George C. Scott received his first Oscar nomination for portraying Assistant State Attorney General Claude Dancer in Anatomy of a Murder.
When I reviewed Arthur O'Connell in this same film I said he was the sort of supporting performance that's whole purpose was to literally support the lead, and never really attempt to steal a scene for himself as the loyal confidant of James Stewart's defense attorney Paul Biegler. George C. Scott on the other hand plays the Assistant State Attorney General who comes to help the local D.A. prosecute the murder case. The whole point of Scott's performance is to basically attempt to up show James Stewart's performance in the court room scenes as the lawyers basically play a game a showmanship, with some keen observation and attacks against each other's cases for and against the defendant.
The character of Dancer is very simple in that he is in the film purely for the reason stated in the film There are no scenes to indicate his life outside of the courtroom, but just because a performance a relatively simple task, does not mean the performance of that character cannot be great, and a fully realized characterization. Scott shows that a character does not need to the most complex to create a wonderful performance nevertheless. Scott from his first scene knows what his part should be, and knows exactly how to make a huge impact in the film as the prosecutor Dancer.
In everyone one of his scenes Scott makes his presence known in the film, even when he is just sitting down at the prosecutors table and saying nothing at all. Scott in every silent moments always shows an intelligence in Dancer, and you can just tell that he is dissecting everything that is being said. It abundantly clear that Dancer is just waiting for his time to attack. Scott also with absolute ease shows the control and superiority Dancer has over the D.A. through the way he always speaks with absolute control but never visible seems to be trying he just simply is.
Scott's best scenes come out when Dancer finally attacks and he and Stewart face off interestingly enough as not only their character but really as actors as well. Stewart gives one of his best performances, but Scott manages to match him just about every turn, creating the best scenes in the film. Scott is completely on in everyone of his cross examination scenes. Scott is striking in every one of these moments as he intensely interrogates every witness. Scott is able to portray Dancer quick thinking and pressure tactics perfectly, and he makes it absolutely believable that the witnesses would be overwhelmed by him.
Scott is incredible for every moment he is on screen and never lets Stewart really win, making Dancer the perfect adversary for Stewart's Biegler. Scott has such a great impact on the film, that really it is unthinkable to see anyone else in the role. Scott simply is fantastic as Dancer who was essential to the success of the film which would not have worked if Stewart seemed in charge the entire time. Instead Scott though matches Stewart, and shows that a great actor can make an undeniable impression even if their character as written might seem simple.