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  Your Witness Hands Across The Water
Year: 1950
Director: Robert Montgomery
Stars: Robert Montgomery, Leslie Banks, Felix Aylmer, Andrew Cruickshank, Patricia Cutts, Harcourt Williams, Jenny Laird, Michael Ripper, Ann Stephens, Wylie Watson, Noel Howlett, James Hayter, John Sharp, Shelagh Fraser, Meadows White
Genre: Comedy, Drama, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Adam Heyward (Robert Montgomery) is a lawyer in New York City who while he is in the middle of a case at the court is interrupted by his assistant with a telegram. Once he has forced a mistrial and seen his client get off scot free, he returns to his office and has a discussion with the assistant about what is to be done about this message from across the Atlantic, which tells him an old Army buddy who saved his life at Anzio is now in deep trouble and needs his own life saving. He is Sam Baxter (Michael Ripper) and he has been arrested for murder, an act he claims was in self-defence when he was confronted by his business partner at the stables they ran in a quiet village just outside London. Can Adam afford to get involved?

Well, if he doesn't it'll be a short film in this, one of popular star Robert Montgomery's last acting roles before his attentions turned to production, a little more direction, and eventually business and political interests away from filmmaking. Maybe he felt he had said all he needed to say in the realm of entertainment, but in his projects where he took care of business behind the camera previous to this he had been drawn to experimentation and eccentricity judging by such movies as the first person camera Raymond Chandler adaptation The Lady in the Lake or his curious, Mexican film noir Ride the Pink Horse. By the time he made this, it was the novelty of its location that appeared to be the main draw.

It certainly wasn't the plot or the technique, the former being your basic "secure freedom for innocent man" courtroom thriller and the latter not much more adventurous than much of what the rest of the British film industry was churning out at the time. Those Brit productions were growing more and more keen to attract international talent to their efforts, all to cash in on a market abroad and offer a certain kudos to them back at home for putting an American in your movie was a perceived stamp of approval from the experts at the filmmaking business over in Hollywood. What this meant was a lot of rather awkwardly presented foreigners taking the leads, and Montgomery went further than some of his countrymen by emphasising those cultural gulfs.

Indeed, that appeared to be the sole purpose of the film at times, though the dialogue, credited to William Douglas-Home, a playwright whose biggest claim to fame was as brother to one of the shortest-serving British Prime Ministers Alec Douglas-Home, went to such lengths to play up the culture clash that it just seemed ridiculous, with local characters not knowing what Adam means by "An open and shut case" or even "Where can I catch up with him?" Do these people never have any access to American entertainment? It was very difficult to believe, and proved a sticking point to more than the protagonist, especially when you heard the variety of accents this village was blessed with, a cut class-voiced Patricia Cutts as the love interest, Devon burr from the police constable, and a Northerner for the publican.

According to this, Adam might as well be speaking Swahili to residents' responses in Cantonese, but once you had accepted such exaggerations, you had Montgomery swanning his way around a picturesque region as he gathered information which could exonerate Sam, hampered by the fact that as an American lawyer he can do nothing in the courtroom except sit and watch. He's not having that, and by and by has turned amateur sleuth in between rather dry extracts from the court case which amount to very little when the big twist arrives somewhat out of the blue, though still with Adam's machinations. The point was clear, that the "special relationship" which had done so much good for the globe during the Second World War should not be allowed to flag, and we should encourage both sides to stick up for each other, all very laudable in a friendly framework the film was promoting. This was also of note as the last film of popular, distinctive leading character actor Leslie Banks, who played the Lord of the Manor to all intents and purposes. Music by Malcolm Arnold (dig that intro!).

[Network's DVD is part of its British Film line with a nice print and a gallery as an extra.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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