WITNESS TO MURDER (Roy Rowland, 1954)

Written by producer Chester Erskine, with a pungent assist from uncredited Nunnally Johnson, Witness to Murder is a marvelous little thriller topped by a finale that moves the viewer in the direction of cardiac arrest. Barbara Stanwyck gives an exceptionally fine, delicately nuanced performance as Cheryl Draper, a forthright interior decorator and painter in Los Angeles who makes the mistake of phoning the police after witnessing the murder of a young woman late at night in an apartment across from hers. No one believes her; the accused is an author and minor celebrity, and there is no sign of any mayhem having happened in his apartment. Moreover, Albert Richter (George Sanders, chilling) manipulates behind the scenes to conjure “evidence” of Cheryl’s mental instability: a mirror-image of the other evidence, of the murder he committed, that he has succeeded in hiding from view. Cheryl is thus placed in the hellish observation ward of a mental hospital.
     What a phenomenal evocation of the U.S. during the Red Scare of the 1950s—a point underscored by Richter’s allegiance to Nazism. His murder victim is the floozie who might spoil his onward-and-upward plan to marry a rich socialite who could bankroll his dream of a Nazi America.
     We more or less must take on faith Cheryl’s romance with the investigating cop who studies law at night, as all this is lightly sketched in. But it is Cheryl who draws our fascination and interest, and admiration, as she wages an interior battle back and forth between believing in what she saw and accepting the possibility she only imagined what she saw. The apparatus of officialdom has her questioning her own sanity. This, of course, is how countless citizens felt in the time of Tricky Dick and Joe McCarthy.
     And that finale: Richter’s pursuit of Cheryl, in the dark of night, up the perilous under-construction urban high-rise that is a potent symbol for postwar America.
     Roy Rowland (The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T, 1953) directed; the brilliant score is by Herschel Burke Gilbert; the shadowy black-and-white—mostly eerily gray—cinematography, by John Alton.

B(U)Y THE BOOK

MY BOOK, A Short Chronology of World Cinema, IS CURRENTLY AVAILABLE FROM THE SANDS FILMS CINEMA CLUB IN LONDON. USING EITHER OF THE LINKS BELOW, ACCESS THE ADVERTISEMENT FOR THIS BOOK, FROM WHICH YOU CAN ORDER ONE OR MORE COPIES OF IT. THANKS.

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=Dennis+Grunes&x=14&y=16

http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=Dennis+Grunes&x=14&y=19

Advertisements

One thought on “WITNESS TO MURDER (Roy Rowland, 1954)

  1. How nice to see one of my favorite little thrillers given its full due, and placed in proper historical context. Stanwyck is typically wonderful, and Alton’s cinematogaraphy — right from the opening shot of those awnings flapping ominously in the evening breeze outside Stanwyck’s apartment — is superb. I must have seen this a dozen times and enjoy it more with every sitting!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s