FilmStruck is starting the new year with a bang! The January 2018 programming on the Criterion Channel on FilmStruck includes the Coen Brothers' No Country for Old Men, a double bill of Val Lewton's Cat People and Curse of the Cat People, and Orson Welles's Mr. Arkadin. But the film I'm most excited about is Otto Preminger's wonderfully nuanced courtroom drama, Anatomy of a Murder. It's got Jimmy Stewart as a defense attorney, Arthur O'Connell as his recovering alcoholic friend, a Duke Ellington score and a sexy Lee Remick as the wife of a man who may just get away with murder.
Here's the set up: Stewart (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington) plays a small-town Michigan lawyer who takes on a difficult case. He's hired to defend a young army lieutenant played by Ben Gazzara (Husbands, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie) accused of murdering a local tavern owner who he believes raped his wife, Lee Remick (Days of Wine and Roses, The Omen). The outstanding supporting cast includes the previously mentioned O'Connell (Picnic, Bus Stop) with a young George C. Scott (Patton, The Hustler) as a fiery prosecutor and the legendary McCarthy era attorney Joseph N. Welch as the judge. The films composer, the great Duke Ellington even makes an appearance as a piano player in a tavern.
This gripping drama was considered a groundbreaking envelope-pusher of the day for the frankness of its discussion of sex, and more exactly, rape. But more than anything else, it is a striking depiction of the power of words and the lawyers who use them to make a case, as well as the lawyers who use them to manipulate. It's just a wonderful site watching Stewart and Scott spar, each trying to out maneuver the other while maintaining the appearance of civility. Stewart is perfectly cast at this time in his life as an older "country bun kin" law man who knows a lot more about the world than his opponent thinks he does. Scott is equally well suited as the slick city lawyer set to make a name for himself on what should have been an easy case.
Since this is a FilmStruck premier the presentation includes supplemental features. There's an interview with director Otto Preminger biographer Foster Hirsch, as well as an interview with film critic Gary Giddins of New York City's The Village Voice as he explores the intricacies of Duke Ellington's seminal score. And biographer of the famed graphic designer Saul Bass takes a look at the relationship between the artistic genius and the film's director, Preminger and how they came up with that compelling poster.
If you haven't checked out FilmStruck yet, now's the time. You can try for FREE for two weeks. After that I'm guessing you'll be hooked and sign up for what is essentially a relatively low cost for access to such great monthly programming.