Anatomy lessons

Pub date May 16, 2006
SectionFilm FeaturesSectionFilm Review

Bogart never says "Play it again, Sam" in Casablanca, and most noirs don’t feature slinky jazz scores, but the misconceptions persist. In the case of the latter, it’s easy enough to see why: A wailing saxophone doesn’t seem far removed from the femmes fatales and smoky nightclubs that populate film noir. But, alas, many of these movies were made before Hollywood discovered jazz — a development that largely took place in the 1950s. Local noir expert and festival programmer Eddie Muller is well aware of this history but nonetheless indulges us with the Jazz/Noir Film Festival at the Balboa.

While not exactly the kind of rarity Muller’s Noir City Festival prizes, Anatomy of a Murder (playing Fri/19, 9:30 p.m.) is always worth another look, not only for Otto Preminger’s studied direction but also for Duke Ellington’s effective, swinging score. If that’s not enough for you, try this: The Duke actually has a cameo in the film wherein he shares a piano with star Jimmy Stewart — stranger collaborations have happened, but this one’s still a dandy.

Bizarre duets aside, Preminger’s 1959 film remains the ultimate courtroom drama. Stewart plays Paul Biegler, a witty, small-town lawyer charged with defending a stationed soldier (Ben Gazzara) who killed in cold blood after learning his flirty wife (Lee Remick) had been raped — or so he says. A temporary insanity plea is entered, a fuss is made over the word panties, and Biegler trades underhanded law tactics with a whip-smart city prosecutor. What so distinguishes Anatomy of a Murder is Preminger’s unusual knack for keeping the audience at bay; over the course of 160 minutes he never entangles us with a character’s perspective. As filmgoers we are almost always with a character, but Preminger’s objective style means we’re a jury, weighing incomplete information to form our own perspectives. Few filmmakers trust their audiences as much as Preminger; fewer still can pull it off as entertainment. (Max Goldberg)



Balboa Theater

3630 Balboa, SF

$10 ($45 festival pass)

(415) 221-8184

See Rep Clock for showtimes