Anatomy of a Murder

by Ken Duquaine
(Sun Lakes, Arizona)

On July 31, 1952, Lt. Coleman A. Peterson shot and killed Maurice Chenoweth in the Lumberjack Tavern in Big Bay, Michigan. Seven years later the film Anatomy of a Murder based on a book by Michigan Justice of the Supreme Court, John Voelker, was premiered.

Voelker had been the defense attorney in the 1952 murder trial and his successful use of an insanity plea based on “irresistible impulse” had not been used in Michigan since 1886. The film starring Jimmy Stewart and Lee Remick was shot in several locations in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan including Big Bay, Marquette, Ishpeming, and Michigamme with some scenes in the Thunder Bay Inn in Big Bay, one block from the Lumberjack Tavern.

The film was controversial given its explicit sexual language and references that were at variance with the times and was for a time banned in the city of Chicago. Nonetheless, it received virtually universal critical acclaim. It was nominated for seven Oscars including Best Picture, eventually losing out to Ben Hur.

My own interest in the film stemmed from the fact that the musical score was written by Duke Ellington and his long-time collaborator, Billy Strayhorn, and was performed by the Ellington orchestra.

Several of Ellington's sidemen including Jimmy Hamilton, Jimmy Johnson, Ray Nance, and Jimmy Woode appear in the film as does Ellington himself as the character Pie Eye. Otto Preminger's score was the first Hollywood film to use an African-American composer and the film was one of the earliest to use a jazz score throughout. It was also Ellington's first attempt at scoring an entire film and it won three Grammy Awards in 1959 including Best Sound Track Album.

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