Hostile Witness (1968)
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as Simon Crawford Q.C.
as Sheila Larkin
as Mr. Justice Osborne
as Charles Milburn
as Court Clerk
as John Naylor
as Inspector Elsy
as Maj. Hugh Maitland
as Sir Matthew Gregory
as Julia Kelly
as Hamish Gillespie
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Ray Milland With No One to Turn Down the Histrionics
It's always the danger of self-directed films. The director has, as part of his job, getting the star to give a performance that fits the work at hand. If the director and the star are the same person, there's no one who is capable of telling the star that they are either overdoing things and chewing scenery or else giving such a laid-back performance that they might as well be phoning it in. (The latter is almost never the case.) It isn't always the case, of course. I have seen some impressive performances from people who were directing themselves. I think that is a sign of a truly talented actor, one who is capable of looking at the part and knowing what the right way of presenting it is. However, I would say that it's easy for someone holding both roles to get a little full of themselves and want to be the center of attention onscreen.
In this case, our star and director is Ray Milland, who is playing Simon Crawford. I don't entirely understand the British legal system, but he appears to be one of many people who got his start as a prosecutor and now is a defense attorney. One day, his daughter (Sandra Fehr) is on her way to a party celebrating her father's most recent victory, and she is run down in the street. Crawford has a minor breakdown, but he is helped upon his release from the hospital by Justice Matthew Gregory (Percy Marmont). One night, Crawford is attacked in the courtyard behind their houses and Gregory is stabbed. Crawford is put on trial for murder, because it is believed that he has come to believe that Gregory was responsible for Joanna's death. Crawford is not exactly his own best advocate, but he knows he is not guilty, and he is determined not to plead anything but, even though it is suggested that he might be able to plead insanity and severe emotional disturbance. He will settle for nothing less than acquittal.
To be honest, I missed some of what was going on, so I wasn't sure for a lot of the movie whether Crawford was guilty or not. Certainly his behaviour wasn't exactly convincing me of his innocence. He took over his defense from Sheila Larkin (Sylvia Syms), a young lawyer in his own office, who he assigned to the case because she'd do what she was told. Obviously, she didn't, and the fact that he was so determined that she should was on the list of things which made me wonder. She's right when she says that Crawford is arrogant and demanding, and that made it seem to me as though he might have decided to take matters into his own hands, getting revenge over justice. Yes, the plot would have been a bit on the elaborate side, but that doesn't mean they wouldn't have written it. From what I've read, it doesn't even necessarily mean that no one would have followed through on that. I've read about some ridiculously complicated murder plots, and this one is merely unnecessarily complicated.
I'll admit I'm also not entirely satisfied with the outcome. It seems a little too pat. There isn't really enough setup. This may in part be because it's based on a stage play, and it wouldn't surprise me to know that the stage play is entirely set in the court, never showing any other set. At best, there is probably a scene or two where the characters are conferring in the courtroom while court is not in session. This means that there was no room to establish that someone had threatened Crawford's and Gregory's lives twenty-five years earlier. It also seems to me that a person's war record ought to be the sort of thing you'd check before hiring them, if they were making a point of using it as a reason you'd hire them. That may be just me, though, and it's certainly true that a person claiming a war record they don't have has come up long after the fact in real life as well. Sometimes in far more prominent circumstances than it does here.
I like Ray Milland and always have, ever since I was a child and he was "the guy who played Mr. Bolt in [i]Escape to Witch Mountain[/i]." Part of the problem with his appearance here, however, may be that he comes across as ominous even when he isn't necessarily supposed to. Not always, but it's also why I've never been able to take him seriously as a romantic lead when I was supposed to. The fact is, you believe that he could have done it, even if you don't necessarily believe he did. On the other hand, I don't know if that justifies how completely obscure this movie is. I'm not sure why, exactly, it ended up on my Netflix queue. As you know, sometimes movies just seem to appear there. However, I'm rather glad it did, even if this wasn't exactly High Art. Once again, I am the first person of Rotten Tomatoes users to review a movie, and I'm not at all surprised by that. I think it would be nice, though, to be able to talk it over with someone else and discover if the things which kind of got me were just me, though. That's half the fun of watching movies anyway.
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