In “Anatomy of a Murder,” Biegler is a stand-in for then-Michigan Supreme Court Justice John D. Voelker. On top of his legal career, Voelker was an author; he wrote the literary source material of “Anatomy of a Murder” under the pen name Robert Traver. Like Voelker, Biegler is a lawyer in rural Upper Penisula Michigan. The events of the film, based on a 1952 case of Voelker’s, sees Biegler defend a soldier who killed his wife’s (apparent) rapist. Biegler has Stewart’s trademark drawl, but despite his protestations of being “a humble country lawyer,” he’s far from a good ol’ boy rube.
Biegler is a former district attorney and he repeatedly shows that losing re-election didn’t dull his appetite for playing politics. Throughout the trial, he grandstands, provokes the “big city” prosecutor Claude Dancer (George C. Scott), and asks questions/hurls insinuations he knows are inappropriate since, while they can be stricken from the record, they can’t leave the Jury’s collective memory. Viewers who watch “Anatomy of a Murder” decades later and expect to see Stewart as another moral underdog (a la “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington”) will be surprised to find Biegler is just another underhanded lawyer.