Hostile Witness (1968) Could Have Been Shorter
Hostile Witness, a 1968 courtroom drama, features veteran actor Ray Milland as successful British barrister Simon Crawford who gets a little screwy. Early in the film, he is the most pleasant man. He’s just won a case, so that doesn’t hurt, and everyone seems crazy about him. Then his daughter (Sandra Fehr) is killed by a hit-and-run driver and he’s not such a nice guy anymore. In fact, the last time we saw Ray Milland this obnoxious and miserable his head was attached to Roosevelt Grier’s body in The Thing with Two Heads.
When his daughter dies he visits neighbors and rants that if he ever finds out who killed her, he’ll kill him. A man knocks over a picture of Crawford’s daughter while visiting his office and Crawford goes off the deep end, trying to strangle him. He’s interrupted by his staff and spends the next three months in hospital recovering from a “complete mental breakdown.” When he gets out of the hospital, he returns to his flat and practice.
Soon he is found knocked unconscious outside of his home, and the man next door is found stabbed to death. There is a plethora of evidence that points toward the barrister, and he’s arrested. His one alibi witness is the daft Major Mailtand (Geoffrey Lumsden in one of the better performances) who is not so great with details (to be blunt, he’s a twit). Maitland is listed as a prosecution witness, but the prosecutor declares him a hostile witness and decides not to put him on the stand. As it turns out, he’s not the only hostile witness.
The case drags on, it doesn’t look good for Crawford, a few red herrings swim by, and everyone’s asking him to plead insanity because he is “mentally ill.” What the audience is supposed to be asking itself is “Is he insane or innocent?,” and those audience members who are still awake may do that.
Hostile Witness is 101 slow-moving minutes punctuated by Ray Milland scowling. By the time we have the answer to that question we were supposed to be asking ourselves, we’ve run out of patience (and curiosity). A few audience members may not guess the ending halfway through the movie, but that’s because they fell asleep at the quarter mark.
Hostile Witness is not a bad movie, just a tiresome one. Recently released as part of the MGM Limited Edition Collection, it is available on DVD from on-line retailers and is manufactured on demand.