Thursday, January 01, 2009

1/1/09: Witness to Murder (1954)

There was no compelling reason for me to launch my crazy project with this film noir from 1954. I don't even particularly like noirs; I'm just a big fan of its star, George Sanders, who would go on to star in my favorite movie, Village of the Damned, six years after this one. I've got four Sanders movies in my vault, and since this is a partial week, it should work out fairly nicely.

Sanders strangles a woman in his apartment, but makes the classic 1950s movie mistake of doing it with the drapes wide open, leaving neighbor Barbara Stanwyck to watch the murder in horror from across the street. Naturally, this being the ’50s, the cops don't believe her and accuse her of dreaming the whole thing. Released the same year as Rear Window, this movie has absolutely none of Hitchcock's directorial flourish—it reminded me more of TV's Dragnet (which isn't helped by the film's blatant references to it).

I found Stanwyck to be homely and somewhat difficult to look at, and the script isn't much better. Much of the drama involves Stanwyck confronting Sanders about the killing, and him denying it ("I saw you do it!" "I did no such thing"). Eventually it turns into a game of cat and mouse, with Sanders successfully framing Stanwyck to look like a nutcase. When she's hauled off to the psych ward, the story recalled 2008's The Changeling, another movie about a woman unjustly thrown into the looney bin. There's a preposterous romantic subplot involving Stanwyck and Gary Merrill as a sympathetic cop who thinks she's merely hallucinating everything, but he digs her anyway, despite her ho-hum looks and debilitating psychosis. The intrusive music soundtrack works triple time to compensate when there's very little happening on the screen. With Barbara Stanwyck, George Sanders, Gary Merrill. Rating: 2/5.

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