HOSTILE WITNESS (director: Ray Milland; screenwriter: from the play by Jack Roffey/Jack Roffey; cinematographer: Gerald Gibbs; editor: Bernard Gribble; music: Wilfred Josephs; cast: Ray Milland (Simon Crawford), Sylvia Syms (Sheila Larkin), Raymond Huntley (John Naylor), Felix Aylmer (Justice Osborne), Geoffrey Lumsden (Maj. Hugh Maitland), Ewan Roberts (Hamish Gillespie), Julian Holloway (Percy), Norman Barrs (Charles Milburn), Richard Hurndall (Supt. Eley), Dulcie Bowman (Lady Phyllis Gregory), Harold Berens (Rosen); Runtime: 101; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: David E. Rose; United Artists; 1968-UK)
“The unheralded film somehow slipped through the cracks.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A sparkling courtroom drama based on a play by Jack Roffey that Ray Milland (“The Safecracker”/”Panic in Year Zero!”/”A Man Alone”) starred in on Broadway in 1966. The unheralded film somehow slipped through the cracks. It’s directed and stars the 63-year-old English-born Milland.
Joanna, the beloved daughter of the brilliant barrister, the widowed Simon Crawford (Ray Milland), is killed while walking home in a hit-and-run accident, which causes her distraught father to swear vengeance on the killer if not caught. When police have no clues after two months, only that it was an old man driver in a black car, Simon hires a series of private detectives. Unduly upset, Simon goes berserk on one investigator (Harold Berens) when he comes up empty-handed and is sent to a mental facility for a few months to recover. One night returning from his chamber, Simon’s knocked unconscious and his house keys are stolen. He’s found by his friend Maj. Hugh Maitland (Geoffrey Lumsden), on his settee, while walking his dog, and is given shelter for the night in his house. When Simon’s high-court judge neighbor, Lord Matthew Gregory, is stabbed to death, the barrister finds himself accused by the superintendent of police of his death. It appears to be a deliberate frameup, as a letter from a private investigator is found implicating the neighbor in the death of Simon’s daughter. Simon denies receiving the letter or hiring that unfound investigator named Armitage. In the courtroom, Simon relies on one of the younger barristers in his law firm, Sheila Larkin (Sylvia Syms), to defend him, until he takes over his own defense.
There are plenty of twists coming forth during the trial that keep things suspenseful, but there’s an unbelievable climax filled with fireworks that almost sinks the psychological drama into absurdity.
REVIEWED ON 9/21/2008 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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