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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • English PCM Mono
  • English DTS-HD 5.1 Surround
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • New interview with Otto Preminger biographer Foster Hirsch
  • Critic Gary Giddins explores Duke Ellington's score in a new interview
  • A look at the relationship between graphic designer Saul Bass and Preminger with Bass biographer Pat Kirkham
  • Newsreel footage from the set
  • Excerpts from a 1967 episode of Firing Line, featuring Preminger in discussion with William F. Buckley Jr.
  • Excerpts from the work in progress Anatomy of "Anatomy": The Making of a Movie
  • Behind-the-scenes photographs by Life magazine's Gjon Mili
  • Trailer, featuring on-set footage

Anatomy of a Murder

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Otto Preminger
Starring: James Stewart, Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara, George C. Scott, Eve Arden, Joseph N. Welch
1959 | 161 Minutes | Licensor: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #600
RLJ Entertainment

Release Date: February 21, 2012
Review Date: February 20, 2012

Purchase From:
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SYNOPSIS

A virtuoso James Stewart plays a small-town Michigan lawyer who takes on a difficult case: that of a young Army lieutenant (Ben Gazzara) accused of murdering the local tavern owner who he believes raped his wife (Lee Remick). This gripping, envelope-pushing courtroom potboiler, the most popular film from Hollywood provocateur Otto Preminger, was groundbreaking for the frankness of its discussion of sex-more than anything else, it is a striking depiction of the power of words. With its outstanding supporting cast-including a young George C. Scott as a fiery prosecuting attorney and legendary real-life attorney Joseph N. Welch as the judge-and influential jazz score by Duke Ellington, Anatomy of a Murder is a Hollywood landmark; it was nominated for seven Oscars, including best picture.

Forum members rate this film 8.9/10

 

Discuss the film and Blu-ray here   


PICTURE

Otto Premingerís Anatomy of a Murder comes to Blu-ray from Criterion and is presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on a dual-layer disc in a new 1080p/24hz transfer. The big difference between this new Blu-ray and the previous Sony DVD, of course, is the aspect ratio: the original DVD presented the film open matte in the ratio of 1.33:1 while the Criterion Blu-ray (and DVD) presents it as it was originally presented in theaters (or one would hope at least.) After having the old DVD it was odd at first seeing the film in widescreen but the tighter framing does work quite a bit better I felt.

As to the actual image presentation there should be no worry as well; the transfer, done by Sony, delivers a stunning, near-perfect image. The only issues present have to do with the source, which presents some minor marks and scratches, and some pulsating, but nothing heavy or distracting. The rest of the image is clean and stable, sharp and crisp. The level of detail is extraordinary throughout, whether it be the patterns in the tweed jackets that are common place, hair stubble on faces, or even the hairs out of place on the performersí heads. Film grain is also nicely rendered, looking mostly natural if a bit noisy in places, movement is smooth and natural, and I couldnít detect any motion artifacts.

Overall a sharp, more film-like presentation in comparison to the DVD and is certainly the best Iíve yet seen the film.

8/10

All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

Criterionís Blu-ray presents two audio tracks: a lossless Linear PCM mono and a remixed DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround track.

Of the two I preferred the original mono presentation even if it is flatter than the 5.1 track. But dialogue is clear and articulate, Duke Ellingtonís score is clean if lacking fidelity, and overall audio quality is excellent, without any noise or distortion.

The 5.1 track does technically sound better in some areas yet it isnít one Iíll probably listen to again. Basically the track showcases Ellingtonís score and has been remixed and remastered here from original stereo recordings. The score, which sounds absolutely beautiful here with an incredible amount of life and far more fidelity than the mono track, fills out the environment from front to back, almost like you have the band surrounding you. This aspect of it sounds fantastic, almost sounding as through it was recorded recently, and itís so crisp and clean, but dialogue and sound effects still come off flat and this area sounds about the same mono track presents them. This made the whole experience a little too odd for me and I found it far more distracting than I should have. It just sounds bizarre having the weak dialogue and effects mixed in with the crisper, rather stunning score presentation. Itís great that those involved went to the extra effort but I honestly would have preferred an isolated score track presented in 5.1.

Ultimately it will come down to preference and even if I didnít care much for the 5.1 mix we at least get the option.

7/10

SUPPLEMENTS

The release feels surprisingly light considering that this is a fairly big title for Criterion to release, one Iím surprised they were able to get away from Sony. But, even if it feels a little lighter than I may have expected Criterion has still put some great material together.

First is an interview with Foster Hirsch, author of Otto Preminger: The Man Who Would Be King and for approximately 30-minutes he talks about Premingerís early life, his move to the States and his work at Fox, his early independent work and his stand against the Production Code (which built up controversy and free press for his films) until finally coming to Anatomy of a Murder. Once he reaches this point he talks about Premingerís insistence on location shooting, how he worked with the actors and the actual casting process (surprisingly, for me, George C. Scott was originally considered for the role of the bartender, which just seems to bizarre now in retrospect.) He talks about the casting of Welch and the eventual issues the film faced with the Production Code. Iím still a little stunned we didnít get a commentary with this edition but this feature offers a decent alternative.

Criterion next includes 10-minutes worth of material from a 1967 episode of Firing Line with William F. Buckley Jr. interviewing Otto Preminger. The clips shown focus mostly on Premingerís thoughts on censorship and the two get into a bit of a fight as they seem to have differing opinions on what censorship is, with Preminger not willing to wiggle from a pretty set legal definition, and itís probably the lawyer/law student in him that makes him hard to budge from his definition. Even if Iím not entirely sure where Preminger stood on the subject (he doesnít like the idea of someone telling him to trim certain things before a filmís release but doesnít seem to mind the idea of the government basically banning a film) itís a fascinating interview, especially the last few minutes where we see a somewhat hot-headed Preminger go off on his host while still keeping it fairly civil.

Critic Gary Giddens next talks about Duke Ellington, the Jazz musician recruited by Preminger to compose a score for the film. Giddens talks about Ellingtonís early days, and then how he went about creating the score for the film. He gives some historical context explaining how unorthodox a Jazz score was for a feature film when Jazz was looked down upon in Hollywood (usually the scores were used for seedy B-pictures.) He then breaks down some of his cues and how they fit into the film and then talks a little about Ellingtonís quick appearance in the film. Itís a nice little tribute to the artist and also offers an insightful look into how the filmís score came about.

Author Pat Kirkham next talks about Saul Bass and his work, primarily what he did for Preminger, and talks about his style and impact on marketing and title design. She covers the various designs he did for Premingerís films, with plenty of examples, and talks about his desire to ultimately get the studios away from the boring advertising they typically did, usually involving slapping the starsí faces on a one-sheet. A decent look at the manís work, though I wish we actually got a gallery to accompany it.

5-minutes of newsreel footage is also included, which covers the arrival of the cast and crew by train to Marquette county and then offers footage of Preminger directing a scene within the county courthouse, focusing primarily on the non-professionals. Thereís also footage of Welch delivering his lines in one scene.

We next get a gallery ofphotos by Gjon Mili, totaling a little over 50, featuring a number of production stills, costume tests, and general photos of the cast and crew off the set, including a couple of nice colour ones of Lee Remick. Like most galleries you navigate through the photos using the arrows on your remote.

Criterion then includes segments from a documentary (still in process of being made) by David C. Jones, Claire Wiley, and John OíGrady called Anatomy of ďAnatomyĒ, which is based on a first-hand account by Joan C. Hansen, an extra in the film. With narration that I would guess comes from Hansenís account we meet some of the various townspeople who participated in some way in the making of the film or were around during the filming (or simply passing on stories theyíve heard.) They talk about the other performers, with most men seeming to be a little gaga over Lee Remick, and some women acting the same way about Ben Gazzara, described as a ďflirt.Ē Thereís a little bit of information about attorney John Voelker, the author of the book and whom the character played by James Stewart is based on, and a little about the actual case on which the book and film are based. There are also some interesting anecdotes including one about the actors hired to be the jury within the film. Iím not sure how much more material there would have been but the sample we get here is strong enough on its own.

The disc then closes with a 5-minute theatrical trailer for the film, which features Preminger ďswearing inĒ his cast.

The booklet includes an essay by Nick Pinkerton about the film and Premingerís work in general, and then includes a great article about Joseph N. Welchís participation in the film that first appeared in an issue of Life magazine in 1959. Itís an excellent article about Welchís uneasiness about the film and also includes some great correspondence letters between him and John Voelker.

Iím surprised by the lack of a commentary and also a bit surprised Criterion didnít include anything about the book or actual crime, or even more about Voelker. Iím also stunned they didnít take the opportunity to offer some material about James Stewart since this is the first release featuring the popular actor (not counting their LaserDisc days of course.) But despite these little shortcomings the supplements add some definite value to the release.

7/10

CLOSING

As I mentioned Iím a little surprised that it does feel a little slim in the supplement department considering itís a fairly high profile title but the transfer is a stunner and makes this edition an easy recommendation.


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