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It should come as no surprise that Ray Milland acted in and directed the late 1960s courtroom drama Hostile Witness (1968); he had been close to the project for years, having starred in the play upon which the film was based. Although the play was a modest success at the time (at least in the number of productions staged), the film adaptation received little notice upon release.
Synopsis: London barrister Simon Crawford (Ray Milland) is unusually successful at defending seemingly guilty clients; a jealous prosecutor observes that it is because "juries like his face." At his flat, Crawford overhears a car strike his daughter Joanna (Sandra Fehr), who is walking home from the florist shop. She dies in the hospital, and Crawford obsesses in his quest to find the hit-and-run driver, described only as "a man in a black car." Eight weeks after the accident, Crawford screams at his latest private investigator (Harold Berens), who has found no clues; Crawford even threatens to kill the man when he knocks over a framed photo of his daughter. One night Crawford is returning to his flat when he is knocked unconscious from behind. He is discovered by his friend, Maj. Hugh Maitland (Geoffrey Lumsden), who takes him in so he can recover. The next morning it is discovered that near to the time of Crawford's blackout, his neighbor, the high-court justice Matthew Gregory (Percy Marmont) has been stabbed to death. Unable to account for his time and recently susceptible to violent outbursts, Crawford becomes the chief suspect in the case, since Gregory was questioned about the hit-and-run. He is defended by Sheila Larkin (Sylvia Syms), an assistant in his practice, with the help of Charles Milburn (Norman Barrs), his senior clerk.
Jack Roffey had been a courtroom clerk and turned his experience into a writing career, landing a few teleplays for British television and eventually the long-running series Boyd Q.C. (1956-1964). His play Hostile Witness first appeared on London's West End and moved to Broadway in 1966. With Ray Milland in the lead, the Broadway run lasted 156 performances, after which Milland toured the U.S. with a road production. The critic for Time magazine skewered the play, writing that "Playwright Roffey may not know much about thrillers, but he certainly can throw a cataleptic trance." The reviewer found the play dull and the ending revelation difficult to swallow, and "enough clues turn up at the Old Bailey to fill a telephone book, and leafing through them is just as exciting." The lead actor was not spared either, when this critic noted, "it is difficult to know where the courtroom's wood paneling leaves off and Ray Milland begins."
Translated to film, Milland seems to have retained the ponderousness of the play, and the director does little to open up the story. Roffey wrote the screenplay, but director Milland adds little visually, and every scene is lit in the flat, bright fashion of television productions of the period. Stage-style acting dominates as well, although Sylvia Syms generates some genuine sympathy in her role. Hostile Witness was the fifth and last feature directed by Milland, who had also helmed several episodes of anthology TV series in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Producer: David E. Rose
Director: Ray Milland
Screenplay: Jack Roffey (screenplay, play)
Cinematography: Gerald Gibbs
Art Direction: George Provis
Music: Wilfred Josephs
Film Editing: Bernard Gribble
Cast: Ray Milland (Simon Crawford - Q.C.), Sylvia Syms (Sheila Larkin), Felix Aylmer (Justice Osborne), Raymond Huntley (John Naylor), Geoffrey Lumsden (Major Hugh Beresford Maitland), Norman Barrs (Charles Milburn), Percy Marmont (Justice Matthew Gregory), Dulcie Bowman (Lady Phyllis Gregory), Ewan Roberts (Hamish Gillespie), Richard Hurndall (Supt. Eley)
By John M. Miller