Starring: James Stewart, Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara
Director: Otto Preminger
There is a murder. A man has killed someone who was seen flirting with his wife. He claims that she was raped, and that he killed the man in a fit of fury and insanity. But something about his history as a jealous type and her trailer trash, fast reputation doesn’t entirely add up. Can their lawyer win the case?
This is such an unusual court drama, with the plot being the bones that the film rests on, and yet there is so much more going on. The film is an indictment of the law and the court system in America at the time, and the film has a strange kind of realism that other films about court cases don’t have. For a start, the judge in the film is played by an actual judge, Joseph Welch (who brought down Joseph McCarthy) and the film itself is based on a novel by a Supreme Court Justice. The film focuses a lot on the politics and showmanship that goes into being a lawyer, and the story also follows the case, without flashbacks, so we have to make our minds up along with accused’s lawyer as to what really happened.
That lawyer is Beigler, played by Jimmy Stewart, who knows his way around a case and has been made cynical by his time as a DA. He’s aided by his sharp secretary and alcoholic researcher, who help him make the case. While he counsels Laura (Remick) the wife to dress conservatively at court and to act demure for the public, the court hears that there was no evidence found of rape. We have to ask ourselves who is really guilty, and know that the protagonist that we’re rooting for may be defending a murderer. We’re not shown a justice system in all it’s glory and honour, we’re shown the justice system as a business.
The film was controversial at the time for the way in which is openly showed the murder and rape case and used language that one might hear in court but that was rarely heard on screen. It adds to the bitterness and realism of this film. But for all it’s focus on capturing the reality of the court room drama, the film is also an intriguing story and full of interesting people. You want to know what really happened. Lee Remick is wonderful as the wife tired of her jealous husband. Was she really raped? Is her husband a jealous murderer or was he defending the woman he loves? The film keeps you guessing, and though it’s not a cheerful tale, it’s a really great film.
See It If: you love Jimmy Stewart or court room dramas. Cynical and realistic, this one is unlike any other.