The 1959 film Anatomy of a Murder has aged remarkably well, perhaps because it was so ahead of its time, both because of its nuanced depiction of the legal process and its anticipation of the popularity of stories that draw from true crime. The film is based on a novel written by the district attorney who tried the case that inspired the story, and that helps explain why Anatomy of a Murder is rated as one of the top-ten courtroom dramas ever by both the American Film Institute and the American Bar Association.

The pedigree of the film is world class. The movie stars Jimmy Stewart as the defense attorney in the case, Ben Gazzara as a soldier on trial for murder—one that he admits to, but claims that he is not legally responsible for because had gone temporarily insane after learning about the rape of his wife (played by Lee Remick). The movie was directed by Otto Preminger and the music was done by jazz legend Duke Ellington, who also makes a cameo in the movie. The film would be nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Stewart) and twice for best Supporting Actor (for both George C. Scott, who played the prosecutor, and Arthur O’Connell, who portrayed Stewart’s alcoholic friend).

But what inspired LIFE to send photographer Gjon Mili to document the making of Anatomy of a Murder was not any of the big-name cinematic talents involved. Rather it the presence of attorney Joseph Welch, who became famous for dressing down Sen. Joseph McCarthy during televised Senate hearings, memorably asking him, “Have you no sense of decency?

In Anatomy of a Murder, Preminger cast Welch in the role of the judge.

LIFE’s story, headlined “Joe Welch In Juicy New Role,” was focussed on the acting efforts of the star attorney. “Unlike most celebrities who have been lured from the outside world, Welch took the job seriously.” LIFE wrote. “If anything, Preminger had to hold him down. After Welch had given his own interpretation of how to overrule an objection, Preminger suggested gently that a movie audience might grow somewhat restive if the camera dwelled so long upon one actor staring into space, however remarkable the play of emotion on the actor’s face.”

Even though LIFE’s primary focus at the time was Welch, Mili ranged widely enough to create a valuable document of the making of a cinema classic. When the Criterion Collection issued its DVD version of the movie, the LIFE story was included in the Blu-Ray version, and an extra feature on Mili’s LIFE photographs was included in all editions.

Ben Gazzara, Jimmy Stewart, Lee Remick, and George C. Scott (right to left) in the 1959 film Anatomy of a Murder.

Gjon Mili/LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

George C. Scott, Joseph Welch and Lee Remick in the 1959 film Anatomy of a Murder.

Gjon Mili/LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Attorney Joseph N. Welch as Judge Weaver in a scene from the 1959 movie Anatomy of a Murder.

Gjon Mili/LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Director Otto Preminger was behind camera as Joseph Welch, a famed attorney from the McCarthy hearings, played the role of the judge during filming of Anatomy of a Murder.

Gjon Mili/LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Jimmy Stewart was coached by a dialogue director during the filming of Anatomy of a Murder.

Gjon Mili/LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Otto Preminger (center) and actor Murray Hamilton (in the witness stand) on set of Anatomy of a Murder.

Gjon Mili/LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Duke Ellington (right), who did the music for Anatomy of a Murder, played piano with John D. Voelker, who wrote the book on which the film was based.

Gjon Mili/LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Attorney Joseph Welch, who plays Judge Weaver in film Anatomy of a Murder, with his wife (left) and actress Lee Remick and her infant daughter in their hotel room on location in Michigan.

Gjon Mili/LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Lee Remick (foreground) had her hair done for a scene of Anatomy of a Murder. Actress Eve Arden, who played the secretary for Jimmy Stewart’s lawyer character, sat knitting in the background

Gjon Mili/LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

George C. Scott, who played prosecutor Claude Dancer, read a newspaper on set of the 1959 film Anatomy of a Murder.

Gjon Mili/LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

George C. Scott, Jimmy Stewart, Lee Remick and Joseph Welch (left to right) acted out a contentious cross-examination in the 1959 movie Anatomy of a Murder.

Gjon Mili/LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Jimmy Stewart (left) and Ben Gazzara in a scene from the 1959 movie Anatomy of a Murder.

Gjon Mili/LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Lee Remick in a scene from the 1959 film Anatomy of a Murder.

Gjon Mili/LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Otto Preminger (center) discussed a scene with Jimmy Stewart and other actors on set during the filming of Anatomy of a Murder.

Gjon Mili/LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Movie executive Sam Goldwyn (right) visited director Otto Preminger on the set of the 1959 film Anatomy of a Murder.

Gjon Mili/LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Otto Preminger looked at stray cats while attending Venice Film Festival at which his film Anatomy of a Murder was shown.

Gjon Mili/LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Actress Lee Remick on location for the 1959 film Anatomy of a Murder.

Gjon Mili/LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Actress Lee Remick on location for the 1959 film Anatomy of a Murder.

Gjon Mili/LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

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