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By 1959, Saul Bass had become an integral part of Preminger’s production team and his title designs an important element of the pitching and marketing of the director’s films. Bass’ designs for Anatomy of a Murder were devised long before cameras began to roll, making clear the value that Preminger placed on Bass’ work and its role in positioning and branding his films.
The titles for the film are among Bass’ most recognizable and, along with Duke Ellington’s score, lend the film its particular blend of sophistication and loose, improvisatory charm. Literalizing the film’s title, the credit sequence presents different cut-out (-off?) human limbs, which are in turn diced up into abstract decorative shapes. Echoing the deliberate manner in which the film dissects the circumstances of a murder case, the credits also provide some witty juxtapositions of titles and images: James Stewart naturally gets the head; Lee Remmick a leg; Duke an arm; and Preminger’s credit comes once a disembodied hand seems to cover the lens. The central image of the segmented corpse is so effective and simple that Spike Lee’s production company lifted it wholesale for the film, Clockers, until Bass threatened them with a lawsuit.
True to Preminger’s appetite for provocation, Anatomy of a Murder is renowned for its use of some hitherto taboo words (ahem, panties) and its adoption of outré subjects such as rape and the insanity defense. But unlike some of his other notably controversial works, Anatomy of a Murder feels neither forced nor dated in its use of provocative subject matter. It is both a tightly constructed courtroom drama and an engaging ensemble character study, and like James Stewart’s rumpled Michigan lawyer, it remains at once clever and down-to-earth.