Anatomy of a Murder (1959)

A couple of months back, I was invited to an interesting series of sessions focusing on building creativity. This was part of a venture by an organization where I once worked, and the creativity-building exercises take unconventional routes to help employees think out of the box: by watching films and analyzing them, for instance. One of the sessions I attended was presented by a team which used the theme of ‘multiple narratives’ to examine four films. The classic Kurosawa film Rashomon was (of course) on the list; so was the excellent South Korean film, Memories of Murder. The other two films—which I hadn’t seen, though I’d heard of them—were Talwar and Anatomy of a Murder.

The description and brief discussion of Anatomy of a Murder that followed got me interested, and I made a mental note to get the DVD. Then, a week or so back, friend and ex-fellow blogger Harvey recommended the film to me, too, so I decided it was high time I watched it. And what a film it turned out to be.

A scene from Anatomy of a Murder

Anatomy of a Murder isn’t a film that lends itself well to a scene-by-scene synopsis (especially given that I don’t want this to be a very long synopsis; I have plenty of things to say about the film besides its story). Suffice to say that the story is set in Iron City, where the main character is an attorney named Paul Biegler (James Stewart). Biegler has been, several years earlier, the District Attorney, but his lack of ambition (he would rather spend most of his time fishing or listening to jazz) means that his career’s now pretty much on the back burner. The occasional divorce case, and that’s about it.

James Stewart as Paul Biegler

Biegler’s longsuffering secretary Maida (Eve Arden) and his wino pal Parnell McCarthy (Arthur O’Connell) are his two main friends, and both try to encourage him to take on some more lucrative cases.

Paul with his secretary, Maida

… and it is thanks to McCarthy’s urging that Biegler, returning from yet another fishing trip, accepts a phone call from a Mrs Laura Manion. Laura (Lee Remick) wants Biegler to represent her husband, Lieutenant Frederick Manion (Ben Gazzarra), who has been arrested for murder.

Paul gets a phone call while McCarthy looks on

Through various meetings with Manion (who is lodged in the local police station), Biegler discovers more about who was murdered, and why. The victim was a bartender named Bernard ‘Barney’ Quill, who ran the bar at a resort named Thunder Bay. Thunder Bay is where Manion and his wife live in a trailer at the trailer park.

It turns out that Barney Quill raped Laura Manion, and in retaliation, Lt Manion shot Quill dead.

Manion is initially abrupt with Biegler and Beigler gets the impression that Manion has no confidence in Biegler’s ability to handle his case. Biegler, however, in his own way—half-joking, half-confrontational, and with a unique style all his own—manages to convince Manion to confide in him.

It emerges that this is a second marriage for both Manion and his wife. Manion’s first wife ran off with another man; Laura married him after divorcing her first husband.

Paul meets Lt Manion...

Biegler meets Laura Manion soon after: she comes to his office-cum-home and makes herself comfortable there with her dog Muff. Biegler, who’s been out, comes in and finds her lounging about, listening to his jazz records. There is about this woman an unmistakably bold openness: she’s smiling, effervescent—everything about her body language, and what she says, seems to indicate an almost unconscious seductiveness. As if Laura Manion instinctively reaches for men, is interested in them and wants them.

... and Laura

After Laura Manion and Biegler introduce themselves, he asks her to take off her sun glasses, and she does so—to reveal some bad bruises.

Laura Manion tells the story of her rape

This, she tells Biegler, is the result of Barney Quill’s attack on her the night he was murdered. On Biegler’s questioning her, she tells him all that happened. Her husband came home tired that night, and because he wanted to sleep while she—bored of sitting at home all day long—wanted to go out, she went on her own to the Thunder Bay bar, at the Thunder Bay Inn. She played pin ball with Barney Quill, had a few drinks, and then, because it was late and Barney Quill offered her a lift “because there were bears around”, she accepted.

… only to have Quill attack her. He hit her a good deal, and having torn off her panties and tossed them away, raped her.

Laura Manion says she might have passed out sometime in the process; when she came to, Barney  Quill had driven the car up to the fence of the trailer park. He tried to attack her again, but she managed to escape, and ran to the Manions’ trailer.

The rest of this story—how Lt Manion reacted to his wife’s rape—emerges when Biegler goes to the scene of the crime, the Thunder Bay bar where Manion killed Quill. Biegler, looking around the walls of the barroom, sees one shooting trophy after another; Barney Quill was obviously a very good shot.

Biegler examines the trophies on the bar wall

The bartender, Alphonse Paquette (Murray Hamilton) isn’t very forthcoming; he’s not outright hostile, but he makes it clear that he does not welcome Biegler’s questioning. He admits that yes, Quill was an ace shooter. Biegler, snooping around behind the bar counter while Paquette’s back is turned, sees no less than three slots in which guns could be hidden away. Then how come Quill was so easily killed by Lt Manion?

Biegler asks Paquette some questions

Paquette rather reluctantly reveals the story: that Manion had come in, looking calm and collected but carrying his service automatic. He had shot Quill straight in the heart, and when Paquette tried to stop him from leaving, Manion turned around and asked him if he wanted some of the same.

It is, as the Prosecutor tells Biegler before they actually begin sessions in court, an open and shut case. Barney Quill raped Laura Manion; Lt Manion cold-bloodedly killed Quill. It was not self-defence; it was not done in the heat of the moment; Manion prepared for it, planned to do it: why, otherwise, did he actually (by Manion’s own admission) load his gun and take it with him to the bar?

The Prosecutor has a friendly chat with Biegler

And, even before they go to court, Biegler is realizing that there may be more to this. Laura Manion, for instance, seems to be least bothered by what happened. He finds her dancing, definitely tipsy, in the bar one evening. She candidly confesses that she likes men, she likes the attention men give her.

Biegler realizes, too, that Manion is furiously possessive about his wife and does not like her free and flirtatious attitude towards men. It’s obvious—even from a very brief, completely professional meeting in the car, within sight of Manion’s cell window—that Manion even gets jealous seeing Laura talking to Biegler. And Laura, when Biegler draws her attention to her husband’s jealousy, immediately backs off, unnerved. This is a woman, it seems, who may be scared of getting her husband riled up.

Laura gets scared at the realization her husband may be jealous

There may, too, be other aspects to this story. Why, for instance, did Barney Quill go all the way to Ontario, Canada, to find a young woman named Mary Pilant (Kathryn Grant), whom he appointed manager of the Thunder Bay Inn? Was Mary Pilant Quill’s mistress? And what makes her so certain that Barney Quill could not have raped Laura Manion?

Mary Pilant - who, and why?

What is the truth behind all of this? As they go into court, the Prosecutor introduces someone else to handle the court: the suave and successful attorney, Claude Dancer (George C Scott), who quickly reveals himself as a worthy opponent to Biegler. With Dancer trying to suppress the motive behind Manion’s killing of Quill, with Biegler trying to bring that fact—that Laura Manion was raped by the man her husband subsequently killed—to the forefront, this becomes a gripping cat-and-mouse game.

In court, Biegler with his client

What I liked about this film, and what I didn’t like:

The scripting of it, the many layers that peel away, sometimes very unexpectedly, to reveal what lies beneath. One interesting fact is that nothing of the purported rape and the murder of Quill is shown. All that we, or Biegler, Dancer, the judge and the jury know of it is what the witnesses reveal. Otto Preminger (who directed the film) and Wendell Mayes (who wrote the screenplay) make this therefore a film that at no point lays out the facts. Getting to the truth becomes difficult, because it is not—as the Prosecutor had so breezily decreed it at the beginning—an open and shut case. Even as other witnesses are brought in, even as more questions are asked, more and more confusing facts come to light. Facts that blur the topic, make one wonder what is the truth.

That is the crux of Anatomy of a Murder: what is the truth? That Manion shot Quill cannot be disputed, since there were people who clearly saw him do so. But did he have just cause? Was he suffering from temporary insanity, as the army psychiatrist rules? Is this all a useless farce, and was Laura Manion not even raped? After all, everybody at Thunder Bay seems to know that Laura is free with her favours…

Dancer cross-examines Laura

… and that brings me to another, disconcertingly familiar, aspect of this film: the rape victim. I found it sadly ironic that even though nearly 60 years have passed since this film was made, it echoed statements we still hear: “She was asking for it,”, “The way she dressed and the way she behaved—she invited it.” Yes, Laura Manion does dress and behave in a way that’s bold for a married woman in the 50s (Biegler, telling her how she should appear in court, advises her to wear a girdle and a hat, to keep away from the tight skirts and high heels)… but does that ‘free’ spirit imply that she’s asking to be raped? Rape is lack of consent, assault—it can never be wanted. Nothing can justify rape. Not that the woman was drunk, not that she seemed friendly, not that she was dressed to kill (or lure, or whatever).

What I found unsettling about this in Anatomy of a Murder was that the rape was not treated as a major crime. True, this particular trial is for Manion’s killing of Quill; but the gravity of the rape, whether it even happened or not, is for a large part of the film, treated with an astonishing levity. Jokes are made about Laura Manion’s panties; Laura Manion herself, for a large part of the film, seems to take it pretty much in her stride…

… or is that only to make us wonder what really happened? Was it never rape after all, but consensual sex?

Based on Robert Traver’s novel Anatomy of a Murder (1958), which in turn was based on a real-life case, this film turned out to be not so much a story of multiple narratives in the style of Rashomon or Andha Naal, but one where different facts enter the story at different points, blurring the lines between fact and perception, truth and belief. It makes for a gripping, intense film, a brilliant courtroom drama as well as somewhat of a whodunit.

A scene in court

And yes, if for nothing else, watch it for the acting of James Stewart and George C Scott. The others are good too: Lee Remick as the brassy, bold Laura; Ben Gazzarra as the vaguely slimy Frederick Manion; Eve Arden as the hardworking Maida, who goes labouring on even though she hasn’t been paid, and manages to crack jokes despite that—but the two actors who take centrestage, and do justice to it, are Stewart and Scott. Both playing lawyers, but lawyers very different from each other: one suave, very urbane, sarcastic; the other hot-headed, as quick to jump up and start shouting as he is to make jokes in court. They’re like chalk and cheese, but then, sometimes not. Deep down, perhaps these two men are more alike than they appear at first glance. They’re both not above a little deception, both willing to do whatever it takes to get their point across, both great lawyers.

George C Scott and James Stewart in Anatomy of a Murder

No wonder both Stewart and Scott for Oscar nominations for the 1960 Academy Awards. Both lost out to actors from Ben Hur, which swept the Awards that year, but they’re still worth watching.

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50 thoughts on “Anatomy of a Murder (1959)

  1. Lovely review Madhu didi! I’ve always noted in your reviews that though you maintain a detached objectivity you enter the scene at appropriate places to give in your heartfelt comments.. It’s truly wonderful!

    I’ve started liking court movies a lot didi I don’t why. Earlier my perception of them wasn’t that good because they were based on my watching of melodramatic serials, but then I happened to see a couple of Hollywood court movies and I was impressed. They both are pretty new only; one is A Few Good Men (1992) about a crime commited by US marines in Cuba starring Tom Cruise and Demi Moore, and the second was Fracture (2007) starring Ryan Gosling and Anthony Hopkins.. Both are very intense yet intelligent.. You should watch them didi.
    And talking about how women are treated at court, I read this interesting play by Vijay Tendulkar (translated) called Silence! The Court is in Session. Its about a group of theatre actors who come to a village to act in a mock court session but during the rehearsal they target one very modern, progressive and forward woman and making her as the criminal bring her personal life into the open.. All in the name of a joke.. Its fascinating didi you should read it.
    But very nice review didi! Thank you

    • A Few Good Men is one of my favourite films (love most things Aaron Sorkin writes)!

      Will watch this, haven’t seen James Stewart in serious roles, not even Mr Smith Goes to Washington.

      Is the play you’re talking about is Shantatah, court chale aahe? Heard it mentioned in veteran actress Sulbha Deshpande’s tributes, when she passed away recently.

      2 more good court room dramas are To Kill A Mockingbird (Cary Grant as Atticus in Harper Lee’s writing), 12 Angry Men (which I see DO has reviewed). Accused (1988) is a strong film, and difficult to watch, but a good one (reminded of it when Stanford rape trial was in news)

      • Yes I was referring to Shantata… It was translated by Girish Karnad actually; Oxford has brought it out in book form.
        And oh Sulabha Deshpande passed away! I loved her in Bhumika.. Such a talented actress.. may she rest in peace..
        And thank you for your suggestions, I’ll keep them in mind. :)

      • Do watch this, Pri. It’s excellent. I’ve seen James Stewart in a lot of films – all the way from frothy stuff like The Shop Around the Corner to Hitchcock whodunits, to Destry Rides Again… to this, and he just strikes me as so brilliantly versatile.

        I second the 12 Angry Men recommendation; it’s a must-watch. I remember having thought Ek Ruka Hua Faislaa was awesome, until I finally got around to watching the original – and realized that that, despite the fact that the Hindi remake was almost an exact copy, was still so much better.

    • Thank you, Rahul! I’m glad you liked this review – do watch the film, it’s a brilliant one.

      I haven’t watched any TV serial courtroom dramas, but I’ve seen several films along those lines, both in English as well as Hindi (Kanoon and Yeh Raaste Hain Pyaar Ke are good examples in the former category). Haven’t seen either Fracture or A Few Good Men, though I’ve heard good things about the latter. Another, new-ish (by my standards!) one that’s worth a watch is Primal Fear: it’s gripping, and with some fine acting by Edward Norton.

      Thank you about the recommendation for Silence! The Court is in Session – sounds interesting. I will look out for it.

      P.S. Let me offer two more recommendations from the Golden Years of Hollywood: Witness for the Prosecution (based on Agatha Christie’s novella, and very good), and Judgment at Nuremberg, which – while it’s different in theme (it’s about the Nazi trials after WWII), is also excellent. Spencer Tracy’s 11-minute speech in the climax of that film was mesmerizing – and was filmed all in one take, supposedly.

  2. I’m so glad you watched it!
    Simply wonderful review! And you totally echo my senitments here.
    The high ambivalance which is going on in the plot is very disconcerting. It made me question about my own stands and on whose side I really am. Without answering them, the movie puts forward lots of questions, What is rape? When is rape a rape? When is murder justified? Who decides that? Can a court dispense justice? If justice is possible? What is justice? I kept asking myself these questions and I still don’t have any answers. Independent of the movie plot it is very easy to answer the above questions, but the film exposes the fault lines of the demarked boundaries.

    BTW, the movie also reminded me of the discussion here, when you reviewed Mera Saaya and complained about the imprecise depiction of the courtroom proceedings.
    Wikipedia says, “In 1989, the American Bar Association rated this as one of the 12 best trial films of all time. In addition to its plot and musical score, the article noted: “The film’s real highlight is its ability to demonstrate how a legal defense is developed in a difficult case. How many trial films would dare spend so much time watching lawyers do what many lawyers do most (and enjoy least)—research?” The film has also been used as a teaching tool in law schools, as it encompasses (from the defense standpoint) all of the basic stages in the U.S. criminal justice system from client interview and arraignment through trial. The film was listed as No. 4 of 25 “Greatest Legal Movies” by the American Bar Association.”

    Do watch Shantata Court Chalu Ahe, if you get a copy of it. It is BRILLIANT, or at least, that is what I thought, when I saw it on TV some 25 years back. Thanks Rahul Saran for bringing it up.

    • Harvey, thank you so much for recommending this film! I loved it, and even though the end initially seemed a bit of a letdown (I was expecting closure, a definite answer to all the questions that were in my mind)… eventually that seemed to fit, after all. Rather like the Korean film, Memories of Murder, which I’ve mentioned early in my review. Even Memories of Murder doesn’t offer any answers (and, like this one, that too is based on a true case).

      Thank you for that excerpt from the Wikipedia article. Now I’m curious to see which other films feature on the list of 12 best trial films. I should think 12 Angry Men would be on it… must go and check it out.

      • Madhu, if I may call you that, have you ever seen 12 ANGRY MEN, a 1997 TV version with Jack Lemmon and George C. Scott? I highly recommend it! The plot is going to be familiar to you from the original Henry Fonda film – but I daresay you will discover (or re-discover) some great acting by old-time veterans. I actually prefer this version to the 1957 classic.

  3. Madhu, I’m so glad you finally watched this film. I watched it by accident a few years ago, and had reviewed it as well. It is sad that things haven’t changed much in prosecuting rape. That victim statement was one of the most affecting statements I’d ever read.

    What is also interesting about this film is that the Otto Preminger had the jury benches filled with the (surviving) jury members who tried the case in real life. The judge was a real life Boston lawyer – famous for having cross-examined Joseph McCarthy in the infamous McCarthy hearings.

    • When I was watching Laura Manion being treated the way she was, and the fact that just about everybody seemed to be brushing her rape away as if it were of no importance, reminded me of the Brock Turner case. :-( And that victim’s statement… that was haunting. While watching this movie, I kept wondering if Laura Manion’s usually bright and careless demeanour was meant to be a subtle indication that she hadn’t actually been raped, but that it was consensual… or were the film makers really too callous to fathom the trauma of a raped woman, whose rape is relived so blatantly in court all over again (and even made fun of)?

      Yes, I did know that the judge was a real life lawyer. I hadn’t known he had been the cross-examining lawyer in the McCarthy hearings, though I did know that he had insisted that his wife be allowed to act as one of the jury members in Anatomy of a Murder.

      I must read your review of this, Anu. Either it was before my time or my memory is acting up again. :-)

      • You put it on your to-watch list then. :)

        I think Laura’s character was someone who could hide the trauma of rape simply because she was gregarious and naturally cheery. I think she was set up that way because Laura was not a ‘good’ woman – she couldn’t be because if she was, she wouldn’t be so cheery – so her rape is taken less lightly than otherwise. I also think the film makers were showing how precisely rape victims are treated. You know how the Stanford case victim was treated by the defence attorney.

        • So true. And so horrible, really, that in all these decades, for all that’s said about women’s lib and emancipation and equality and whatnot, things haven’t changed that much. Now that I think of it, my timing for watching this film was inadvertently appropriate, coming on the heels of the Stanford case and the verdict there.

  4. Madhu,
    This is a wonderful review. Congratulations! I had read Anu’s too, and that made me watch the film. My mind is wired to forget the plot details of most of the movies I watch. Therefore, probably I would have to see it again because of your excellent review. What I remember most vividly is the way lawyers prepare for their cases in their chambers, assisted by their juniors, going over thick tomes looking for precedents and case laws. James Stewart is wonderful at doing ‘what the lawyers do’. It is a good teaching tool for law students, as Harvey has mentioned with reference to Wikipedia.

    ‘Rape’: It is true that a woman’s dress or behaviour does not give anyone a right to rape her. Let me add two perspectives where we have to be careful in taking this proposition to extremes, one from the US and other from our home country. Long ago, I remember watching mainstream TV programmes in the US on date rape. The point that was being made was that a woman can go full nude with her boyfriend, indulge in heavy necking and petting, and when he was fully aroused and half-way into it, ask him to stop – a rape is a rape at any stage of the proceedings (when she calls it).

    In India, it is quite common for two adults in consensual sexual relationship for a number of years, and the woman one day deciding to file a case alleging rape for years by making false promises of marriage. This may be a case of relationship gone sour, or breach of trust, if you will, but almost in all such cases the man goes through all that a rape trial entails.

    Leaving the above extremes aside, a woman’s conduct would not be accepted as defence in rape, but it may be a guiding factor in the judge deciding on punishment. For almost all crimes the punishment is defined as “up to a maximum of”, and the presiding judges have a lot of latitude in considering attenuating circumstances. Conversely, in the present case (I don’t remember the end of the film), even if the judge rejects the argument of self-defence (unless the lawyers are able to build up a case of fight-out at the bar), the wife’s rape can be seen as provocation enough for the judge to take a lenient view.

    ‘Multiple narratives’: Talvar is a clearer case of multiple narratives. However, there is a vital difference from Rashomon. While Kurosawa does not take sides on the ‘truth’, the makers of Talvar leave no doubt who they are holding guilty of the crime. The state itself made a complete mess of declaring the parents guilty to innocent to guilty again.
    AK

    • AK, thank you for that long and detailed comment. Very insightful. I agree with you about the different perspectives regarding rape. Your comment made me think about how laws can be manipulated to suit people who pretend to be the victims… another example is that of anti-dowry laws. There have been so many cases of women claiming to have been victimised by husband and in-laws for the sake of dowry, only to find that that wasn’t the case. Sexual harassment (not extending to rape) is another of those laws that has been used and misused. Trying to gauge the truth in matters such as this is horribly difficult, which is another reason why I think Anatomy of a Murder is even more realistic: it takes into account the fact that in real life truth is rarely cut and dried.

      I haven’t seen Talwar, though in this session I mentioned at the start of this review, the presenter did point out, as you do, that unlike Rashomon, it’s quite clear in Talwar where the film makers’ sympathies lie. Kurosawa (or, I should correctly say, Akutagawa, since Kurosawa was pretty faithful to his story) didn’t take sides.

      • Let me add two perspectives where we have to be careful in taking this proposition to extremes,

        The case you posited from the US, AK, is rape. There’s no ‘extreme’ about it. At whatever stage, being told to stop and then proceeding to have sex without consent *is* rape. If she changes her mind at any stage because she doesn’t like the way things are going, she has every right to do so. To continue after she says ‘No’ is the very definition of rape.

      • Ah. Whenever you get around to watching it, Shilpi, I’d like to know what you thought of it. (Incidentally, this thing about watching a film and then forgetting all about it happened to me not too long back – and, coincidentally, with another courtroom drama: The Paradine Case. I had seen it, had even reviewed it – but had forgotten so completely about it that when someone mentioned it on Facebook, I actually went to check what it was all about… and still didn’t remember!)

        • The Paradine Case is a nice film that much I remember, beyond that I have forgotten everything, God this is just not right. Have you seen Inherit the Wind, that is also verygood film, I saw the black and white one. Problem is I have forgotten the little details, there are plenty of films to see and too little time, if I go on repeating films I do not know what I will do. But sometimes it is nice to repeat a film.

          • No, I haven’t seen Inherit the Wind, though I’ve heard of it. Now when will I get the time to watch it?! The same problem here, Shilpi: so many films to see, so little time – and there are several films that I remember watching and remember liking, but then I think: Do I have the time to repeat this film, when there are so many films waiting to be watched for the first time?

  5. I read the book very long back and absolutely loved it. I remember some elements of it, but have forgotten a lot. Watching the movie will be a good way of doing it, :) Right now am watching Korean series My Secret Hotel which is a romantic whodunit. A good courtroom drama should be just it after this.

    This is a lovely review, Madhu.

    • I’ve not even heard of My Secret Hotel, Ava! Will you post a review of it when you’re done? Would like to know more about it.

      Glad you liked this review. I haven’t read the book, but if the film is so good, I can just imagine how superb the book must be.

  6. What an intriguing review! I am definitely going to watch this movie. It seems the blurred line between what you hear from one side versus the other is the highlight of the movie. I think your review raises some very genuine questions and I think Harvey and other readers also have some interesting but sensitive questions. Your questions about the relevance of the same questions even after 60 years (Stanford case) makes us wonder if we have progressed much or not.

    I do remember watching “Ek Ruka Huwa Faisla” and enjoying it thoroughly. I will try to watch the original 12 Angry Men as well.

    I remember a movie I watched in mid-nineties “Disclosure” starring Michael Douglas and Demi Moore which had an interesting twist of what we normally hear. In that movie it was shown how hard it is to go against the grain and prove your case even if you are the victim. No one would believe if you are perceived to be on the conventional “Wrong side”. Even though that movie was mainly on a sexual harassment case, which is not the same topic (read severity) as “Anatomy of a Murder” and perhaps Disclosure had a clear closure whereas Anatomy of a murder seems to be leaving the audience hanging to draw their own conclusions..

    Thanks for another great review Madhu! Thanks Anu for the YT link!

    • Thank you, Ashish! Glad you liked the review. It is so sad that on the one hand everybody talks about how much progress we’ve made not just over the past decades, but even over the past few years – and, when you look at it closely, you realize that in a lot of ways, society hasn’t really changed that much at all. Shameful.

      I have heard of Disclosure but have never watched it. Thank you for the recommendation – I will look out for it.

      Oh, and yes, do watch 12 Angry Men too! I prefer that one to Anatomy of a Murder, actually. It’s a brilliant, brilliant film.

      • I am surprised to find out that until mid eightees, forced sex with soneone you knew wasn’t considered a rape!

        A woman couldn’t open a bank account without a male until mid seventees?

        A woman couldn’t start a business or open a line of credit without her husband’s permission until mid sixtees. Princeton and Yale didn’t accept female students until 1969 and Harvard until 1977.

        All the above are in the context of America, so called the most developed nation!

  7. I am not going to add much more to what’s already been said – fantastic and thorough review, as always! I have seen this film a long time ago but didn’t really remember it having an impact on me. I generally like old Hollywood movies from 50-60s, so my watching it might have been just a part of personal task I set upon myself to see most if not all classic and famous movies from Golden Era of Hollywood. During this period I discovered STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE and ON THE WATERFRONT – and my life was never the same!

    What I really loved about this review (and all your reviews) is not the part where you relay the plot of the film but your own remarks and your personal feelings on the subject matter. You are a very keen observer, it seems, and your opinion often brings up some aspects of the story that others, myself included, may not have noticed or thought significant. Your view on each major character and the analysis of the relationships between them made me want to see the movie again – if only to assess my own ability to pick up on all the details and implications. Thank you for that!

    I am a big fan of courtroom dramas (TV has an abundance of those – some are really good; there’re also a number of great movies set in courtrooms); with your permission I just mention a few of my favorites.

    1. THE RUNAWAY JURY (2003) with John Cusack, Dustin Hoffman, and Gene Hackman. Clever, gripping, original, dynamic, and so on. Topic: guns.

    2. THE JURY, a 2002 BBC mini-series featuring a number of famous British actors. A large part of it takes place in a courtroom – but a significant portion focuses on lives of jury members outside the court. Derek Jacobi is simply brilliant here! The intrigue is powerful since nobody really knows the truth, and we, audience, are invited to make a decision along with jury members and chose the side. Topic: bullying and murder.

    3. HEAVENS FALL (2006) with Tim Hutton (one of my favorites). This drama takes place in American South in the 30s. Nine black men are accused of raping white girl. It’s an amazing movie. Topic: rape, prejudice.

    There’re surely more but these I would highly recommend, if I may be so bold (or is it presumptuous?). I’d love to know your opinion of them one day! Best wishes!

    • Alisa, thank you so much for that appreciation – it really made me smile! I would probably not provide too much of a synopsis (I kept it very short in some of my earliest posts on this blog), except that I’ve now realized that it helps provide the background for what I intend to say in my analysis of what I liked and what I didn’t. It sets the context, so to say – especially for people who haven’t seen the film.

      I haven’t seen any of the films you’ve recommended (though I’ve heard of the first two). :-( I will add those to my wishlist immediately. Thank you for those! You won’t see a review of them here, since I don’t review films from before the very early 70s (1970 is my cut-off date for this blog, though I make exceptions for films from the next couple of years, if they have a feel of the 60s – like Pakeezah or Sharmeelee).

      • Thank you for the reply, Madhu!

        I should have been clearer in my post, because, I am afraid, I might have given you an impression that I don’t like the part of your review where you relay the plot. I do! In fact, I greatly appreciate it (like with PRIYA, for example) – and you’re absolutely right, it helps a lot if one didn’t have a chance to see the movie being reviewed and also make your statements and your argumentation more grounded. You manage to tell the story without giving anything away and spoiling it – that’s a rare ability (I am yet to master it myself).

        I hope you do get a chance to see some of the movies I mentioned – and I would just love to read your opinion, if not a review :)

        Did you see any of BRANDO’s early movies? If so, what are your favorites? Will you review any of them?

        • “You manage to tell the story without giving anything away and spoiling it – that’s a rare ability

          That is very kind of you! Thank you, so much. :-)

          About Brando, interestingly, the only films (other than Superman) of his which I’ve seen are his earlier ones. I watched A Streetcar Named Desire as a teenager, and thought he was brilliant in it. Another one I liked was Morituri; and – very different from the rest (and I wonder who thought of casting Brando in it!) Guys and Dolls. I’ve only reviewed one of his films on this blog: Désirée. Which are your favourite films of his?

          • You know, BRANDO, to me is at the absolute top in the actor’s hierarchy, quite possibly, the most brilliant actor of all times! Much can be said about the later period of his career where he – feeling disillusioned and somewhat bored with acting – reduced himself to small and even laughable roles (with hefty paychecks, nonetheless) in mediocre and less-than-artistic films and projects; however, to me, this doesn’t diminish his talent or his significance one bit! His influence for film actors that came after him (nearly every one of them, even some of his contemporaries) can not be underestimated. He brought about a revolution in acting (the sentiment he himself would likely sneer at and dispose of).

            As you, no doubt, deduced by now, I am a huge Brando fan; I have seen nearly if not all of his movies – but my favorites are his early ones. You mentioned STREETCAR – and immediately the image of Stanley flushed before my eyes. This was my first Brando movie – and I was hooked for life. I can talk forever about this film; it fills me with emotion and overwhelms my senses. He’s absolutely stunning and brilliant in it! So natural and realistic was his Stanley that most people thought it was his own personality that aided him in his outstanding portrayal; little did they know that he himself hated Stanley and people like him – he was just that good of an actor. Interestingly, the heroines of the film, Kim Hunter and Vivienne Leigh gone on record saying that Marlon is the gentlest man they knew and is nothing like his character.

            Another excellent movie that I HIGHLY recommend is ON THE WATERFRONT, also directed by Elia Kazan. It may seem somewhat dated; its subject matter is quite volatile (is it ever justified to turn on your friends? what is the price of the betrayal? what is conscience?) but the love story between two main leads, the realism and intensity of the story (actually, it’s based on real life events) would keep you breathless and enthralled for the duration of the movie. Kazan himself summed it up quite nicely:”If there is a better performance by a man in the history of film in America, I don’t know what it is.” There’s a very nice review of it here, if you ever feel inclined to check it out: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-on-the-waterfront-1954

            My other favorite is THE MEN, Brando very first film. It’s flawed, it’s dated, his leading lady is totally miscast and wrong for him – and he looks like he’s in a different movie than everybody else (if you see it, you’ll know right away what I mean) but – again – his acting makes it all worth watching.

            His Marc Anthony in JULIUS CAESAR is quite a sight to behold (it didn’t surprise me to learn that Sanjeev was a fan of Brando and, particularly, this role; he had tapes with dialogues from this movie and studied it!). The movie overall is powerful with some stalwarts of acting playing major parts. Marlon felt quite intimidated but honored having been offered the role of Marc Anthony, he intensely prepared for it – as a result, he won BAFTA leaving behind James Mason and John Gielgud! I have to say, I usually just watch his part (that speech on the stairs beside Caesar’s bleeding body is beyond words!).

            I love his Sky Masterson in GUYS AND DOLLS! He’s so dapper, debonair, and suave, such a heartbreaker. Again, he prepared and worked so hard learning how to sing and dance. And, I don’t mind saying, on many occasions, I wished I was Sgt. Sara Brown to his Sky :) If you ever saw Barbra Streisand’s 1997 concert, she pays a very touching and sweet tribute to Brando and uses parts of this film to tell her story – very funny and nice.

            DESIREE he didn’t enjoy making, he was contractually obligated. But he got along with Jean Simmons very well (she’s the only actress who starred with him in two movies). I think he did a great job – but this film and this role are not among my favorites :)

            THE WILD ONE, SAYONARA, YOUNG LIONS, ONE-EYED JACKS, THE FUGITIVE KIND, THE BURN are also interesting and wonderful movies from his earlier years. In some, his role is the best part of the movie; his acting and his participation is the movie’s only merit. In others, it’s worth watching for the story, the cast, the direction.

            I just want to mention one more movie, REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE (1967) directed by John Huston. I daresay this movie will blow your mind in terms of acting (mainly, Brando’s – but the rest of the cast is also quite stellar), story, cinematography, direction. There aren’t many movies like this one – not only in Brando’s career, but generally, these types of movies are not widely popular hence not financially profitable. Everyone knows and talks about LAST TANGO IN PARIS (it is an outstanding and strange movie) but to me – REFLECTIONS is Brando at his most heart-breaking and vulnerable ever. The character has nothing to do with his own persona, he’s not playing himself or relaying parts of his own biography (like in TANGO) – it’s his acting that leaves you in awe. This movie is disturbing, unusual, the subject matter was a big taboo at the time. I just can’t find words to explain – it’s quite an experience.

            I think I’d given you more information than you asked for, Madhu, sorry :( I just get carried away when I get on my favorite horse, so to speak, which in this case is Marlon Brando. Hopefully, I didn’t tire or bore you too much. I’ll be thrilled if you watched some of his movies and shared your opinion of them.

            • I don’t mind at all that you leave a comment, Alisa, because your comments are well-thought out, insightful, intelligent, and a pleasure to read. On this blog, I frequently have to contend with people who write incoherent and ungrammatical (and often utterly childish) comments, so comments from people like you are a breath of fresh air. Thank you!

              Several of the films you’ve mentioned have been on my radar for a while now. (Not Sayonara, though, for the oddest of reasons – my mum saw that when she was young, and she always told me, “Good Lord! I couldn’t understand anything he said, he kept speaking through closed teeth!” – so I never got around to watching it).

              I must watch one of these films, next. Thank you for the inspiration!

              • Many thanks for you sweet words and encouragement, Madhu! They truly made my day! They mean so much coming from you. Thank you.

                I am so glad to hear that you feel inspired to watch Brando’s movies! I would certainly recommend starting with his early ones – then, if you need more info, do not look any further :)

                Your (your Mom’s) comment about SAYONARA made me chuckle! I think the reason Marlon was hard to understand in that film is because he’s speaking in a very thick Southern brawl – and he’s doing a great job at it! That’s how they speak – even other Americans have trouble understanding this deep Southern accent :P But the story is so poignant, beautiful, tragic, and romantic – if you ever feel inclined to watch something along those lines, I hope you’d give this movie a try.

                Best wishes!

                • Yes, a deep Southern accent can be pretty hard to understand! (I’m thinking of some films I’ve seen with characters from the Deep South, and have at times wished there were subtitles!) If Sayonara is tragic, I might just pass it up for the time being, even though the ‘beautiful’ and ‘poignant’ appeal to me. But Julius Caesar (which happens to be my favourite of Shakespeare’s plays) merits a watch, definitely. I even have it lying around. So I think that should be pushed to the top of the pile, soon!

                  • JULIUS CAESAR is a very interesting movie. To be perfectly honest, I think, Marlon is heads above everybody else in this film (even Mason and Guilgud look too stylized and wooden compared to him!). His speech on the stairs is simply breathtaking (the story has it that while filming it, the several hundreds of extras – and all of the crew – burst into applause when he finished it!).

                    I can’t wait to find out what you thought of it – or even read a review :)

  8. the best indian movies of multiple narratives are suraj ka satwaa ghoda and second sardari begum . in satwaa ghoda same story viewed from 4-5 characters. but story seems new every time. in later watches one can detect same story. its master piece.

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