Witness to Murder (1954)

I was feeling like watching an old movie and Witness to Murder caught my attention for two reasons. First, I had never heard of it and yet it was on my IMDb watchlist. Weird, right? Second, and most important, the title. 

It follows Cheryl Draper (Barbara Stanwyck), a woman who wakes up on a stormy night and sees Albert Richter (George Sanders), her neighbour in the apartment across the street, strangling a woman. She calls the police to report the murder but when the police respond to the call, the detectives (Gary Merrill and Jesse White) don't find anything out of the ordinary in Richter's apartment so they don't believe her. Richter then tries to paint her as some crazy woman, but one of the detectives (Gary Merrill) develops an attachment to Cheryl and helps her.

The plot is very similar to Alfred Hitchcock Rear Window's (fun fact, both movies were released in 1954 but Witness to Murder was actually released months before Rear Window), only it has fewer twists, predictable turns, many plot holes and nonsensical things happening. In spite of that, it is interesting and engaging and, even though it loses its grip a little toward the end and the ending is too rushed and feels like it was just thrown in there to end the film, it keeps you glued to the screen for its thankfully short running times (1 hour and 20 minutes). 

Just like the plot, the characters suffer as well. They are interesting and nicely written at first, but as the plot moves forward, the writing gets kinda lazy. I like that Cheryl isn't just some woman. She is a middle-aged career woman without a man, which is the reason the police dismisses her so easily and probably never questions all the silly things Ritcher does. She is a strong, independent woman trying to prove she's right, but she is soon labelled as insane and put in a hospital and we have to suffer a psychiatric hospital sequence that goes nowhere.

United Artists
As for Richter, he isn't that good either. He starts off as a sophisticated writer --so it kind of make sense the police don't believe Cheryl-- and then it turns out he is a former Nazi who writes books that promote the ideology of the Third Reich. This happens for one reason only, in my opinion, the character was too bland and the writers needed something to make him a tiny bit more interesting --a theory supported by the fact that, even after we all, both audience and film's characters, know he is a Nazi, the police still don't suspect him.

All of that being said, the actors do a pretty good job. Though she struggles a little in her solo scenes, Barbara Stanwyck gives a good performance as Cheryl, a tormented woman who is driven insane, and captures the character's fear, determination and courage very well. George Sanders makes a quite impressive villain and makes the whole Nazi thing believable. Gary Merrill is decent as the detective who believes Cheryl, mostly because he falls for her.

Roy Rowland's direction is a bit flat. There are tension and suspense but it's little and the climax isn't that exciting. John Alton's photography, on the other hand, though nothing original for the genre, is excellent.


  1. Yeah...it’s the 50s so any woman who can hold her own must be nuts. Barbara Stanwyck can usually do something great even if she was given the lines from Sharknado. George Sanders always plays an excellent villain and is a great actor. I haven’t seen this film but would like to.

    1. I'm sure you'd enjoy it. By the way, I need to check out more from Stanwyck.