Posted by: Kath Usitalo | June 26, 2009

Anatomy of a Murder


In each edition of the Great Lakes Gazette that we published years ago, I featured a movie made in Michigan—and that was well before the current flurry of filmmaking due to the state’s incentives to moviemakers. I’ll revive this as an occasional feature, mixing old movies and the crop of new flicks that are being shot on location.

Anatomy's cast and crew autographs; artwork from

Anatomy's cast and crew autographs; artwork from


If you’re in Marquette this weekend, don’t be surprised if you see Jimmy Stewart, Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara, Eve Arden, or Arthur O’Connell wandering around town. They’re just look-alike contestants helping to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Anatomy of a Murder, the courtroom thriller set in Marquette and the Big Bay region of the UP.


Movie audiences a half century ago were shocked, SHOCKED by the lustful and murderous tale of a love triangle gone bad, set in the wilds of northern Michigan. Imagine what it would have been like to live through the actual scandal, and then have Hollywood come to town to commit it to film.

Anatomy of a Murder is based on real events recorded as a novel of the same name by Robert Traver, pen name for Michigan Supreme Court Justice John D. Voelker, who  lived and fished in the area.

Visit the Marquette region this summer and you’ll have a chance to chat with folks who had first (or second) hand knowledge of the time film director Otto Preminger and his stellar cast and crew moved into the neighborhood. You can tour the story locations and attend commemorative events in Big Bay, Ishpeming, Marquette, and Michigamme.

Not surprising to those familiar with the territory, a half century later, much of the film’s scenery is still recognizable.

The opening scene’s sky is just as big, and Ishpeming’s iron mining headframe (tower) as oddly distinctive. Lake Superior-hugging highways offer up the same scenic views, and Marquette County Courthouse is as grand.


Marquette architecture just as striking as it was when Hollywood came to town 50 years ago

Set side the time to savor each of the movie’s 161 minutes. Fast-forward and you’ll miss memorable characters in across-the-board excellent performances…thoughtful and intelligent dialogue…the score by Duke Ellington…and striking images in black and white.

Screenwriter Wendell Mayes adapted and Otto Preminger directed the hot drama, which received several Oscar and Golden Globe nominations, but no statues. (Ben-Hur took Best Picture that year.) Duke Ellington’s score and soundtrack were recognized with Grammy Awards.

The Marquette region has scheduled a host of Anatomy of a Murder events, tours, self-guided walking and driving tours, film screenings, an exhibit at the Beaumier Heritage Center, and stage production at the Lake Superior Theater July 22-26 and July 29-August 1. Check with Marquette Country for details.

Judge and writer John Voelker (front) with James Stewart and cast on location

Judge and writer John Voelker (front) with James Stewart and cast on location

And if you see Jimmy Stewart, tell him Paige thinks his movie kisses are just swell (although you won’t see one in this film).

Michael Jackson, RIP

I should mention the passing of one of Motown’s stars, but Paige beat me to it on her Chocolate Sunglasses blog.


  1. Gahh mother that is embarrassing! But I remember when you took that picture, very nice 🙂

  2. The son of my friend bought John Voelker’s house in Ishpeming. I think they will open it to the public as part of this celebration. I have never seen the movie…it’s probably about time!

    • Yes! Now’s the time, when you can catch one of the screenings and share in the festivities. Cool connection with the Voelker house.

  3. […] in the UP. And Michigan Judge John D. Voelker, under the name Robert Traver, not only penned Anatomy of a Murder but his love of fishing inspired him to writeTrout Madness and Trout Magic. Traverse City-based […]

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