Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB
USA, 1959. Otto Preminger Films. Screenplay by Wendell Mayes, based on the novel by John D. Voelker. Cinematography by Sam Leavitt. Produced by Otto Preminger. Music by Duke Ellington. Production Design by Boris Leven. Costume Design by Hope Bryce. Film Editing by Louis R. Loeffler.
Small-town lawyer James Stewart returns from a fishing trip to discover that he is required to defend a soldier who shot a bartender at the town’s local eatery. The defendant (Ben Gazzara in one of his earliest roles) killed the murder victim because he allegedly raped his provocatively sexy wife (Lee Remick, also near the beginning of her career). Stewart’s legal office has been threadbare for a while, making it necessary for him to make the most of this case given the resources he has to work with, including alcoholic partner Arthur O’Connell and wisecracking secretary Eve Arden.
The line of defence he decides to take is temporary insanity, but what plays out both in and out of the courtroom is a searing examination of the nation’s attitude towards sex both consensual and non, the politics of women’s bodies and the American judicial system, all told with director Otto Preminger’s well-known penchant for frankness and honesty. The film’s dialogue includes references to “sperm”, “rape”, “climax” and other salacious topics that made it quite the hot-button ticket at the time of its release (Stewart’s own father took out an ad calling the film “dirty” and discouraging audiences from going to see it), but Preminger, who was always a storyteller first and an enfant terrible second, is never a sensationalist about the subject matter.
The Criterion Collection: #600
Academy Award Nominations: Best Picture; Best Actor (James Stewart); Best Supporting Actor (Arthur O’Connell); Best Supporting Actor (George C. Scott); Best Adapted Screenplay; Best Cinematography-BW; Best Film Editing
Venice Film Festival Award: Best Actor (James Stewart)
Golden Globe Award Nominations: Best Picture-Drama; Best Actress-Drama (Lee Remick); Best Supporting Actor (Joseph Welch); Best Director (Otto Preminger)