FC4: arty of the irst art

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In THE SEVEN FACES OF DR LAO, a rather beautiful movie and the best thing George Pal ever did, Arthur O’Connell has a conversation with an animated snake which is one of the most moving and remarkable conversations with animated snakes I’ve ever seen, and yes I do include Sterling Holloway in THE JUNGLE BOOK. So I’m always glad to see Arthur O’Connell in a movie, although I’m quite glad I don’t have to smell him in ANATOMY OF A MURDER, where I’d have whisky, cigarettes, and in one scene beer and hard boiled eggs to contend with. But fortunately, Otto Preminger, despite his modernist fondness for jazz soundtracks, Saul Bass credits, filming on location, defying censorship restrictions and using every inch of his wide screen, never made a movie in Odorama. Although if anybody had offered him Ottorama it’s unlikely his ego, as vast and shiny as his big bald head, would have allowed him to resist.

Maybe we should stop calling this Film Club and just call it John Qualen Club, since that lovely character actor, Miser Stevens in our first Film Club, is here again as the jailor. Or “yailor,” since he plays it with a Yumping Yiminy kind of accent.

Yes, I’m starting with the “little people” and working my way up. Will I even talk about the plot? Not sure yet.

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Eve Arden, as Jimmy Stewart’s legal secretary, very cool and appealing, one of the great secretaries, I’d say — she gets to do a little unpaid detective work on the side. Maybe because secretaries don’t have much to do in most films where they feature, I often wonder if they should be used more or if I like them because they’re effective in small doses? Like Sam Spade’s secretary, the marvellous Effie (Lee Patrick, in Huston’s film of THE MALTESE FALCON) is so capable — has nobody considered giving her a book of her own? Of course, a sequel to Dashiell Hammett would be blasphemous. But I do like Effie. Wait, Lee Patrick’s in DR LAO too? That’s just weird.

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Joseph N Welch, of “Have you no sense of decency, sir?” fame — an attorney playing a judge, and such a fair and mild and pleasant judge. In many ways ANATOMY OF A MURDER paints a rather unappealing portrait of the justice system — how do we read that last shot of a brimming garbage can? — but Welch does rather make me feel warmly towards the idea of human justice. Is it odd that an attorney would play a judge as such a charming and human fellow? At any rate, I’d want a judge like that if I ever put five bullets in anybody.

Good oily work from Murray Hamilton. Kathryn Grant, the future Mrs Bing Crosby, is stunningly beautiful and very good — and I’m delighted to see she’s got a substantial role in a new Henry Jaglom film. Anybody know anything about this?

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The first name in the list of minor players is George C. Scott, who really has a major featured role but wasn’t a big name yet. Nobody seems to get famous playing prosecutors, maybe because prosecutors in trial movies always seem dislikable — even though they’re just doing their jobs. Maybe that’s why Scott spent the next few years in TV, despite being sensational here.

“My God, George is sexy… even though he’s… practically deformed,”  gasped Fiona when she first saw this, some years back. And it’s true. His nose, sculpted by boxing gloves, forms a sort of pincer with his chin. His hooded eyes have a lizardly coldness. He makes little, tight smiles that admit no pleasure. And yet, sexy and dangerous. Given the character name, Clause Dancer, and his status as fancy city lawyer, you expect some kind of effeminacy, but George doesn’t deliver (might not be within his range, actually) except for the elegance of his movement, his immaculate appearance, and a slight fussiness (Brooks West, in real life the producer of Eve Arden’s TV show, does bring a little Franklin Pangborn to the role of DA).

Moving on up…

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Ben Gazzara carries a lot of the film’s ambiguity — one unstated theme is the uncertainty of anything we don’t personally see or hear, and how the courts try to stamp a mark of certainty upon past events but this has only a social meaning. So we don’t know quite what’s going on with Gazzara, though it’s fair to say we don’t like him. An unsympathetic client is pretty unusual in a courtroom drama. The fact that Gazzara seems guilty doesn’t mean he might not be innocent, but I think it’s pretty clear that the insanity defense is an act cooked up with some hints from Jimmy Stewart, who’s very scrupulous about not telling Gazzara what to say, but certainly points him in the right direction.

There’s one particular gesture where it looks like Lt. Frederick Manion is giving a performance for Stewart’s benefit… His description of his “irresistable impulse” is a lot like Ginger Rogers talking to Adolph Menjou in ROXY HART ~

“…and then everything went purple!”

“Purple?”

“Black?”

“Mmm, purple’s good… it’s new.”

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Lee Remick (replacing Lana Turner after an argument about costuming) — “That’s a very odd way to portray a rape victim,” said Fiona, and I once more agree. Again, part of the film’s deliberate neutrality on the question of guilt/innocence. Was Laura Manion raped? She doesn’t act like it. The only time she acts particularly upset is when Dancer challenges her story. Her flighty, flirtiness seems out of keeping, and I suspect Preminger has Remick her overstress it just to sew doubt in our minds. It certainly appears, from all outward evidence, that the rape took place.

Given her airhead detachment, Laura shouldn’t be that appealing but somehow Remick makes her winning. Star charisma I guess. And the way she’s surprising, inappropriate, off — something that we tend to welcome more in films than in life because it makes things interesting. Although I did worry about her leaving her terrier, Muffy, balanced on a narrow wall. That’s no place for a dog!

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James Stewart as Paul Biegler. Fond of fishing and jazz (and that preference serves as the perfect alibi to allow a superb score  credited to Duke Ellington but in reality a collaboration with Billy Strayhorn, the first major movie score by African-American artists). A bachelor. Drifting along, skirting bankruptcy, dispirited, Biegler gets a new lease of life from the case and manages to turn around his friend Parnell (O’Connell) too. Like William Wyler’s COUNSELLOR-AT-LAW, this movie is a hymn to the restorative power of work.  This positive side compensates for the film’s rather skeptical view of the legal system, and the sordid nature of the case itself.

And of course, Stewart’s presence lightens things, making the most of Wendell Mayes’ witty lines, and also creating quite a bit of humour just from facial reactions. It’s a very funny film, in fact — the sparring is consistently witty and Stewart makes it seem even wittier. He’s so good that I wish he didn’t blow up quite so often, because it makes his character look unprofessional. Lawyers seem to agree this is one of the most realistic courtroom dramas, but they couldn’t resist spicing up the emotions a bit — at least the judge rightly tells Stewart to get a grip on himself whenever he’s out of line.

With that long, slow opening, Preminger prepares you for a movie about process, not a thriller at all (although the trial is exciting — like a good chess game). And that’s perfectly suited to the style he’s been developing. This is far less showy than FALLEN ANGEL, a movie I love, a firecracker of dynamic long takes and unpredictably choreographed shots. Here, the fluidity of the Preminger frame conceals its own artifice, so it doesn’t announce itself as either snappy and bold or economical and sleek, although all of those qualities appear. It’s a very nice approximation of a documentary feel, without using any documentary techniques except real locations and naturalistic lighting.

“Music can’t help a realistic story, it just makes it less realistic,” my friend Lawrie used to say, and while that’s no hard-and-fast rile, it’s a useful principle. The music works here beautifully, perhaps because it’s frequently woven into the story. I think Duke Ellington’s guest appearance maybe works against the overall tone, but it’s not a crazy gesture like the moment in BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING where the film stops for a whole Zombies song to play out on a pub TV. The music allows Preminger to protract scenes to an extraordinary degree (especially that opening), so it calmly makes itself necessary, and I can’t question it after that. Also, the Mr. Magoo crime-scene credits by Saul Bass, combined with that score, and leading into the shot of Stewart really driving a real car (nicely mirrored at the end) must have been like ice-water in the audience’s face, but prepares for the shocking modernity of all that talk about panties and intercourse without completion.

Hit it!

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26 Responses to “FC4: arty of the irst art”

  1. Arthur S. Says:

    I think Anatomy is more of a comedy than previously supposed. Even if the crime is serious.

    The film is really about perception and subjectivity, not unlike RASHOMON and unlike that film it doesn’t use dressed up contradicting flashbacks.

    I don’t see Stewart as being emotional so much as theatrical. Like he tells Mannion that even if juries are ordered to disregard a specific argument or line of defense from the record, they can’t disregard what they hear. Dancer is quite right when he accusses him of using a smoke screen to hide his flimsy case, which is 95% true(the 5% is of course Kathryn Grant which proves to be his undoing in his overzealous bid to show up Biegler). The assumption of ANATOMY OF A MURDER is that the law system holds people “innocent till proven guilty”. All Biegler has to do is to sow doubt and give an alibi that the jury can use as excuse. In this case it’s “temporary insanity”. It is the prosecution’s job to show that a person’s guilt is indubitable.

    ———————
    Was Laura Manion raped? She doesn’t act like it.
    ———————

    Well that aspect was surprising to me too but I think she was raped and going on as Miss Sexy as if it didn’t happen is her way of dealing with it. Preminger’s film is as much an anatomy of a marriage and the marriage on display is a perverse one. Laura I think likes to get Mannion jealous like when she flirts with Biegler outside the prison, Biegler reminds her he’s watching but I think she knows. She’s a very theatrical character. Which makes her perfect for a trial movie. Her situation is of a woman who loves her man but doesn’t like being married to him.

  2. “Otto had the sense of humour of a guillotine.” ~ Vincent Price.

    So it seems possible that he made his best comedy in disguise.

  3. David Boxwell Says:

    VERTIGO redux: Stewart forces Remick to dress in a gray suit to re-make her as “classy.”

    I love the clash of generations and acting methods in the movie: the studio veterans (Stewart, Arden) and the Actor’s Studio kidz: Gazzara, Remick, Scott.

    And, best of all, bachelor Stewart’s immersion into a world of violent sexuality he can’t ever get a handle on. He is totally asexual, whereas the slamming excitement of Remick’s and Gazzara’s wild couplings stands in total contrast. They are not just hypersexual, their unassimilable sexuality convulses the American justice system.

    Laura is raped by Barney, but there’s no trauma, like we would see in today’s representation of sexual assault; if anything, she is aroused by the aftermath: being the focus of attention in an investigation, a trial, an acquittal, the promise of moving on to another hick town, and having it all happen again.

  4. The trick of the story as Preminger tells it is that Lee Remick is the client, rather than Ben Gazzara. She’s an incredibly sexy woman, in a very modern relastic way, who has to defend herself agains the charge that she was ‘asking for it” — as so many rape victims are to this very day. Officially it was a costume conflict that led to lana’s exit, but frankly I’m sure the moment she arrived on the set Preminger knew he’d made a mistake — just as Kubrick did in casting Harvey Keitel in Eyes Wide Shut only to come to his senses and replace him with the great Sydney Pollack.

    The great innovation of a courtroom drama cum murder ystery like this one is Prenger’s admant refusal to give us a flashback. In this he puts us in the position of the jurrors — though we know more than they do about the players. Arthur O’Connell is indeed wonderful, and Eve Arden is more Eve Arden than ever — albeit in a lower key. George C. Scott’s great performanc espeaks to Prenger’s canny instinct with actors.

    Stewart is of course in a class all by himself. The pleasure he takes in winningthe case is tempered by his constant — deeply inteligent — uncertainty about “what really happened.” And it’s an uncertainty Preminger forces us to share.

  5. Arthur S. Says:

    His performance in ANATOMY is brilliant because he doesn’t feel like Jimmy Stewart in that role. He feels like the lawyer Paul Biegler. It’s an amazing performance. I lost count of how many classics he had appeared in and then I saw ANATOMY and I thought his filmography is one long best-of-list. I especially like that scene where he and Remick meet in his parlour and she comments on his love for jazz and then she sets him off balance by talking about how she knows when men are attracted to her including him. His reaction to that is priceless. You don’t know for sure that his reaction is that of a genuine professional upset at the insinuation or someone who doth protest too much.

    The performance in that film that surprised me was Ben Gazzara, I knew him from the Cassavetes films and seeing him so young was disconcerting. His presence is also striking, especially his eyes. He isn’t a sympathetic person but he doesn’t ask for sympathy either.

    I don’t see ANATOMY OF A MURDER as being critical of the judicial system as much as being honest about its limitations. A court of law is all about establishing complex legal framework in practise and when you deal with human beings – smart, rational human beings, things get complicated and messed up(as opposed to the rationale that dumb characters create conflict). It’s a very adult film in that sense. Not just in the groundbreaking dialogue but it’s a film for an adult audience not fooled by conventional dramaturgy.

    The cynical part is I suppose that winning a case in law has less to do with justice than with fighting a good case. And you get justice if your case is fought better than the other person. And then even then, as the last scene shows, it might not make much difference at all.

  6. I agree with Arthur S’s estimation of James Stewart in this film — no shtick, just a great performance. And, of course, his Jimmy Stewartness lends Biegler a degree of decency that the character just wouldn’t have otherwise.

    I remember that, when I first saw Anatomy of a Murder, I was struck by all the ways in which it reminded me of Twin Peaks. On a more recent viewing, however, I really couldn’t see what I’d been thinking. There’s the unseen murder in a lumber town, I suppose, and the use of a jazzy soundtrack that jars with the setting, but I’m not sure what else there might be beyond that. Biegler has a sideways approach to the case, which is sort of similar to Agent Cooper’s peculiar methods, but I wouldn’t say it’s a direct influence. (Of course, I was in the middle of a big Lynch phase, and probably saw connections with his work in everything I watched.)

  7. Arthur S. Says:

    I have never seen TWIN PEAKS, I am guessing it’s like THE PRISONER based on what people tell me about it. Based on the Lynch films I have seen, a couple of things stand out…

    Preminger is always first and foremost a realist…which is to say there are moments of absurdity and incongruousness in his films. In ANATOMY, the scenes of Arthur O’Connell driving to and fro to Canada are genuine grade A What-The-Fuck stuff. We see him as a sidekick for the first part, we know he has a drinking problem. Then he gets told that he’s gone somewhere but Eve Arden won’t tell him and then suddenly it cuts to hm driving towards the 49th Parallel. It’s cut like a gag scene but it’s basically the cat that bags them the case. ANGEL FACE(which is the film that made into an Ottomaniac) is especially interesting because it has a very cool modern tone in narrating a story of neurosis and some scenes are genuinely surreal(especially the trial scene in that film).

    And the way it works in the film is that Jimmy Stewart works around it, it doesn’t function like a Deus-Ex-Machina…but it’s something he has up his sleeve that nobody knows he has and even he had no idea that it’d work in his favour so well. It anticipates Preminger’s ADVISE AND CONSENT which is all about manipulation and control of information and the correct time to release the information. In the later one, it’s done with a deliberation while here it’s a mix of complex human reactions and happy accidents…which is a good metaphor for film-making.

  8. Twin Peaks certainly has connections, although they might be coincidental. Given Mel Brooks’ description of David Lynch as “Jimmy Stewart from Mars,” there could be something. Lee Remick could easily fit into TP.

    As for Twin Peaks being like The Prisoner — it is and it isn’t.

    Preminger may not have actually been a trial lawyer, but he had a long history in the theatre, and Anatomy could be seen as a performance film a la Rivette. Stewart rehearses his cast then turns them loose in an improvised play…

    I don’t see Stewart as sexless, and neither does Remick, but I wasn’t sure what to make of his bachelor status. As with Rope, if it wasn’t Jimmy Stewart, we might wonder about him. But Arthur O’Connell doesn’t seem a convincing object of desire! Then again, not much sense of anything with Eve Arden. But the clash of old-school and new styles of acting is indeed an effective device that energizes the whole movie.

  9. There’s a great deal of subtle sexual tension between Stewart and Remick. Anatomy of a Murder is, after all, just a slice of this character’s life. We know he has a past, and a reutation in town as a solid citizen. But the film deosn’t go into it very much. It’s pretty obvious from his scenes with Remick that he’s dealt with beutiful, possibly predatory, woemn in the past. He’s more amused by her than wary. Which is all well and good as she’s a heroine clad in the form of a femme fatale.

  10. Arthur S. Says:

    Their final meeting right before they go to the verdict is interesting. He is once again put off-balance by her. He’s fascinated by her and concerned for her but she is interested in pulling him and captivating him into her charm.

    The thing about Paul Biegler is that he knows that falling in love with a woman like her would be destructive and so he is smart to keep himself away from her. In that sense he is smarter than Robert Mitchum in ANGEL FACE and for that matter Scottie Ferguson in VERTIGO.

    Trial is a form of theatre in that it is a ritualized activity with its codes and rules and it functions on account of players who are masters of these codes and rules. The difference is that the consequences are real. Trials I think is a central metaphor for Preminger…it’s there in DAISY KENYON, ANGEL FACE, SAINT JOAN and in ANATOMY. Bogdanovich said that his films are essentially trials for his characters with the audience invited to play jury to them. It certainly explains the objective distance of his films. Very rarely you identify with the characters and instead look at thinks objectively.

  11. I didn’t manage to squeeze in a viewing of ANATOMY this weekend, but I remember it well enough to appreciate this discussion… the Bogdanovich thesis strikes me as very sound…Preminger’s camera gives the actors a wide berth while somehow managing to keep us focused on what’s at stake for the characters (as complex subjects)… a staggering achievement, that… my personal favourites are FALLEN ANGEL and DAISY KENYON

  12. Those are incredible films, Fallen Angel being an amazing stylistic tour de force with awesome work from Linda Darnell, a defiantly proletarian femme fatale who ultimately is victim rather than villain. And Daisy Kenyon is astonishingly ADULT. I just didn’t know where it was going to end up.

    What Stewart brings to Preminger’s cinema is sympathy — Preminger can keep him distant all he likes, but Stewart always invites the audience in. That makes for a very interesting tension, and makes this a particularly accessible example of Preminger’s portraits of institutions.

    My own limited experience of courtrooms confirms what AOAM suggests — the elephant in the courtroom is the truth, which cannot be apprehended in its entirety, and certainly not by anyone who wasn’t there.

  13. David Boxwell Says:

    I should rephrase for more precision: Paul (Stewart) isn’t “asexual”; he has no sexual life to speak of. So while he might be susceptible to heterosexual temptation, I think it’s important, in the scheme of things, that he be absolutely celibate as a character, while he is confronting two characters (Laura and Mannion) whose sexuality is uncontainable. I wouldn’t want to go overboard here and suggest that Paul’s washing fish in the sink is symbolic, but . . . then his fridge is stacked with nothing but washed fish.

    Paul’s lack of children and family is starkly opposed to the Mannions’ childlessness.

  14. His life does seem pretty damn ascetic at the start of the film, and although a case comes to fill the void, there’s no sense that his personal life is going anywhere. At any rate, while it’s definitely intriguing, it also has the effect of putting the focus more strongly on the trial, in a way most movies would be afraid to — heroes always have to have lives. Jimmy Stewart here has none.

  15. David Boxwell Says:

    Laura’s final encounter with Paul on the courthouse stairwell is amazing. She rephrases with teasing irony the jailbird testimony (is it true? false?) of Mannion’s promise of kicking “the bitch” to the curb. It’s as if she revels, masochistically, in being an abused “bitch” (how this word got past the PCA leaves me gobsmacked!).

  16. Preminger fought the PCA and kind of destroyed their power with this movie and The Moon is Blue.

    Laura’s line, like so much else in the film, can be read in at least a couple of ways, as a “We both know he never said that, so I can joke about it,” line, or the very opposite.

  17. Well that’s one of the advantages of star-power casting. The character doesn’t have to”have a life” because he’s already Jimmy Stewart.

    David B’s point about his relative unsexuality vs. the Mnnion’ roiling sexual disorder is well-taken. In this way he becomes a kind of secular priest.

  18. “The character doesn’t have to”have a life” because he’s already Jimmy Stewart.” I wish more stars understood this. We could be spared irrelevant scenes about the hero’s love-life, which often have nothing to do with the subject of the film.

    Stewart’s position is morally pretty complicated, since he has to remain innocent about his client’s probable guilt. By going for lunch to give time for Manion to come up with his own insanity defense, he’s able to say to himself he doesn’t “know” Manion is lying. But it’s clear the man wasn’t insane — that’s one part of the film I don’t find ambiguous.

    Another amusing fact the film hints at is that psychologists very often are no better than the rest of us at knowing when they’re being lied to.

  19. Arthur S. Says:

    Well that one was an army psychologist…pretty much compromised from the get-go.

  20. Most psychiatry works on the assumption that the patient is truthful, so that if you present yourself at a hospital with fake psychiatric symptoms, it’s disturbingly easy to get committed for treatment. Of the groups who consider themselves good at spotting lies: psychiatrists, psychologists, judges and lawyers — none are any better at it than the rest of us, except those studied in micro-body-language. The ones who are really good at it are spies, who are specially trained.

    But yeah, the army guy was probably inclined to be helpful.

  21. Arthur S. Says:

    The US Army has a long history in suppressing stories and incidents of mental instability and breakdown among servicemen. They shelved Huston’s LET THERE BE LIGHT for the same reasons. So an army shrink(whose job is basically to make sure the soldiers are sane enough to kill when asked and not when not asked) would say that a soldier can suffer from temporary insanity which would render him incapable of behaving rationally. It’s interesting how he explains the concept to Dancer, “So you say that he can tell from right and wrong?” “I’m saying that it wouldn’t make a difference if he knew right from wrong or not. He still would have shot Barney Quill.” Well that’s so convenient isn’t it. Either way they win.

    Psychology is about people revealing a lot about themselves in the way they behave with people. Even if they are lying, being evasive, not being open or honest, a good shrink can tell a lot about him from the “absences”. Of course that knowledge can’t really be admissable on the court of law or the circumstances of a trial.

    Personally I think they cooked up the “irrestible impulse” as their best bet and planned their case around it and the prosecution didn’t do a good enough job to deal with it. Dancer was too arrogant, the other shrink too nice. If they were smart, they could have gotten him. The other thing is, well it’s also quite natural for people to want to spare someone to go to jail. Its very hard for a prosecutor to get public sympathy because he’ll always have the aspect of the hangman to him. And it takes an especially tough jury to avoid that. And also a jury not tired or irritated enough with jury duty.

  22. Also, this case is a rare thing, an unsympathetic victim. Once the rape accusation looks probable, the jury want to cut Gazzara some slack, and the only purpose of of the insanity plea is to give them a legal excuse, as Stewart admits.

    The whole “right or wrong” argument was a legal idea which has little connection to the issue of mental illness. If a person kills because of the mental illness, then surely they’re not responsible as a person, whether they could distinguish right from wrong or not.

  23. Arthur S. Says:

    I was reading up on the trial of Charles Manson when Vincent Bugliosi managed to haul that nut into jail and in that trial, Manson started screaming and yelling all over the place and eventually it took the defence team of his female acolytes to sabotage the case by resting it early to ensure a judgment.(Incidentally, Bugliosi has been vocal in arguing for G. W. Bush’s conviction for murder…alas he’s retired.) The acolytes were going to take a fall for the murder and exonerate Manson and the defence team cited their interest in protecting their clients as their reasons for resting the case. Bugliosi believed(and it’s as good as true) that they were going to take the fall on Manson’s orders so that he could get away with it. Bugliosi in that occassion managed to get an obviously deranged person convicted to jail.

    The unsympathetic victim is of course a central requirement for a good trial film. Barney Quill is a rapist and he had a gun collection with him and he might have started a gunfight with Mannion if the latter wasn’t quick, but murder is murder.

  24. That’s interesting, that trial movies hinge upon unsympathetic victims. I guess whodunnits often work this way because they want to focus on the intellectual problem and not get bogged down in mourning a lovely person taken from us.

    Manson definitely didn’t get a fair trial… although it’s quite hard to get excited about it on his behalf. But for the sake of other citizens, it would be better if these things were always above board.

  25. Arthur S. Says:

    When you are mourning the death of a lovely person, it becomes a story of revenge and not justice. Which is ostensibly what whoddunnits and trial stories are about.

    Manson did get a fair trial. The defence team of the acolytes were representing THEM and not Manson so it was legal for them to do what they did, though it might have been “frowned upon”.

  26. I remember hearing they wouldn’t let Manson speak in court because they were afraid he would hypnotize the jury.

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