Tuesday, November 14, 2017
Witness to Murder (1954)
Who's In It: Barbara Stanwyck (Double Indemnity, The Big Valley), George Sanders (The Saint Strikes Back, Rebecca), and Gary Merrill (All About Eve, Mysterious Island).
What It's About: An interior decorator (Stanwyck) sees a murder take place through her apartment window and her obsession with catching the killer (Sanders) threatens her sanity and her new relationship with the investigating police detective (Merrill).
How It Is: Barbara Stanwyck is usually strong and I'm always a big fan of George Sanders, so I had high hopes for this variation on the Rear Window theme. Not that it's borrowing directly from Rear Window since it was released a few months before Hitchcock's film, but it was one of those Tombstone/Wyatt Earp or Armageddon/Deep Impact scenarios where similar films happened to come out uncomfortably close to each other. At any rate, I had every reason for high expectations for this grittier version of the concept.
Unfortunately, all the main characters do dumb and/or unbelievable things in order to keep the story moving. Merrill's Larry Mathews is a horrible detective, from his sloppy investigation of the alleged crime scene to his revealing the witness' identity to the suspect and on to his dating the witness. Merrill is an affable actor, but his pleasantness only makes Mathews appear that much more befuddled and ineffectual.
Stanwyck's Cheryl Draper starts off okay. Thanks to Mathews' incompetence, she at first questions what she saw and then decides to investigate on her own just to make sure she's not seeing things. But as she uncovers more and as the police continue to dismiss her, she gets weirdly panicky, which of course makes everyone dismiss her even more. I always hate scenes in any movie where a character thrashes around and screams about how sane they are. By the end of the movie, she's completely unstable, but I never believed any of the steps to her getting that way.
As for Sanders' Albert Richter, his motive for the murder Draper witnessed is ridiculous. There's some nonsense about his philosophy of violence (he's even written a manifesto about it that the police are happy to ignore) and the woman he killed was simply a poor girlfriend who was in the way of his aspirations of marrying a wealthy woman. What it comes down to is that he found it easier to murder her than break up with her.
Witness to Murder should have been a great showdown between Stanwyck and Sanders, but the script is so awkward about putting them into combat that I was never able to get into it.
Rating: 2 out of 5 dogged designers.