With an all-star cast, gripping courtroom drama, and unique Upper Penninsula locale set to an award-winning jazz soundtrack, the film Anatomy of a Murder holds your interest from start to finish. A landmark American film named one of the best courtroom dramas of all time, the movie depicts the controversial murder trial of an army lieutenant in rural Michigan. Much of the boundary-pushing movie was filmed in Big Bay and Marquette County, and it left its impact on the film. Or as the Detroit Free Press puts it: “Made in black-and-white, but full of local color.”
About Anatomy of Murder
Based on the true story of a much-talked-about 1952 murder in Big Bay, Anatomy of a Murder was written by John D. Voelker (pen name Robert Traver), who was the defense attorney in the actual criminal trial. The book was on the bestseller list for 65 weeks in a row and has since sold more than 4 million copies in 20 languages. In 1959, Carlyle Productions brought the courtroom thriller to the big screen. They shot on location in Marquette County, where the murder took place, which was a first for a Hollywood film at the time.
Directed by film legend Otto Preminger, the movie brought some of the most famous actors of the day, including Jimmy Stewart, Eve Arden, George C. Scott, Lee Remick, and Arthur O’Connell to town. With such an A-list cast, it was no surprise that the film later earned seven Academy Award nominations, including one for Best Picture. The film’s jazz score, composed by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, won three Grammy Awards.
Filming in Big Bay
The town of Big Bay was full of activity as the star-studded cast and crew arrived in their beautiful corner of the Upper Peninsula. Local stories about the film shoot still swirl around Big Bay today as many locals were cast in the film as extras.
When you visit downtown Big Bay, you can still see some of the local landmarks that were captured on film. Follow our guide below to set off on your own Big Bay walking tour of Anatomy of a Murder.
The first stop on your film tour is the Lumberjack Tavern, which was filmed in several of the barroom scenes. This casual restaurant and local watering hole are easy to find with a giant Anatomy of a Murder movie poster out front. The Lumberjack Tavern was the scene of the original murder that inspired the book and the film. In 1952, the then Lumberjack Tavern owner Mike Chenoweth was shot by Army lieutenant, Coleman Peterson, who was subsequently charged with murder. Today, the Lumberjack is adorned with memorabilia and newspaper clippings from both the actual murder and the behind-the-scenes making of the iconic film. The film’s logo is painted on the bar room’s floor, marking the real place Chenoweth’s body hit the ground after being shot. Visitors can also see real bullet holes in the wall and ask to see the real (but not functioning!) murder weapon.
Anatomy of a Murder is not the tavern’s only claim to fame. Make sure to check out the “Big Bay Shuffle,” a dance inspired by Lumberjack patrons and sung by actor and musician Jeff Daniels, whose wife is from Big Bay. Daniels demonstrated the dance on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon in 2014.
Big Bay Jailhouse
Down the street from the Lumberjack Tavern, you will find the Big Bay Jailhouse, which is now marked by the Big Bay Outfitters sign out front. After the murder, the shooter Peterson immediately drove home and turned himself into a neighbor, who also happened to be a police deputy. Peterson was then taken to the Big Bay Jailhouse, where he was questioned by police until Marquette authorities arrived to pick him up. The jailhouse, which also functioned as a fire department and township hall, is not currently open to the public, but is easily found in the middle of Big Bay on 550 and is worth a look from the outside.
Thunder Bay Inn
A few minutes down the road from the jailhouse, you will find the Thunder Bay Inn. This historic hotel was the setting for several scenes in Anatomy of a Murder. Originally constructed as a warehouse and general store in 1911, the structure was purchased by Henry Ford and used as an executive retreat and later reopened as the Big Bay Hotel in 1944.
In 1959, the hotel stood in as the site of the movie’s murder. Scenes with Jimmy Stewart, Eve Arden, and Arthur O’Connell were filmed in the hotel restaurant, which was constructed by the Hollywood film crew. After filming, the Big Bay Hotel was officially renamed the Thunder Bay Inn.
Today, the Thunder Bay Inn has a lively restaurant called Duke’s Grill, a gift shop, and thirteen historically-themed bedrooms. You can see memorabilia and images from the film when you stop in for lunch or dinner.
The real murder suspect and his wife lived down the street from the Thunder Bay Inn and Lumberjack Tavern in Perkins Park. The country-operated park is a popular spot for fishing, boating, hiking, and camping with 75 pull through, full hook-up, and rustic campsites right on Lake Independence. It was also the backdrop for the closing scenes of Anatomy of a Murder, and you’re bound to hear a spooky story or two around the campfire.
Continue your Anatomy of a Murder tour around Michigan with this guide from the Michigan Film and Digital Media Office.