Quick recap: Lt. ‘Manny’ Manion is accused of murdering his wife’s rapist and it’s up to James Stewart to prove his innocence.
Fun (?) fact: James Stewart’s father HATED this movie so much he took out a full page ad in a newspaper urging people not to go see it.
My thoughts: Here are a few words I never expected and/or want to hear from James Stewart again:
- sexual climax
And the absolute worst:
As you can ascertain, this movie was scandalous for its time (1959). Much of the plot revolves around a woman who has been assaulted and raped, who may or may not be telling the truth. And honestly, I still have no idea what to make of the ending. Lt. Manion was found not guilty by reason of temporary insanity but there really is no way to know for certain whether he did it. The bigger point is what the movie is attempting to say. Both scenarios are troubling but also both speak to the times in a way that mirrors what is currently debated in our country.
Scenario #1- Laura was really raped and her husband killed the accuser in a fit of rage
So if this is what ended up happening, then this movie is one of the most fiercely feminist out there. Every single piece of evidence points to Laura coming on to her accuser and this having been a consensual affair. At no time does Manion’s attorney, Biegler, imply anything other than Laura telling the truth. There are several moments of him losing it during the trial when anything else is suggested, which is surprising because the idea about a woman ‘inviting rape’ is still a prevalent one in today’s society. What the verdict says is that it doesn’t matter what a woman wears or how she moves or hips or if she gets into a stranger’s car- she doesn’t deserve rape.
Scenario #2- Laura had an affair and her husband is insanely jealous and probably abusive
This is the scenario with the most evidence. And if this is the truth, then James Stewart is actually the villain of the film not the hero he usually is. He is just a lawyer looking to win with tricks rather than finding out the truth. In this perspective, the entire court case is one big circus act. It says a lot about our broken criminal system and how it comes down to who can argue best, not what the actual evidence is.
The end of the film finds Biegler visiting Manion and his wife, only to learn they have skipped town. The caretaker observes that Laura was upset and crying and the whole place is a mess. Manion has left a note which makes a joke about his insanity defense. Everyone laughs and happy music plays as the scene fades to black. This is either a happy ending where everything worked out because the criminal justice system works or it’s an incredibly bleak one where everything is broken and a murderer is loose. What a dilemma.
Final review: 4/5. Interesting concept but everything is so muddled, I don’t know what to make of it all.
Up next: The Killing Fields