Small town lawyer Paul Beigler returns from fishing to his quiet home, only to get a phone call from Laura Manion begging him to defend her husband, Army Lieutenant Frederic. Namely, she was raped by Barney, who was then shot and killed in revenge by her husband Frederic - who is now in prison and charged for murder. Paul and his colleague Parnell accept the case, trying to excuse Frederic in front of the jury due to his 'irresistible impulse'. Even though the State Attorney Dancer tries to discredit Laura as a lust full woman and Frederic as a jealous husband, Paul convinces Mary Pilant, Barney's wife, to testify before the court. Frederic is freed of charge.
Excellent trial court drama "Anatomy of a Murder" roused controversies during it's premiere in 1959 due to it's early use of explicit words such as 'rape', 'panties' and 'sperm', but the director Otto Preminger and screenwriter Wndell Mayes always kept a distanced, analytical and formal approach to the subject, thus rightfully gaining critical acclaim and 7 nominations for an Oscar (including best picture and actor James Stewart), 3 BAFTA awards and 4 Golden Globes, though it didn't win any. Even though it may at first seem that a story that revolves only around abstract lawyer terms and a trial can't be interesting enough, the authors managed to make it absolutely fascinating and exciting, using a lot of skill to translate the tense situation in the court, whereas many of those bravura scenes influenced a whole bunch of court trial dramas and TV shows, from "The Verdict" up to "Ally McBeal". The great James Stewart is brilliant as the sly lawyer Paul, from the sequence where he talks in private with girl Laura about the rape ("Doesn't a woman instinctively feel worried when a man is 'coming on' to her?" - "But right now you're 'coming on' to me, too. I never ran away from men") up the moment where he asks a pathologist in court why he made a test for Spermatogenesis on the deceased. The movie leaves the viewers exhausted and shaken, but it never leaves anyone indifferent.