James Stewart received his fifth and final Oscar nomination for portraying lawyer Paul Biegler in Anatomy of a Murder.
James Stewart is an interesting actor in his transition from the aw shucks passionate young man, which continued his pre-war years, and partially into It's A Wonderful Life, parts of It's a Wonderful Life showed a darker Stewart which continued later into his career especially in Vertigo and certainly in this film. His Paul Biegler is fascinating because he is not fighting for good, or necessarily justice. He is instead only fighting the case of an army soldier who murdered a man who possibly raped his wife, just because it basically is the case he is trying.
It is interesting because he portrays Paul Biegler as a very passionate, and extraordinarily hard working, and not really cynical, but instead Stewart shows Biegler as a man who is doing a job is likes and is incredibly good at. There is not a whole lot of scenes that show the personal life of Biegler, since all the people he interacts with are either witnesses or his colleagues, yet Stewart still makes Biegler an entirely vivid character.
It is fascinating to see Stewart as Biegler, since he shows that Biegler will do about anything within the law to win the case. In particular his early scenes where Stewart brilliantly shows Paul's creation of the case and his defense in his mind. Stewart perfectly shows the intelligence and simply the craftiness of Paul almost entirely non verbally through his perfect indicative glances. Stewart is especially good in show Paul way of coaxing an excuse for the killing by the killer, that will please the jury. Stewart makes it clear that Paul knows there really was not an excuse, but almost had one made to show his ability.
Stewart best scenes of course are the court room scenes, in which he is simply astonishing in every moment. Stewart is perfect in showing how Paul basically puts on a three ring circus since he really practically does not even have a case to speak of. Stewart is outstanding in his complete mastery of these courtroom, and the scenes himself. He holds the attention of scene throughout every single moment, even when not focused on.
Stewart is firstly is completely believable as the lawyer he never loses a beat in his court room performance. He is also incredibly entertaining to watch, as he is simply fun to watch all of these scenes, and I never felt he was "acting" but always showing that this is Biegler's method in winning the trial. It is fascinating how Stewart can be funny in one moment with his perfect delivery of Biegler's one liners, such as when he says he is just an old country lawyer, and the next moment incredibly powerful in his passionate speeches to the court. Stewart makes all these transition it entirely realistic.
Stewart does not have a wrong moment in this performance, and it is one performance I just love to watch because of how incredibly effective it is. Stewart is essential to the film in making every court room scene as good as it is, as well as making Biegler a fascinating and well drawn character despite the little there is about him in the film. Overall this performance shows how an old pro like Stewart could simply do wonders with what could have been a stock or unmemorable role. Stewart though clearly shows everything he had learned over the years into this terrific, and somehow effortless performance.