Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Law-Themed Movies: The List, Part II.

Last month, I started compiling a list of the best law-themed movies and invited nominations.

A reader suggested 1959's Anatomy of Murder starring Jimmy Stewart and George C. Scott. I had the pleasure of viewing the DVD recently and offer some observations.

1. Unlike most courtroom dramas, this film had no closing arguments (or opening statements to the best of my recollection); its courtroom scenes explored almost exclusively direct and cross-examination.

2. Unlike most criminal trials, the criminal defendant in this drama took the stand, and yet had to field only 1-2 questions from the prosecution.

3. Unlike most Stewart movies, although his character was sympathetic, he stretched the bounds of ethics. For example, he entered into an unethical fee arrangement with his client (contingency fees are improper in criminal matters), and also suggested his client "tailor" his testimony around an insanity defense.

Notwithstanding the lack of closing argument, and let's face it, its vintage, the movie was a powerful courtroom drama, which gains and grasps viewers' attention for its duration.

Anatomy definitely deserves a high place on the list of the top 20-25 law-themed movies that will eventually be published here.

Finally, I'm not certain if the expression, "I'm just a simple country lawyer" originated in this film, but Stewart breathed life into it. I have heard it said that when an attorney makes that somewhat self-effacing declaration, grab your wallet. Stewart persuasively underscored the adage.