Did you like Anatomy of a Fall? Take a look at this trial movie masterpiece starring James Stewart

Directed by Otto Preminger at the height of his art, “Autopsy of a Murder” is a masterpiece of trial film, exposing the flaws in the American justice system. Some also find echoes of the Oscar-winning film by Justine Triet.

The great success of Anatomy of a Fall by Justin Triet, won awards around the world and recently won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, is there to remind us of the obvious: the films of courtroom dramasin other words films belonging to the sub-genre of trial films, can be absolutely fascinating works, with their precise staging.

By nature static, beyond sequences which can be in flashback for example, this type of work relies above all on the dramaturgical power of their performers. The 7th Art is fortunately studded with admirable works belonging to this sub-genre: Witness for the Prosecution by Billy Wilder, with Charles Laughton.

Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men, arguably the greatest trial film ever made. The Evil Genius by Richard Fleischer, which relates an authentic and atrocious news item (which will provide the material for the film Hitchcock’s The Rope), in which Orson Welles engages in an extraordinary plea against the death penalty incurred by his clients.

Autopsy of a murder

This very short list would not be complete without another absolute American classic released in 1959: Autopsy of a Murder, signed by veteran Otto Preminger.

The story ? It’s that of Paul Biegler (terrific James Stewart), a jaded lawyer who spends more time fishing than in the courts. One day, he receives a call from a woman who asks him to defend her husband. The latter, Lieutenant Frederick Manion, murdered the man who had raped his wife. The trial begins, but the situation quickly becomes complicated.

On the one hand, the testimonies do not agree with the facts. On the other hand, Lieutenant Manion does not cooperate… Faced with this imbroglio, Biegler has difficulty detecting the real motivations of the murderer, his wife and the victim…

Autopsy of a murder reveals to us a judicial universe where the truth is not always what we believe. It is a cynical representation of human justice. The fate of the accused is not really important; the real issue in this affair is the brilliant oratorical duel in which the two lawyers engage. James Stewart facing a George C. Scott who was starting his acting career in the best possible way.

Columbia Pictures

We can note that the elements provided by the two parties do not lead us to really know the truth, which gradually seems impossible to elucidate as we are confused by the facts. What is also mentioned is the power of manipulation of the lawyer and the prosecutor over the jurors: in reality it is a real game of chess that is being played out.

Beyond this fascinating dissection of the facts (even if, to be honest, a little long, with almost 3 hours on the clock), Autopsy of a murder is an essential film of the genre, as virtuoso as it is fierce in its satire of the American justice system.

The film is available on VOD, as well as DVD/Blu-ray.

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