#362- Anatomy of a Murder

Quick recap: Lt. ‘Manny’ Manion is accused of murdering his wife’s rapist and it’s up to James Stewart to prove his innocence.

That’s some good lawyering right there

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.

I wonder why…

My thoughts: Here are a few words I never expected and/or want to hear from James Stewart again:

  • jiggle
  • sexual climax
  • sperm

And the absolute worst:

PANTIES

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

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#360- The Young and the Damned

Quick recap: A group of boys from the slums of Mexico City resort to crime in order to survive.

Jaibo’s ill-fitting overalls are all you need to know he is up to no good

Fun (?) fact: The movie was very poorly received when it first came out but after people had a chance to calm down, they realized that it held a lot of truth. The Young and the Damned is now considered one of the greatest Mexican films of all time.

My thoughts: I’ve seemingly been caught in a ‘wayward youths’ movie vortex as of late and it’s hard to tell whether I can escape any time soon. I’ve lucked out up until now because almost all of the films have a glimmer of hope attached, even though most of the movie is very grim. (I’m looking at you, City of God)

The Young and the Damned, as I should’ve gleaned from the title, is a different beast altogether. It lured me in at first, making me think this was just a cute cautionary tale about bad boys who drink and smoke but who are just little scamps in the big picture of things. And actually, that part might be true until the Ultimate Wayward Youth, Jaibo, shows up, after breaking out of reform school. The boys immediately take to him as he shows them how to rob a blind man of his money. It’s a cruel scene, but nothing I haven’t seen before. They take it to a new level however when they chase the man and throw stones at him. That’s when I realized no one was playing around. Every actor in the film is believable as a corrupted youth. I was blown away with how complicated they showed their characters to be. As mean as some of the boys are (including a scene where Jaibo straight up murders a kid), it’s very obvious that the director fully believed poverty was to be blamed for all this hard lives.

Pedro, the main character, is about as real a kid as you can get. He tags along with the gang but never really does the bad stuff. He befriends a lost boy and gets him food to eat and he does his best to listen to his mother, even though they both know she can’t really take care of him. He gets caught up with Jaibo, however, and thus starts his downward spiral that ultimately ends in his tragic death. His murder really broke me in a way that is hard to convey because I wasn’t expecting that kind of ending at all. I kept thinking something good would eventually turn up but it didn’t. The final scene of the farmer throwing his body down a hill is so sickening but really hit home the point that Mexico City was in a crisis with poverty at the time. And it’s a reminder that we haven’t moved forward as much as we think we have.

Final review: 5/5

Up next: Trouble in Paradise

#356- Diabolique

Quick recap: A wife and her husband’s mistress team up to kill the husband, who’s really a jerk. After murdering him and dumping his body in a pool, things start to get weird. Weirder than a wife and mistress teaming up, even.

My partner teacher and I when we are supposed to be watching the kids at recess

 

Fun (?) fact: Director Henri-Georges Clouzot beat Alfred Hitchcock to the rights to the film within a few hours. Don’t feel bad for ‘ol Hitchcock though, he later bought the film rights to another novel by the same author and called that film Vertigo.

Just a couple of teachers unwinding after a long semester

My thoughts: Before I start my review, let me just point out that two teachers having time to pull off a murder such as this one is ridiculous. Real teachers are so tired at the end of term that all we do is drink and sleep. Not carry out heavily detailed plots to murder loved ones.

You’d think I’d also point out the absurdity of a mistress and wife teaming up but that’s where you are wrong because I loved it. If you take out the murder this becomes a buddy movie that writes itself. The wife, Christina got on my nerves with her ‘delicate heart condition’ and wearing pigtails even though she’s like 30. But Nicole, the mistress, balances her out perfectly. The movie can be slow at times but the acting is so good that I didn’t really notice the lull. I’d love to add more about Nicole and Christina’s relationship but I can’t because there is a crazy twist that I just don’t have the heart to spoil right now.

seriously, the movie made me promise not to tell anyone

The entire movie is a slow build to something wonderful and actually terrifying so the pay off is worth it. After Michel’s murder, he keeps popping up everywhere, even though the women dumped him into a pool. The creepiest part for me was when the clothes he wore when he died were brought back to the school via a dry cleaners errand boy. It was such a tiny detail but all the possibilities as to how it happened made everything all the more spookier. That’s all I can say for now, except to go search this movie out for yourself and DON’T SPOIL IT!

Final review: 4/5

Up next: back to normal with La Dolce Vita

#349- A Man Escaped

Quick recap: Based on a true story from World War II, a man escapes from prison.

Fun (?) fact: A Man Escaped is based on the story of Andre Devigny who served as a consultant because the director wanted everything as authentic as possible. Devigny even let the cast borrow the hooks and and ropes he made to escape. Oh, and SPOILER ALERT the man does actually escape.

 

My thoughts: Never have I felt so inadequate about myself than last night when I watched this movie. Math and Physics were never my strongest subjects in school and now I realize that if I’m ever locked up for a war crime I didn’t commit, I’m toast. This guy had the most complicated plan, most of which involved making everything on his own and it WORKED. I, on the other hand, would spend months tying knots in my bedsheets only to have them break apart in my hands once I tried to use them. And making my own hook? Forget it! I can’t even handle a pair of scissors without cutting myself. The fact that this story is all true makes it even more amazing.

Judging just on cinematography features and sound alone, this film has rightfully earned its place on this list. The shots are beautiful and capture the suspense and loneliness prisoner Fontaine felt throughout his internment. Throughout most of the film Fontaine is dressed in a simple white shirt and pants that have been splattered in his own blood. No torture scenes are ever shown as that shirt is the only reminder one needs. The same goes for the firing squad who are never shown but their gunshot echoes are some of the most chilling sounds I have heard in a film.

Normally in a blog post about war I’ll say ‘war is hell’ and although this is very definitely a war film, it is also very definitely not. It’s a story of survival and optimism and creativity and it’s also one of the most suspenseful movies I have seen on this list. Many scenes involve Fontaine using a spoon to slowly strip away wooden molding on the door and every single shaving dropped on the floor caused my anxiety level to go up. Even though I just watched the film it’s so hard to imagine that this actually happened to a real person and he survived. The character Fontaine faced the firing squad if he didn’t escape so the stakes were high either way. Still, most people wouldn’t have the courage he did or the perseverance to pull it off.

Final review: 5/5

Up next: A special surprise for #350!