Witness to Murder

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Witness to Murder
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Roy Rowland
Produced by Chester Erskine
Screenplay by Chester Erskine
Nunnally Johnson
Starring Barbara Stanwyck
George Sanders
Gary Merrill
Music by Herschel Burke Gilbert
Cinematography John Alton
Edited by Robert Swink
Chester Erskine Productions
Distributed by United Artists
Release date
  • April 15, 1954 (1954-04-15) (United States)
Running time
83 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Witness to Murder is a 1954 suspense film starring Barbara Stanwyck. While the film received moderately positive reviews, it ended up as an also-ran to Alfred Hitchcock's somewhat similar Rear Window, which opened less than a month later. The latter picture was a box-office hit.[1]


Cheryl Draper (Barbara Stanwyck), while looking out her bedroom window, witnesses a young woman being strangled to death and reports it to the police; but, when the killer, a man named Albert Richter (George Sanders), sees detectives arriving downstairs, he moves the body. When the police show up to his door, Richter acts nonchalant, and, when no body is found, the police are convinced that Draper dreamt it.

The next day, Richter puts the body in a trunk and leaves to dispose of it. While he is out, Draper notices that the man's apartment is for rent, and she is given a tour by the building manager (Dick Elliott). She finds torn drapery (which Richter dubiously re-ripped in front of the police) and a pair of earrings. Richter returns and sees Draper drive away to the police department with the earrings. He preemptively phones the police, and Draper is then accused of robbery. The two confront each other at the police station, but Richter opts not to press charges. However, the scene leaves Police Lt. Lawrence Mathews (Gary Merrill) suspicious.

Mathews goes to Draper's apartment and tells her that Richter is an ex-Nazi who had been "denazified" and is now an unsuccessful author who is marrying a wealthy heiress. The two meet again when the body of an unidentified woman is found in a park. Draper comes off as conspiratorial and Mathews believes she is pretending and obsessing about the case—he believes she is telling the truth that she saw something, but does not think what she saw was reality. She is forcibly admitted to an insane asylum after Richter surreptitiously types threatening messages from Draper to him to frame her as crazy and a threat to his safety.

While Draper is away, Mathews and a fellow policeman go to the apartment building of the deceased woman to see if anyone there recognizes Richter—no one does, and the police have no case. After Draper is released, Richter is at her home and confesses that he killed the girl because she was insignificant to him and he did not want his future wealth to be threatened. However, because she is officially labeled insane by the police and has no credibility, he does not fear admitting anything to her.

Richter later returns to her home with a purported suicide note wherein Draper says she will kill herself, and he tries to push her out of her window. Just as he is about to throw her out, a policewoman buzzes at the door and Draper flees. She is pursued by Richter, as well as the police, who think she is suicidal. Draper runs up a high-rise that is under construction, and gets to the top and is cornered by Richter. He pushes her off the tower, but there are a few construction planks below the precipice onto which she falls and is saved. Mathews arrives and Richter attempts to push him off as well, but after a brief struggle, it is Richter who falls to his death. Mathews rescues Draper and the police now come to believe her story.


Critical response[edit]

Film critic Dennis Schwartz appreciated the work of cinematographer John Alton but gave the film a mixed review, writing, "The camerawork of John Alton is the star of this vehicle. His camerawork sets a dark mood of the Los Angeles scenario, escalating the dramatics with shadowy building shots. The twist in the story is that as upstanding a citizen as Stanwyck is, the authorities still side with the Nazi Sanders because he has a higher status. The noir theme of alienation is richly furnished. But the rub is in the story's credibility -- Stanwyck was just too strong a character to be so completely victimized."[2]


Witness to Murder was featured on Lux Video Theatre in January 1956, starring Audrey Totter, Onslow Stevens and Paul Langton in the leading roles.[3]


  1. ^ Witness to Murder on IMDb.
  2. ^ Schwartz, Dennis . Ozus' World Movie Reviews, film review, July 31, 2000. Accessed: July 8, 2013.
  3. ^ "Witness to Murder". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved August 16, 2014.

External links[edit]