aaLAWchak: Anatomy of a Murder


Movie: Anatomy of a murder
Starring: James Stewart, Lee Remrick, Ben Gazzara, Brooks West
Directed by: Otto Ludwig Preminger
Year of Release: 1959

The recent documentary India’s Daughter has caused quite a stir in India due to the lewd comments of the rapist stating that the “girl should not have fought back” and the lawyers of the accused stating that “boys will be boys”. The documentary shows the ugly face of Indian patriarchy and even an uglier face of a male who thinks he has the right to do whatever he wants just because a female is wearing skimpy clothes and/or roaming/moving/travelling in the evening or night and his defence is “She was asking for it”. Can we really fathom this.

We should be ashamed of the system that has made men to believe that they are so self entitled and we should stop blaming the women. For this, it’s only his fault.

After hearing all of this and after seeing the documentary and hearing about the manner in which the rape was conducted we were all outraged that the accused persons should be killed instantaneously or should be crippled. We wanted an urgent hearing of the matter so that the justice could be served. We were outraged, though sitting from a distance and having no connection with the girl. The question is what about the relatives/husbands/brothers/fathers of the girl/women who are subjected to this gruesome act. Think of their angst. Wouldn’t they want to kill the rapist.

Can the murder at the hands of someone whose love has been violated be justified? Anatomy of a murder is just about that.

Paul Biegler (James Stewart) is a retired lawyer who has lost his re-election bid as a public prosecutor and now spends his time playing jazz piano and fishing.


He is approached by Laura Manion (Lee Remick), the wife of US Army Lieutenant Frederick “Manny” Manion (Ben Gazzara) who has been convicted of murder of the man by the name of Barney Quill, who had raped her.


The problem remains that the prosecution raises questions on the character of Laura Manion in the cross examination stating that she was known for openly flirting with other men and having a generally flexible character.


Even if rape is proved the act of murder cannot be justified. So, Paul Biegler uses the defence of irresistible impulse which is a form of temporary insanity to justify the action of Frederick “Manny” Manion. However, any attempt by him is steamrolled by the prosecution to get the motive for murder. Biegler eventually manages to get Laura Manion’s rape into the record and Judge Weaver (played by real – life attorney Joseph N. Welch who distinguished himself in the Army-McCarthy hearings) agrees to allow the matter to be part of the deliberations. But, the cross – examination gets too messy forcing the judge Weaver to say to the prosecution “Have you no sense of decency, sir?”. The case is finally hung on one clue, that is the torn panties of Laura Manion, which were torn off by her when Quill raped her. There is slight debate in the Courtroom when they think referring to the panties as ‘panties’ is too explicit.


When they ask the prosecution what they should be called he meekly answers “I am a bachelor, your honor”. Finally, it is decided that under garments can be referred to as panties. The panties are found and with the help of a psychologist Bielger is indirectly able to prove that Frederick was under irresistible impulse and is acquitted.


The director, Otto Ludwig Preminger was someone who believed in making films on taboo topics. Among other such films he has directed a film on heroin addiction (1955’s The Man With The Golden Arm) and homosexuality (1962’s Advise & Consent).


In Anatomy of a murder he ridicules the patriarchal mindset and the “She was asking for it” argument with jest. Anatomy of a murder is a brilliant take on temporary insanity and at the same time on the brutal cross – examination rape victims were subjected to in those times. It deals with a number of topics that were controversial i.e. rape, ejaculation and character assassination of rape victims.

The other credit goes to James Stewart for being able to carry off the role of a lawyer who is just not fighting for the truth but is able to showcase the antics a lawyer can utilize to prove his case without upsetting the mood of the court. Slowly and in a subtle manner, he presents us a warm, clever, adroit and complex man, most particularly, a portrait of a trial lawyer in action.

Anatomy of a murder gives a reflection as to what is wrong with today’s India, the patriarchal thinking and the conservative mindset that exists today was the same position in the United States of America, the question is do we have to wait another 50 years for the women of this country to be independent from the arguments of short clothes, wearing jeans and eating chowmein or do we just resign ourselves to the conservative male – dominated Indian society.

Author: Govind K. Chaturvedi

Editor: Ankit Rastogi

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