This year marks the 60th anniversary of the release of Otto Preminger's Anatomy of a Murder. If you've never seen it, it's a terrific film and holds up far better than you'd expect considering the changing mores, attitudes, laws and and more since 1959. In some ways, it's covering territory we seem to cover over and over as a society and may be more relevant now than ever. A legal drama, it should be a bit out of my wheelhouse, but instead it's been one of my favorite films since college.
Starring Jimmy Stewart, it has a terrific cast of well-known and lesser known actors. Eve Arden, a very young George C. Scott, Lee Remick, Ben Gazzarra, Arthur O'Connell, and Kathryn Grant (a University of Texas alumnus and, at the time, just married to Bing Crosby). And, a bit bizarre for the time and place, Duke Ellington.
The movie, however, was based on a novel written by Robert Traver. Traver was the pen name for attorney John Voelker, who lived in Ishpeming, Michigan and served as the city prosecutor, ran for other public office and was generally highly involved in public life in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
So, when I was a kid, my family spent two weeks every summer in the town where my mom was born and raised, Negaunee, Michigan, which was home to about 3000 people and 3 miles down the road from Ispheming (a marginally larger town). My grandparents had lived there since... oh, man, I'm not even sure. They'd arrived in the US (not together) in the 1920's and owned their house since the mid-30's. In the 1980's when I was up there often, when we were out and about at the drug store, at the grocery or, anywhere, really - they knew everyone over a certain age. It's small town living.
At some point I was riding around with my grandparents and mom, and they started talking about something to do with Anatomy of a Murder, still a famous movie in what was probably the late-80's, but nothing I'd seen. My grandfather started talking about "Voelker", because of course he'd known him a little, in passing. Mostly I forgot about it, but it did stick with me.
My grandfather passed before I graduated high school, and my grandmother moved into an apartment near Teal Lake. Summer of 1994, I went and spent a week with her. She was elderly, and I was a 19 year old who basically didn't sleep, but I had picked up a copy of Anatomy of a Murder for reading material for after she would go to bed, and I read the book cover-to-cover before returning home.
Traver had based the novel, I learned, on a real case he'd tried, fictionalizing names and changing several important things to make for a more sellable story, but it was still fairly true, and based on a real case in which he'd invoked a precedent for a sort of temporary insanity, "irresistible impulse", not used in 70 years or more. It was gritty stuff. Rape. Murder. A lot of legal maneuvering and a defendant, victim and witnesses who weren't reliable.
When Hollywood came calling, they didn't just adapt the book - they decided to move the whole production to the area in which the real murder and case occurred. The actual court room is used as the set for the considerable court scenes in the movie. A big enough logistical feat, but that court room is also within easy walking distance to massive iron ore docks loading ore onto ships all day every day (at the time, they're no longer used). Which meant the film company had to convince the guys on the dock to shut down their works when they were filming, lest you hear the dumping of ore into a boat the length of a cruise liner on the soundtrack.
My mom has fond memories of the filming. She saw Jimmy Stewart and Lee Remick at a ski tournament and it was clearly a big deal while Hollywood came to this remote area, whose last celebrity incursion was probably a 1913 visit from Theodore Roosevelt when he was the plaintiff in a libel suit against an Ishpeming paper that had printed that he was a drunk.
I didn't watch the movie until after reading the book, but it was that same summer.
Last week I went back to Michigan's Upper Peninsula for the first time since 1998 - that last visit brief and for my grandmother's funeral. My mom was probably worried I'd get bored (I wouldn't) and did some research on the filming locations for Anatomy of a Murder. I want to be clear: this was a family vacation, not an Anatomy of a Murder site-seeing tour, but it did sorta spin out as one as we bounced from location to location.
In no way was this a complete tour of every site I could see, nor a guided tour, exactly, but like so many things up there, bits have remained untouched for generations.
Our first stop was at the Alumni Center for Northern Michigan University, my mom's alma mater and a formal normal school. It's located near Lake Superior in the larger town of Marquette, about 12 miles from Negaunee and 15 from Ishpeming. NMU was having an Anatomy of a Murder retrospective in honor of the film's 60th Anniversary.
Below are bricks that were in front of The Nordic Theater on Marquette's main street where the premier occurred. The Nordic is currently not open, but they're trying to bring it back as an art-house cinema.
Much of the rest of the memorabilia was from local collections and tied more to Voelker than the film itself.
|a bottle of Two Hearted Ale with an image of Voelker on the label|
|some of Voelker's personal affects, publicity stills from the film|
|the film preservationist in me is curious about the state of that print|
|a draft of the novel of Anatomy of a Murder|
|original transcripts of the source material trial, People of Michigan vs Coleman A. Peterson|
|Voelker's trial notes|
The building was erected in 1902-1904 and is still very much in use today. The folks of Marquette built things to last.
Here's a scene from the film that will let you see the court room.
They do use the exterior and a few other places. I don't have screengrabs from the movie, but it's out there to watch.
|Note the rotunda cap on the building with all the windows|
|Looking down at Lake Superior to the East. The Marquette History Center features that dome.|
|Foyer of the court house|
|I believe this was a temporary exhibit. The evening before, they'd actually shown the movie in the court room.|
|Voelker/ Traver's portrait on the left.|
|A very grand stairway|
|The actual law library|
|not a massive affair. There is also a desktop PC with internet access in the room.|
|looking back down the stairs|
|if you've seen the film, there was really no mistaking it for what it was.|
|the domed skylights sits below that capped rotunda getting sunlight from all directions during the day|
|at the rear of the courtroom for dramatic entrances of surprise witnesses, only!|
A very friendly bailiff was on-hand to talk to us about the movie, how they used it as a set and took a group picture or me and my folks.
|apparently dummied up to be the door to the law library in the film, this is the Men's Room. My mom stands in for scale.|
|My dad stands in half-way down the stairs to show how one appears wise and judicious in front of stained glass|
That's it for this installment! We'll be back soon with more pics of locations and whatnot. Continued in Part 2 - even more vacation photos!