All the court's a stage in Otto Preminger's brilliantly acted legal drama, Anatomy Of A Murder. James Stewart is Paul Biegler, a small town attorney defending Ben Gazzara's army lieutenant after he kills the man who allegedly raped his wife (Lee Remick). As the opposing legal teams battle it out in grandstanding games of verbal ping pong, innocence takes second place to technical prowess. The law may not be an ass, but the lawyers make donkeys of due process.
Moral ambivalence cuts through the heart of this cynical picture. A score from Duke Ellington (who also cameos) sets the improvised, freewheeling tone. We know that Gazzara's quick-tempered roughneck's no good and that his sultry wife (brilliantly played by Remick, replacing Lana Turner after she had an argument with the wardrobe department) is trailer trash. Preminger, though, is more interested in what can be proved. And as Stewart's slippery legal beagle makes a mockery of the district attorney, what can be proved isn't much. "Just answer the question," an exasperated Judge Weaver (Joseph N Welch) wearily tells one witness. "The attorneys will provide the wisecracks".
Surrounded in controversy on its release in 1959, time has blunted much of the film's daringly ironic take on notions of guilt and innocence. Yet it still stands as a telling commentary on 50s America, not least of all because Preminger cast real-life judge Welch as the exasperated courtroom arbitrator: a few years earlier, Welch had presided over the anti-communist McCarthy hearings.