Year Released: 1959
Directed by: Otto Preminger
Starring: James Stewart, Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara, Arthur O’Connell, Eve Arden, Kathryn Grant, George C. Scott
(Not Rated, 161 min.)
"Anger is a short madness." Horace
Take a break from the cache of current film offerings to see this classic once dubbed the finest courtroom drama ever made. Despite the fact that the black and white feature was made more than fifty years ago, it appears as fresh and contemporary as the many imitators it has spawned. And like real life, neither the cast nor the verdict is entirely predictable.
Much of its authenticity comes from the novel on which it was based, one penned by Michigan Supreme Court Justice John D. Voelker recalling a spectacular murder trail in 1952 for which he was the defending attorney. The fact that the presiding judge is played by real life Judge Joseph N. Welch, who presided over the McCarthy hearings, adds a note of irony as well.
While the film relishes in its purposeful ambiguity, of one thing we are certain. Lt. Frederick Manion (Ben Gazzara) has shot and killed the local barkeeper for allegedly raping his wife. He clearly admits to it and turns himself in.
Just about everything else is left for us to decide, as the audience is never shown a flashback of actual events; instead we are like the jurors who must wrest the truth out of parties who may or may not be lying.
And we’re not given any help with tell tale camera angles or music that cues up our emotions. The courtroom scenes are long shots that frame the scene without revealing close-ups to coax our judgment. Duke Ellington wrote the jazzy score, which is a soft undercurrent that underlies the dissonance of the story.
In what many critics believe to be his best role, Jimmy Stewart plays Paul Biegler, the one time district attorney who is still smarting after having been voted out of office a year earlier. He gets by on the occasional divorce case, but spends most of his bachelor days fishing and reading dusty law books with his old friend Parnel Emmett McCarthy (Arthur O”Connell), a self admitted has-been who thirsts for his rye whiskey as much as the intricacies of the law.
Eve Arden plays Aida, his loyal but seldom paid secretary, a warm hearted cynic armed with the same deadpan irony that endeared us to her as radio and television’s Our Miss Brooks. But her interpretation of Laura (Lee Remick), the alleged rape victim who engages Biegler to defend her husband, is amazingly gentle.
"She's soft. Easy. The kind men like to take advantage of, and do."
And take advantage of her, at least in his mind, is exactly what taunts Biegler. Of course, Laura, except for the badly bruised eye she hides coquettishly behind Hollywood style dark glasses, seems anything but the easy victim. Slinking around in a revealing sweater with tight Capri pants and heels, she totes her small dog along like a fashion accessory in the manner of today’s divas.
Nor is her husband, the defendant, a sympathetic character. He is cool, aloof, and casually dismissive of Biegler. It is certainly something other than a Perry Mason like zeal to free an innocent man that motivates the lethargic attorney to take the case. In addition to the need to make some money – though all the army man can offer is a promissory note to pay, if and when Beigler wins him freedom – we might conclude that Biegler takes on the case to purge himself of his attraction to the voluptuous flirt who has hired him.
And, of course, his wounded ego kicks in, and the basically decent attorney dances around the law with calculated recklessness, intent on besting the smart uptown prosecutor Claude Dancer, played with condescending menace by 32 year old George C. Scott - young, dashing, but every bit as ruthlessly on target as the General George S. Patton role he eventually grew into.
If you missed this titillating drama – after all it was banned in Chicago when it was first released, with Jimmy Stewart’s father even taking out an ad advising people not to see it – rent it now. The frank details of the rape will no longer shock, but the intrigue and tension are every bit as potent as they were that day more than fifty years ago.
Attorney Paul Beigler marches to the beat of a different drummer. He buys a new outboard motor with his legal fees instead of paying household bills or his loyal secretary. And about the only edibles in his refrigerator are the trout he has caught on his especially long fishing trips.
“If this fridge gets many more fish, it’ll swim up-stream and spawn - all by itself,” his suffering secretary Aida laments.
Let’s help out by finding something useful for the scaly critters. The Baked Lemon and Herb Trout we cook up has a folksy quality that Paul would like, and the recipe, like his idea of the law, just sets some outer boundaries and lets the cook decide how to dance around them.
Baked Lemon and Herb Trout
- trout, whole or filleted
- garlic cloves
- salt and freshly-ground black pepper
- extra virgin olive oil
- fresh herbs including parsley, basil, thyme, oregano, rosemary, marjoram
Place the trout or fillets onto a large enough piece of foil to wrap in. Brush the foil with some virgin olive oil and brush the fish with some oil too. Season it with some salt and black pepper.
Finely chop the herbs with the garlic to make a herb/garlic pesto and sprinkle over the trout to cover completely. Or, if using whole trout, stuff into the cavity. Lay a few thin slices of lemon over the top and wrap the foil tightly. Place in a baking dish and bake in the oven until done.
Depending on the size of the fish, it will take about 20 minutes. When cooked, remove the lemon slices and drizzle some more olive oil over the top if you wish. Serve with fresh wedges of lemon.
Recipe Source: activeangler.com