Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Witness to Murder


It starts out as a pretty good noir thriller. Barbara Stanwyck gets up in the middle of the night to shut her window, and sees someone across the street strangling a woman. She calls the cops. Meanwhile, George Sanders, the murderer, has time to drag the corpse to an empty apartment. When the cops arrive, there’s no body, no evidence. The detective, Gary Merrill, suggests she just had a very vivid dream. She doesn’t believe it, and tries to get evidence on her own. But Sanders is a sly old fox; he begins “gaslighting” her. (That’s really a word, derived from the classic Ingrid Bergman film Gaslight. It means to try to drive someone really nuts by making it look like she’s nuts.) He writes threatening letters to himself on her typewriter, and other things to make it look like she’s a crazy woman who is stalking him. Though Merrill (who is falling in love with her) doesn’t think she’s crazy, there’s nothing he can do to protect her. She ends up in the loony ward of a hospital, where she meets one of the world’s worst physchiatrists. It’s clear that she’s in peril of being committed to an asylum, so she shuts up and agrees she must have been hallucinating.

And then it goes bad. Sanders can’t leave well enough alone. He writes a suicide note and intends to throw her out a window. She flees, and does the stupid thing, climbing up a tall building under construction. How better to make it easy for Sanders? And then he does a stupid thing, which is to pursue her. If he’d just stood pat he could have continued his game and been perfectly safe. But no, he has to climb the building, too, with police close behind both of them, so the cops can witness him trying to kill her. Guess who goes over the side? And guess who has to be rescued from a crumbling scaffold in a ridiculous last scene?

This movie was made solely to cash in on Hitchcock’s Rear Window, to which it is vastly inferior.