Saturday, March 13, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Eye Witness (1950)

EYE WITNESS is the U.S. title of YOUR WITNESS, a British-made courtroom mystery starring and directed by Robert Montgomery. This was Montgomery's last onscreen appearance, and the last of five films he directed between 1945 and 1950, a count which includes his uncredited work assisting John Ford in the completion of THEY WERE EXPENDABLE (1945).

EYE WITNESS is a very enjoyable film which makes the viewer sad that it was almost the end of Montgomery's filmmaking career, other than THE GALLANT HOURS (1960); however, Montgomery went on to great success in the '50s as a Tony-winning Broadway director, a TV producer and host, and a media advisor to President Eisenhower.

New York attorney Adam Heyward (Montgomery) receives an urgent cable advising him that a good British friend (Michael Ripper) he served with during WWII has been jailed for murder. Certain of his friend's innocence, Adam immediately flies to England in hopes of helping.

Adam finds himself not only trying to find a mysterious eye witness who could be crucial to the case, but navigating the intricacies of the British legal system and the differences between the British and American versions of the English language. Despite the recent presence of countless Americans in England during WWII, the villagers and the trial judge are confounded by Adam's American colloquialisms.

Montgomery was no stranger to British mysteries, having starred as Lord Peter Wimsey in HAUNTED HONEYMOON (1940), filmed in England around the time of Britain entering WWII. There's no doubt Montgomery had a knack for directing as well as acting, and in this case he captures a nice slice of the slow-paced British village life.

My favorite scene was the one in which a lovely young widow, Alex (Patricia Wayne, also known as Patricia Cutts), shanghais Adam into attending church, and then is pleasantly surprised to find Adam can sing along without the need to look at the hymnal. It's a world that's hard for us to understand in 2010; the little British village is a place where a young mother leaves her baby sunning in his pram while she goes inside to make a cup of tea, not worried in the least about his safety. These days she'd probably be arrested for child neglect. What a different world, indeed.

Leslie Banks plays Alex's brother-in-law; Felix Aylmer -- who made many American films -- is the British judge; and Noel Howlett is the defense barrister.

One of the interesting things about the film is how the prim and proper types who look askance at Adam's "hurry up" way of doing things gradually show themselves to be just as interested in justice as Adam; they simply have a different, more painstaking approach. Another favorite scene was Adam's admiring visual reaction when he realized that the defense barrister with whom he'd been at odds had just scored a key point in his client's favor.

STAR WARS fans may enjoy seeing the early work of Shelagh Fraser, who plays a woman who is interviewed as a potential witness; Fraser played Aunt Beru in the very first STAR WARS film.

Ruth Lee also deserves attention for her effectiveness in a two-scene role as Adam's secretary.

I also appreciated the film's musical score by Malcolm Arnold, which uses Big Band type sounds to good effect.

The film's producer, Joan Harrison, wrote the screenplays for several classic Hitchcock films and also produced other films directed by and starring Montgomery, RIDE THE PINK HORSE (1947) and ONCE MORE, MY DARLING (1949).

This film is available on DVD from VCI. It's a good print which is the unedited 100-minute British version; six minutes were shaved from the running time for the movie's U.S. release.

EYE WITNESS is pleasant viewing, especially for those who enjoy Robert Montgomery and films set in Britain.


Blogger James Corry said...

I've got this "double DVD" set too Laura. The reason I got it is that a friend of mine (who just recently passed away) wrote the musical score to "Eye Winess" companion-film "Breakdown." Frankly, "Breakdown" was nowhere NEAR as good as "Eye Witness." I E-Mailed all of my Hollywood buddies and told them: "You've got to see this thing" ("Eye Witness") You're absolutely correct, it's a FABULOUS film (and be certain to keep your eyes peeled for a VERY young "Sir" Stanley Baker as a police constable who testifies during the trial...) which deserves to be re-discovered.

Keep up the excellent work!


11:32 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks for sharing your comments, Brad, I'm delighted to know you enjoyed it too. Hope many others will discover this entertaining little movie -- one of those "hidden gems" which are such fun to discover.

Best wishes,

1:34 PM  
Blogger James Corry said...

AND, Laura, Patricia "Cutts" later turned up as Vincent Price's unfaithful wife in William Castle's "The Tingler" (!!)


3:01 PM  

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