three-track mono soundtrack was restored after removing pops, clicks, and distortion. It was then combined with Duke Ellington’s stereo mastered score for a new six-channel soundtrack. Sony also decided to explore a possible eight-channel Atmos track, with Oscar-winner Paul Ottosson. The results are acceptable, maintaining the director’s original intent, while adding immersive sound to the space inside the courtroom, the bar, exterior environments, and in Ellington’s score.
(1) Laura Manion shows up at Biegler’s law office and flirts with him as she and her dog Muff lounge on his couch. (2) Biegler meets up with the District Attorney before the trial. (3) Outside of the jail, Laura and Biegler talk about the case. (4) Biegler drives to the tavern where the murder happened and looks at a series of photographs of Barney Quill. (5) Biegler talks with Thunder Bay bartender Alphonse Paquette (Murray Hamilton) who witnessed the killing.
An excellent essay from film historian Julie Kirgo is one of the highlights featured in the handsome hardcover coffee table book, which showcases Preminger’s move from Austria to Hollywood. She says by the time he was 20, Preminger had earned his law degree in Vienna, lost most of his hair, and was becoming one of Europe’s top actors/producers/directors.
He first received an invitation to come to America to direct “Libel” on Broadway in 1935. The play was mildly successful, but 20th Century Fox studio executive Darryl F. Zanuck took notice and hired him as a contract director. His first six films were uneventful until he took on a story no one else wanted. “Laura” (1944), for which he was first slotted as the producer and then director, is considered a film noir classic, receiving five Oscar nominations including Best Director, and winning for Best Cinematography.
By the early 1950s, Preminger realized the studio system was unraveling, and became an independent filmmaker for the controversial “The Moon is Blue,” a sexy comedy starring William Holden, David Niven, and Maggie McNamara. It was banned in several states for use of the words “seduce,” “virgin” and “pregnant.”
The enclosed Blu-ray also features the new 4K master, and all bonus features including the three featurettes. The first with author and design historian Pat Kirkham, details the Saul Bass graphic title sequence. She says it was a “perfect vehicle for his view of reductive design where you distill, you distill, you reduce.” Bass got his start designing movie trade ads at the ripe old age of 16.
(1) The cameo scene of Duke Ellington playing the piano with Stewart. (2) Biegler pulls Laura Manion out of the nightclub after he spotted her dancing with Army officers while her husband is behind bars. “I’m the lawyer trying to beat a rap for your husband! Do you remember? You listen. Now, until this trial is over, you’re gonna be a meek little housewife with horn-rimmed spectacles, and you’re gonna stay away from men and juke joints and booze and pinball machines, and you’re gonna wear a skirt and low-heeled shoes, and you’re gonna wear a girdle and especially a girdle.” (3) Two days before the trial, Lt. Manion heads to an Army hospital in Detriot to be examined by Army Psychiatrist Matthew Smith. His diagnoses determined Lt. Manion suffered from “disassociative reaction,” an irresistible impulse to shoot Quill.
The second, with music critic Gary Giddins, explores Duke Ellington’s jazzy “Murder” score, and his career within movies. The 1950s jazz was the hot grown-up music, while teenagers vibed on rock ‘n’ roll. Ellington had a number of cameo roles in movies during the 1930s and ’40s, but had never been asked to write a score.
Up to this point, Jazz had only been used in films that took place in New York City and Chicago – “inside nightclubs, with streetwalkers, pimps, gamblers, and gangsters,” Giddins says.
Preminger was still determined to hire Ellington – considered the great American composer and who had just appeared on the cover of Time Magazine. Black audiences swarmed to see his cameos. “There was nothing servile [about the Duke]; there was nothing minstrel-like about this extraordinary man. He was handsome, he was confident, he had authority,” Giddins says.
One of the musical highlights is the sensual cue for Lee Remick’s character as band soloist Johnny Hodges gives a “sax glissando that goes into two different octaves,” as the sensual Laura leans against a car outside the county courthouse and jail.
Ellington has a cameo in “Murder,” playing the piano with Stewart at a smoky bar where the lawyer discovers Laura dancing with Army officers, while her husband is behind bars. Stewart was a respectable accordion player and once performed on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.
The final and best featurette is with Foster Hirsch, who also contributes a history lesson of Preminger’s career. He praises Preminger’s stand against the Hollywood Production Code, and that he “chose material that he knew would offend and upset the bluenoses or censorship bodies.” Preminger’s courage is what ultimately led to the abolition of the Code and “greater freedom for all filmmakers,” Hirsch says. He also provides a running commentary, with an endless stream of stories and an examination of the film. The director demanded Ellington be on the movie set for the entire shoot, “So he could breathe with the film and respond musically … and be immersed into the fabric of the film,” Hirsch says.
The Blu-ray also includes a 10-minute segment from the public affairs TV show “Firing Line,” in which William F. Buckley Jr. debates Preminger over censorship.
“I’m absolutely convinced that nobody in 1959 could’ve done this job that Otto Preminger did with it [Anatomy of a Murder]. It was a film made by a lawyer as a kind of tribute to the American system of justice.” – Foster Hirsch
– Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer
(1) Former U.S. Army attorney Joseph N. Welch, provides a surprising performance as Judge Weaver. (2) The two prosecutors: The local District Attorney Mitch Lodwick (Brooks West) and the hotshot state prosecutor Claude Dancer (George C. Scott). (3) Biegler goes head-to-head with Lodwick as Dancer watches. (4) Biegler cross-examines State Police Detective Sgt. James Durgo (Ken Lynch).