Witness to Murder (1954): Roy Rowland’s Noir Crimer, Elevated by Stanwyck’s Acting an John Alton’s Imagery

John Alton’s remarkable cinematography elevated Witness to Murder, Roy Rowland’s otherwise conventional noir crimer, starring Barbara Stanwyck, George Sanders, and Gary Merrill.

Witness to Murder
Witnessmurder.jpg

Theatrical release poster

While the film received mixed reviews, it became an also-ran to Hitchcock’s similarly themed Rear Window, which opened three months later, and was a huge box-office hit.

Cheryl Draper Looking out of her bedroom window, Cheryl Draper witnesses a young woman strangled to death. Shocked, she does the right thing, reports it to the police. but when the killer, Albert Richter, sees detectives, he moves the body. When the police show up to his door, Albert acts nonchalant, and the police are convinced that Cheryl dreamt it up.

While he is out, Cheryl notices that an apartment on the same floor is for rent, and she is given a tour by the manager. She finds torn drapery, which Albert re-ripped in front of the police, and a pair of earrings.

Albert preemptively phones the police, and Cheryl is accused of robbery. The two confront each other at the police station, but Albert doesn’t press charges. However, the scene leaves Police Lt. Lawrence Mathews suspicious.

Lawrence tells Cheryl that Albert is an ex-Nazi who had been “denazified” and is now an unsuccessful author marrying a wealthy heiress. The two meet again when the body of an unidentified woman is found in Griffith Park.

Lawrence believes she is telling the truth that she saw something, but does not think what she saw was reality. She is forcibly admitted to an asylum after Albert types threatening letters from Cheryl to him to frame her as crazy.

Lawrence and fellow policeman go to the apartment building of the deceased woman to see if anyone there recognizes Albert but no one does.

After Cheryl is released, Albert confesses that he killed the woman because she was insignificant, and he did not want his future wealth to be threatened. Since she is  labeled insane by the police and has no credibility, he does not fear admitting.

Albert writes a suicide note for Cheryl, and tries to push her out of her window, but she manages to flee. Albert and the police, thinking she is suicidal, pursue her. Cheryl runs gets to the top of a building and is cornered by Albert.

She’s saved by some construction planks below the precipice onto which she falls. Lawrence arrives and Albert attempts to kill him, but after a brief struggle, Albert falls to his death.

In the end, Lawrence rescues Cheryl and the police finally believe her story.

Cast
Barbara Stanwyck as Cheryl Draper
George Sanders as Albert Richter
Gary Merrill as Police Lt. Lawrence Mathews
Jesse White as Police Sgt. Eddie Vincent
Harry Shannon as Police Capt. Donnelly
Claire Carleton as The Blonde
Lewis Martin as Psychiatrist
Dick Elliott as Apartment Manager
Harry Tyler as Charlie
Juanita Moore as Black Woman – Mental Patient
Joy Hallward as Fellow Worker
Adeline De Walt Reynolds as The Old Lady
Claude Akins as Police Officer

Credits:

Directed by Roy Rowland
Produced by Chester Erskine
Screenplay by Chester Erskine, Nunnally Johnson
Music by Herschel Burke Gilbert
Cinematography John Alton
Edited by Robert Swink

Production company: Chester Erskine Productions

Distributed by United Artists

Release date: April 15, 1954

Running time: 83 minutes

Note:

TCM showed the movie on January 17, 2021.