Archive for Anatomy of a Murder

Otto Pilot

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 14, 2022 by dcairns

We had a strange Otto Preminger double feature of THE COURT MARTIAL OF BILLY MITCHELL and BONJOUR TRISTESSE, two of the bald auteur’s movies I’d never caught up with. I find him simply unwatchable in anything but the exactly right aspect ratio, and TCMOBM hadn’t been screened on TV in anything but wretched pan-and-scans. Seeing it in ‘Scope was a revelation — unfortunately it was a revelation of how not particularly good a film it is.

(I’ll possibly look at BONJOUR in a separate post.)

The late Billy Mitchell’s family hated the casting of Gary Cooper, saying that he was a small, explosive man, and Jimmy Cagney would have been ideal. Cagney wasn’t quite the dynamo he had been by 1955, of course, but he’d still have held the interest better than Coop. HIGH NOON would tend to suggest that he’d be a good man to suggest the character’s inner torment — basically, the lifelong military officer is forced to denounce the army’s policy toward aviation in the press, because he sees it as essential to national security. In the dock, he predicts the attack on Pearl Harbor by decades. So you could imagine Coop’s eyes revealing a lot of tension and sorrow and doubt. Doesn’t really seem to happen, though.

It’s one of those movies, also, where you know exactly what to think. Preminger is often praised today for his even-handedness, but he isn’t able to get any of that in here: Cooper’s chief opponent in the army is Charles Bickford, a competent but unlikable actor, good at unlikable roles (as in Otto’s FALLEN ANGEL). The prosecutor is played by Fred Clark, king of the fatuous falling face, hired to look astonished whenever his prosecutorial gambits collapse on him. And then they bring in the heavy hitter, top lawyer Rod Steiger, who brings all the expected chubby smarm to the role. He’s exactly the equivalent of George C. Scott’s dangerous opponent in ANATOMY OF A MURDER, but Scott is wonderfully unexpected in that role, which can’t be said for Rod. As Fiona observed in astonishment back when we viewed AOAM for the first time, “My God, George is sexy, even though he’s… almost deformed.” Sexy gargoyle beats smirking dumpling.

Still, Rod brings the entertainment. Prior to his appearance, there are some future TV stars making brief appearances, but the most characterful turn is by Ralph Bellamy, whom we love, but who perhaps can’t quite add the necessary animation and engagement to a static colossus like this. As an early Cinemascope film, the movie lacks the fluidity and dynamism of later Preminger outings — lots of flat twos. His previous MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM, though hampered by cheap sets, was vastly more interesting.

The correct pairing for this film would have been IN HARM’S WAY, where Billy Mitchell’s prophecy of air war comes horribly true, but that would have been a REALLY dull evening.

THE COURT MARTIAL OF BILLY MITCHELL stars Longfellow Deeds; Oliver Niles; Bruce Baldwin; Mr. Joyboy; Lizzie Borden; Sheldrake; Honorious; Felix Leiter; Captain Clarence Oveur; Carl Kolchak; J. Jonah Jameson; Ben Hubbard; Cueball; Horace Greeley (uncredited); Lover Boy; Detective Dickens; and Fanning Nelson (uncredited).

“You’re going to hear a lot of talk about panties…”

Posted in FILM with tags , , on August 20, 2009 by dcairns


– here, on Monday, as part of Film Club. Spread the word in advance — the topic is Otto Preminger’s ANATOMY OF A MURDER, in which the former lawyer turns his vast dome to the subject of law once more.

The Future of Film Club

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , on August 18, 2009 by dcairns


I’ve kind of boxed myself in with this Film Club thing, you know — I’m committed to watching the film, then writing it up to post on Monday, then I have to get my Forgotten column ready by Tuesday, then Hitchcock watched and written up for Wednesday — and with the Intertitle of the Week on Sunday, that’s a slightly more rigid way of working than I usually fancy.

My solution will probably be to retire Film Club before I start back teaching in September, perhaps climaxing it with the Hitchcock-Film Club perfect storm of STRANGERS ON A TRAIN. But the idea seems to be a popular one so maybe I’ll continue it as a monthly treat, or revive it on a weekly basis after Hitchcock Year is over. Time will tell. I’ve been meaning to try a revival of the ever-popular CINEMA EUPHORIA strand as well, which has the advantage of being something that can run on a completely irregular basis.

The good news is that next week’s Film Club, as suggested by Tom Sutpen, of If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger… and Illusion Travels by Streetcar fame, will be ANATOMY OF A MURDER.


As Lionel Hutz would say, “Panties, panties, panties!”