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The mob's on trial in Star Witness (1931), but it's not just the criminals who are found guilty. The film also places responsibility in the hands of the public - the scared and silent witnesses that are too often afraid to come forward.
Star Witness centers on the Leeds family, a typical American household, who witness a vicious mob battle outside their apartment that ends with a murderer running through their living room. The entire family sees the killer and can identify him. But when the Leeds' statements put the kingpin behind bars, his associates terrorize the family to stop them from testifying in court.
Led by Chic Sale as the Civil War veteran grandfather, the stellar cast includes Walter Huston as the District Attorney and Dickie Moore as the youngest Leeds. Sally Blane, who plays Sue Leeds, was the sister of Loretta Young. Her given name was Elizabeth Jane Young. Star Witness was to be director William Wellman's first film at Warner Bros. after leaving Paramount. But the film faced some changes in development. The film's original title was Precious Little Star, which was later changed to The Man Who Dared, finally settling on The Star Witness. With all the delays, a Joe E. Brown flick Maybe It's Love (1930) ended up being Wellman's first WB outing.
It was a real life incident that spiked interest in Star Witness. In Harlem, a gang shooting occurred in which several children were shot. But police were unable to convince witnesses to talk in the case. Capitalizing on this front page story, Warner Bros. rushed the film into theatres while agreeing to turn over all proceeds from the first two screenings of Star Witness at the Winter Garden Theater in New York to the families of five children injured by gang bullets. This sensationalistic ploy worked like a charm and Star Witness was well received by audiences of its era. It was so popular that WB remade it years later as The Man Who Dared in 1939 starring Charley Grapewin and Jane Bryant.
Director: William A. Wellman
Screenplay: Lucien Hubbard
Cinematography: James Van Trees
Film Editing: Harold McLernon
Original Music: Alois Reiser (uncredited)
Principal Cast: Walter Huston (Dist. Atty. Whitlock), Frances Starr (Ma Leeds), Grant Mitchell (Pa Leeds), Sally Blane (Sue Leeds), Edward J. Nugent (Jackie Leeds).
by Stephanie Thames