Otto Preminger’s courtroom drama stands up even today as a pretty intense piece of work, not least because it was breaking several taboos for its time — in detailing a fairly horrific crime in scientific detail, they were making a film that wasn’t for all ages, and indeed there’s plenty of incidental details to suggest a rather troubling existence. It’s Lt Fred Manion (Ben Gazzara) who’s on trial, for the murder of his wife’s rapist, but it might as well also be Laura Manion (Lee Remick) who is too, given the extent to which she is subjected to scrutiny also (I can’t think of any movie, old or new, which has so relished repeating the word “panties” quite so many times). Of course, the focus is on James Stewart’s defence counsel, who is seen putting on a performance to try and get his client off the charge, and when put together with the rather dubious nature of the reality being deconstructed in this small Michigan courtroom (and this is one of the few films I’ve seen set on the sparsely populated Upper Peninsula of that state), it’s a compelling black-and-white drama that leaves us with no clear conclusions about who’s in the right and who is in the wrong, but it’s an essential film for fans of the courtroom drama.
FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director Otto Preminger; Writer Wendell Mayes (based on the novel by Robert Traver); Cinematographer Sam Leavitt; Starring James Stewart, Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara, George C. Scott, Arthur O’Connell; Length 161 minutes.
Seen at home (Blu-ray), Wellington, Saturday 24 December 2022 (and earlier on VHS at home, Wellington, April 2000).