Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Anatomy of a Murder (1959)


Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Anatomy of a Murder (1959)

In director Otto Preminger's daring courtroom drama about an explosive rape case:

  • the melodramatic, sensationalist courtroom scenes between crafty small-town, country-styled defense lawyer Paul "Polly" Biegler (James Stewart), interested only in jazz piano and fishing, and flamboyant, tough co-counsel - assistant prosecuting attorney Claude Dancer (George C. Scott); Biegler was defending hot-tempered Army officer Lt. Frederick Manion (Ben Gazzara) - who was accused of the murder of Barney Quill - the bartender and owner of Thunder Bay Inn; it was alleged that Quill had previously raped Manion's attractive wife Laura (Lee Remick)
  • the portrayal of the innocent, yet slightly trampy-acting Laura - who told Biegler when he asked what she was wearing the night of the attack: "In a sweater, like this, and a skirt...Underneath? I had on a slip and panties and a bra....I don't need a girdle. Do you think I need a girdle?..."; she then described Quill's rape-attack upon her in his car parked on a lane in the woods: "And then he grabbed me and he said, 'I'm gonna rape you.' Just like that... I fought him off as best I could, but he was terribly strong...He began to shout names at me like 'army slut' and some other names. And then, he drew back and hit me with his fist. He hit me again and I didn't fight anymore. I must've been only half-conscious, but I know that he tore my panties off and did what he wanted"
  • also shortly later, the lengthy open-car conversation between Laura and Biegler, when she admitted her husband was always jealous of her looks; she confessed: "He was jealous even before we were married. I should've known how it would be. It's funny, though. He likes to show me off. He likes me to dress the way I do, and then he gets furious if a man pays any attention to me. I've tried to leave him, but I can't. He begs, I give in"; Biegler received a definitive answer to his repeated, pointed question before the trial: "Does your husband have any reason to be jealous?"; she coyly answered: "No, not once, not ever"
  • during the case, the crafty Biegler was able to persuade Judge Weaver (real-life lawyer Joseph Welch (famous for asking in the Army-McCarthy hearings - "Have you no decency at last, sir?")) to rule in his favor, when in a monologue, he described how the shooting and killing of Quill was triggered by Manion's "temporary insanity": "Your Honor, how can the jury accurately estimate the testimony being given here unless they first know the reason behind this whole trial -- Why Lt. Manion shot Barney Quill? Now, the prosecution would like to separate the motive from the act. Well, that's, that's like trying to take the core from an apple without breaking the skin. Now, the core of our defense is that the defendant's temporary insanity was triggered by this so-called trouble with Quill. And I beg the court, I-I beg the court to let me cut into the apple" - after a few pregnant moments after he wound his watch, the Judge made a decision to allow the motive for the murder into the case: "Objection overruled"
  • during questioning, it was alleged that Quill beat and raped Laura - and afterwards, Manion - under an "irresistible impulse," had calmly walked to the tavern and committed the crime with five shots of a gun; on the stand, however, Dancer's strategy was to make 'veiled suggestions' to paint Laura as a trampy, provocative and seductive woman: "Had you ever gone to the Thunder Bay Inn or elsewhere in Thunder Bay, alone at night?...Did you ever go to meet another man?...You mean to say a lovely woman like yourself, attractive to men, lonely, restless, that you never..."
The Court Trial Regarding "Temporary Insanity" Plea -
Manion's Alleged 'Murder' of Barney Quill
  • the trial's daring details, testimony, and evidence regarding contraceptives, rape charges, and the entering into evidence of the pink "lost panties" (allegedly torn off by Quill), later verified by inn manager Mary Pilant (Kathryn Grant); she claimed that she had found them in the laundry chute near Quill's room, and shockingly revealed that Quill was her father - and that she was his illegitimate daughter
  • in the conclusion of the case, Manion was found not guilty, and he unexpectedly left town with Laura (who was seen in tears) - with only a note for Biegler, explaining that he was seized by an "irresistible impulse" to leave

Defense Lawyer Paul Biegler
(James Stewart)

Accused Suspect Lt. Frederick Manion

Manion's Trampy Wife Laura

Open-Car Conversation


Greatest Scenes: Intro | What Makes a Great Scene? | Scenes: Quiz
Scenes: Film Titles A - H | Scenes: Film Titles I - R | Scenes: Film Titles S - Z