That’s right Shelfers- just when you though it was safe to shop in your local superstore, it comes up slowly, out from under a pile of digital debris- it’s the return of
It Came From the Bargain Bin!
In case you have forgotten from our last episode, here is how we get the lowdown on whether or not this DVD is worthy of the effort:
Price: $1, $5- under $10? Was it really a bargain, or just another DVD slumming’?
Difficulty: Did it take a while to find, or was it right on top? Or was it hit or miss- kinda fifty-fifty depending on how the store has them displayed?
Quality: Does it look like someone copied it from a VHS tape that their Uncle Fred taped off of the Sunday Night Movie, or is it pretty stellar DVD that is just been in rotation for a while? How does the print and sound hold up?
Features: Might be pretty skimpy, or you might be surprised. Is the packaging pretty pathetic? Don’t you hate when they put an ad for other films on the DVD and call it a feature? These questions and more are answered for you. And don’t worry- you’re really buying for the film anyway. Right? Which brings us to…
The Film: This is what you came for- was it worth your $5 bucks? Do you wish you hadn’t really bought this turkey and grabbed a pack of gum instead? Our mini-review will reveal all.
Tilt: This is the je ne sais qou quotient. The pop culture factor, the geek factor, the unknown. Maybe the film is so bad that it’s good. Like MST3K good. Maybe there is a nostalgia attached to it that makes you hang on to it when you should have let go years ago- like that stuffed animal you hide in the closet when your friends come over.
Bargain?: Is it or isn’t it? Is it a bargain? The sum total of the evaluation will tell.
So now on with the show:
This installment features- Anatomy of a Murder with James Stewart, George C. Scott, and Lee Remick. I know what you are saying to yourself- “Hmm, self… last episode featured a James Stewart movie. What’s up with that?” Well what can I say- I’ve gotten lucky in digging out another treasure.
Price: Anatomy of a Murder is an older DVD that I found on sale for around the $5 mark at my local big box electronics retail store. The “best buy” that I have had in a while.
Difficulty: Easy- there are some bins, but this was in a featured display that was near the front of the store for the sale. Although some inexpensive DVDs are mixed in with everything else, larger stores will sometimes create a display shelf for sale items. Tip: Check the ads in the local Sunday paper for special sales.
Quality: Excellent. This is a crisp print with superior sound. Especially good for an older Columbia Pictures DVD, but they had a good print to begin with.
Features: A few, but for the time the DVD came out, this was standard operating procedure; trailer, some written short bios of the stars. I think if a special edition (doubtful) were ever produced, several documentaries could be made to tell the story of this groundbreaking film.
The Film: This is a great film, which was based on the book of the same name by Robert Travers. The legal drama stars James Stewart as former district attorney, now small town attorney, Paul "Polly" Biegler who would rather spend his days fishing or playing jazz piano than arguing in court. He still has a competitive edge about him, and doesn’t like to lose, although losing the election for district attorney took some wind out of his sails. Biegler is asked by Laura Manion (Lee Remick) to defend her husband; Fredrick Manion (Ben Gazzara) is a lieutenant serving at a nearby base. Manion is in jail for murdering Barney Quill; a local bartender who Laura says raped her.
Biegler’s friend and former lawyer, Parnell McCarthy, (Arthur O'Connell) encourages Polly to take the case, as does Polly’s secretary, Maida Rutledge (Eve Arden). McCarthy, who now indulges more in the bottle than in the law books, is excited at the chance to help Polly and perhaps redeem himself in the process. Rutledge is excited at the prospect of finally having some money coming into the law practice. When Biegler takes the case, things aren’t exactly ideal. For one thing, Lt. Manion is being somewhat evasive and is too eager to play into an insanity plea. For another, Ms. Manion, although adamant in her accusations, doesn’t seem to mind flirting with Biegler. Polly feels like something is missing and while he stands by Laura’s rape allegations, he knows that something about Lt. Manion and Quill isn’t quite right.
As Biegler readies his case, another curve ball is thrown at him in the form of Claude Dancer (George C. Scott in one of his first screen roles), an assistant attorney general from out of state, who is sent to sit as co-consul. Dancer is tricky, and his presence demonstrates the concern of the “big city” legal bureaucrats over this potentially controversial case. Dancer goes for the jugular, attempting to at first bypass the rape allegation altogether, and then attempts to discredit. Biegler defends Ms. Manion and works to find out what exactly he is missing in order to win the case.
Anatomy of a Murder was first a book by Robert Travers, who based his novel on a real case in Michigan. The script by Wendell Mayes is well written and the cinematography by Sam Leavitt is fantastic. He captures the scenery of Michigan quite well, without every overshadowing the story or losing the big case in a small town feel. Besides the great performance by James Stewart, the real strengths of the film are the directing by Otto Preminger and the original jazz score by the legendary Duke Ellington. Preminger strove for a realistic, almost documentary feel. He achieved that without every losing his standard building and deconstructing of characters. Duke Ellington’s score compliments the film well, providing a bridging element for Biegler, but at the same time gives the film a firm footing in the contemporary day. Well worth it for the score alone.
This film is a great classic, and served as a template for future courtroom dramas. It may seem conventional today, but was groundbreaking for it’s time. It may feel somewhat like Matlock meets Law and Order, but Anatomy is their great granddaddy. I would have liked to have seen a television serial drama with the main characters. The 1959 film was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor for James Stewart, and Best Supporting Actor for Arthur O'Connell Bottom line: this film is a classic that should be on your shelf.
Tilt: Probably the coolest tilt factor for me was watching the film and in the middle seeing Floyd the Barber, Howard McNear, on screen as a medical examiner witness in the courtroom. Freakin’ Floyd! I love Floyd on Andy Griffith, so this was pretty cool. Another tilt factor was seeing James Stewart play the piano with Duke Ellington. Duke’s cameo and his terrific score definitely ratchet up the cool factor. Another bit of interesting casting is Joseph N. Welch as the judge assigned to the case. Preminger, in quest for the realistic feel, want Welch because he was a real judge. Welch is famous for being involved in the televised McCarthy hearings in which he famously asked Sen. McCarthy “Have You No Sense of Decency”
Bargain: No question this was a great bargain. This is a great film; one that deserves to be on the classic film fan’s shelf. If you can find it (online vendors still have it as well), go ahead and pick up a copy, you won’t be disappointed.
Well Shelfers, that’s it for this edition of It Came From the Bargain Bin! Hope our sacrifice and public service in our ongoing quest to dig into the dark realm of the bargain bin was worthwhile.
Please share with us some of your bargain bin discoveries or your thoughts and opinions about Anatomy of a Murder in the comments section. Till next time- adieu.
Just answer the questions, Mr. Paquette. The attorneys will provide the wisecracks.