The fantastic James Stewart stars in the next film from the What Else to Watch list following DK Canada’s The Movie Book’s recommendation of the brilliant, Laura. Featuring an all star cast including Lee Remick, Orson Bean and George C. Scott, the film also features a score by Duke Ellington.
Stewart plays Paul Biegler, a small town lawyer, who takes the call from a woman named Laura (Remick). She asks him to take her husband’s case. Lt. Frederick Manion (Ben Gazzara) is accused of murder.
But was it justified?
He killed a bartender named Barney Quill who, Manion and Laura allege beat and raped her. As Manion didn’t see the rape, and didn’t contact the police after he was informed, it seems he could be guilty of premeditated murder. Biegler has his hands full trying to decide where the truth lies, and what really happened.
There’s a lot going on this one. Yes, some of it is dated, and yes, some of it is sexist, but the film itself is incredibly good. Laura is a bit of a provocateur (and Paul actually tells her how to dress and behave for the duration of the trial, whether he believes the things he says he is definitely giving voice to opinions on women that existed during the time, and sadly some still exist today), and it becomes clear that whether Manion was jealous or not, she wanted to get away from him.
The defence led by Claude Dancer (Scott) actually goes after some victim blaming by commenting on how Laura was dressed on the night of the murder, and the fact that she was less than sober. It’s troubling, and yet another indicator of something that still goes on, wrongly.
There’s a lot going on this case, and Manion and Laura aren’t telling Biegler everything. I love how this story unfolds, and the way it’s scripted and acted. This ends up being a top notch court room drama. It hooked me from the start and was fantastically acted and directed. I do love a good court room story, and this one (it is my first time watching it after all) may have found its way into my top five.
I was delighted to see Murray Hamilton in the film. He’ll always be the mayor in Jaws for me, but I love seeing him pop up in other films. And of course Stewart is amazing in the role, with Biegler playing not only to the jury but the courtroom (and by extension the audience) as well.
It’s films like this that keep me cominbg back to DK Books’ The Movie Book over and over again… Classic cinema.