Key Witness (1960)

81 mins | Adventure, Drama | October 1960

Director:

Phil Karlson

Producer:

Kathryn Hereford

Cinematographer:

Harold E. Wellman

Editor:

Ferris Webster

Production Designers:

George W. Davis, Malcolm Brown

Production Companies:

Avon Productions, Inc., Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
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HISTORY

Although the film is listed in the copyright register under the number "LP15382," that number is incorrect, and the correct number has not been identified. The opening credits contain the following statement: "The story you are about to see is fictional; but all good fiction is based on some truth; and the truth of this story is, that it may happen every day throughout the entire world. It can happen to you now in your town. If you fail to give your support to the laws you make; give your strength to justice, to decency and to the innocent. Law without enforcement is only a word. Enforcement without your help is not possible." The statement ends with the signature of Stanley Mosk, Attorney General, State of California.
       According to information in the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, in Apr 1958, when M-G-M submitted material on the proposed film to the PCA, officials stated "we do not feel that we can approve a picture based on this material. A year ago...we agreed that this office would not approve any more sadistically conceived juvenile delinquency pictures, which were filled with violence and savagery. We so informed producers generally, and since then there have been no pictures of this type presented." A script dated 3 Sep 1959 was similarly rejected as "unacceptable under the Code," and PCA officials informed the studio, "this story is filled with an accumulation of violence, savagery, and sadism to such a degree as to seem almost orgiastic." They warned of "an ominous background of public wrath" against such pictures and stated they could not "approve a film even remotely containing ... More Less

Although the film is listed in the copyright register under the number "LP15382," that number is incorrect, and the correct number has not been identified. The opening credits contain the following statement: "The story you are about to see is fictional; but all good fiction is based on some truth; and the truth of this story is, that it may happen every day throughout the entire world. It can happen to you now in your town. If you fail to give your support to the laws you make; give your strength to justice, to decency and to the innocent. Law without enforcement is only a word. Enforcement without your help is not possible." The statement ends with the signature of Stanley Mosk, Attorney General, State of California.
       According to information in the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, in Apr 1958, when M-G-M submitted material on the proposed film to the PCA, officials stated "we do not feel that we can approve a picture based on this material. A year ago...we agreed that this office would not approve any more sadistically conceived juvenile delinquency pictures, which were filled with violence and savagery. We so informed producers generally, and since then there have been no pictures of this type presented." A script dated 3 Sep 1959 was similarly rejected as "unacceptable under the Code," and PCA officials informed the studio, "this story is filled with an accumulation of violence, savagery, and sadism to such a degree as to seem almost orgiastic." They warned of "an ominous background of public wrath" against such pictures and stated they could not "approve a film even remotely containing the amount of arrogant aggressiveness and anti-social violence which this script contains." The PCA demanded that "some scenes of the innate health and weight of society would have to be developed so that it would not seem to be ineffectual or easily violable by insolent, psychotic hoodlums as in the present script."
       Among other desired changes, the PCA asked the studio not to dramatize the first killing, to eliminate an attempt by the gang to run down "Apple" with a car, and to cut out a telephone threat to "sexually abuse Morrow's daughter." The studio complied with all these requests. In addition, PCA officials objected to the depiction of "Muggles" as a "dope addict" and the portrayal of "Ruby" as "a shameless little nymphomaniac," commenting, "The description of the way she dresses, walks, provokes men sexually, and particularly how she throws herself on the back seat of the automobile with her legs deliberately open in coaxing Cowboy, is nothing short of abominable." On 2 Oct 1959, following the first three days of rushes, although a number of changes had been made or promised, the PCA warned M-G-M that they still could not guarantee that the final film would be acceptable and cautioned, "Proceeding with it under these conditions is a gamble pure and simple on the part of the Studio."
       According to an HR news item, at the time of production, Pandro S. Berman was to be listed as the film's line producer, but when the film was released a year later, Kathryn Hereford, "for many years [Berman's] girl Friday," who married Berman following the film's completion, received the credit. Jul 1959 HR news items state that Robert Stack and Lee Remick were both considered for roles in the picture. According to a 29 Sep 1959 HR news item, Inger Stevens, who was on loan to M-G-M from Paramount, was suspended for refusing a role in the film. A 22 Jul 1959 HR news item notes that M-G-M pushed back the production date for the film in hopes that Anthony Franciosa would be available; however, he did not appear in the film. A 17 Sep 1959 HR news item adds Darrell Jensen to the cast, but his appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. HR reported in Sep 1958 that Larry Marcus was to do the screenplay, but Marcus' participation in the final film has not been confirmed.
       Portions of the film were shot on location in various sections of Los Angeles, CA. According to the pressbook, the freeway scenes were shot in five nights between 8 p.m. and 4 a.m. on an unopened segment of the Santa Ana Freeway.
       Reviews generally praised the film, although HR and Var criticized its element of racism. The HR review stated, "It is done pointlessly and to no particular advantage." Var commented, "Only important flaw is an unnecessary scene in which references are made [Johnny] Nash's race, Negro. It's been established earlier that the Negro's the only decent one in the gang, so adding the realtor's racial prejudices into the conflict then promptly resolving them--all in a few final minutes--is dramatically unsound." More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
3 Oct 1960.
---
Daily Variety
17 Sep 1958.
---
Daily Variety
27 Sep 60
p. 3.
Film Daily
27 Sep 60
p. 10.
Harrison's Reports
1 Oct 60
p. 158.
Hollywood Citizen-News
13 Oct 1960.
---
Hollywood Reporter
2 Jul 1959
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
22 Jul 1959
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
24 Jul 1959
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Sep 1959.
---
Hollywood Reporter
29 Sep 1959.
---
Hollywood Reporter
9 Aug 1960.
---
Hollywood Reporter
20 Sep 1960.
---
Hollywood Reporter
27 Sep 60
p. 3.
Los Angeles Examiner
13 Oct 1960.
---
Los Angeles Times
14 Oct 60
Section 11, p. 8.
Motion Picture Daily
23 Oct 1960.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
1 Oct 60
p. 860.
New York Times
12 Nov 60
p. 15.
The Exhibitor
14 Sep 60
p. 4750.
Variety
28 Sep 60
p. 6.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Pandro S. Berman Production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set dec
COSTUMES
Women's cost
MUSIC
SOUND
Rec supv
MAKEUP
PRODUCTION MISC
Unit prod mgr
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel Key Witness by Frank Kane (New York, 1956).
AUTHOR
DETAILS
Release Date:
October 1960
Production Date:
late September--10 November 1959
Copyright Claimant:
Loew's Inc. & Avon Productions, Inc.
Copyright Date:
3 March 1960
Copyright Number:
Physical Properties:
Sound
Westrex Recording System
Black and White
Widescreen/ratio
CinemaScope
Lenses/Prints
Photographic lenses by Panavision
Duration(in mins):
81
Length(in feet):
7,239
Length(in reels):
9
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
19514
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

Fred Morrow, a Los Angeles real estate agent, gets off the freeway in an East L.A. neighborhood and makes a phone call at a café frequented by teenagers. While on the phone, he witnesses the fatal stabbing of Emelio Sanchez by gang leader William L. Tompkins, known as "Cowboy," who found Emelio dancing with his flirtatious girl friend, Ruby. When none of the many neighborhood witnesses come forward to testify to the police, Fred steps forward and relates Emelio's dying words, "Cowboy did it." At police headquarters, Fred identifies Cowboy's mug shot to Detective Rafael Torno, who is fearful he will lose Fred's cooperation once he discovers the possible consequences of being the only witness to the murder. At the gang's hangout in a garage, Cowboy becomes frantic when he learns from a newspaper article that Emelio has died and that the district attorney has a mystery witness. After Ruby relates that she saw police officer Hurley write down Fred's name and address, "Muggles," a beat-talking drug addict, comes up with a plan to get Hurley's notebook. While Hurley is making his neighborhood rounds, "Apple," an African-American member of the gang, and the only one who was visibly pained when Emelio was stabbed, attacks Ruby and takes her purse, then runs into an alley and hides. When Hurley follows, Cowboy knocks him over the head with a pipe, and they take Hurley's notebook and gun. Cowboy calls Fred's home and learns from his young daughter that he and his wife Ann have gone to the supermarket. Apple tries to talk Cowboy out of killing Fred, but Cowboy orders him to go away ... +


Fred Morrow, a Los Angeles real estate agent, gets off the freeway in an East L.A. neighborhood and makes a phone call at a café frequented by teenagers. While on the phone, he witnesses the fatal stabbing of Emelio Sanchez by gang leader William L. Tompkins, known as "Cowboy," who found Emelio dancing with his flirtatious girl friend, Ruby. When none of the many neighborhood witnesses come forward to testify to the police, Fred steps forward and relates Emelio's dying words, "Cowboy did it." At police headquarters, Fred identifies Cowboy's mug shot to Detective Rafael Torno, who is fearful he will lose Fred's cooperation once he discovers the possible consequences of being the only witness to the murder. At the gang's hangout in a garage, Cowboy becomes frantic when he learns from a newspaper article that Emelio has died and that the district attorney has a mystery witness. After Ruby relates that she saw police officer Hurley write down Fred's name and address, "Muggles," a beat-talking drug addict, comes up with a plan to get Hurley's notebook. While Hurley is making his neighborhood rounds, "Apple," an African-American member of the gang, and the only one who was visibly pained when Emelio was stabbed, attacks Ruby and takes her purse, then runs into an alley and hides. When Hurley follows, Cowboy knocks him over the head with a pipe, and they take Hurley's notebook and gun. Cowboy calls Fred's home and learns from his young daughter that he and his wife Ann have gone to the supermarket. Apple tries to talk Cowboy out of killing Fred, but Cowboy orders him to go away and keep his mouth shut. The gang ram Fred and Ann in their car after they leave the supermarket and push them through an intersection, nearly causing an accident. Muggles then pulls a gun on Ann, while Cowboy warns Fred to tear up the affidavit. Fred reports the incident to Torno, who arranges police protection for the Morrows. That evening, Cowboy phones and gives Fred until midnight to rip up the affidavit, or else, he says, his wife and children will die. When a note tied to a rock is thrown through their living room window, Fred prepares to take his crying children and Ann to a motel, but they find that their car has been vandalized and the tires slashed. When the police arrive, Fred expresses his anger. Meanwhile, Torno goes to see Apple, whom he once arrested with Cowboy, but Apple denies being with Cowboy that day. At ten minutes to twelve, Cowboy phones Fred, who tells him to go to hell. Ann becomes hysterical, yelling that the gang will slit their throats. As Cowboy and the gang prepare to torch the Morrows' house with kerosene, Apple comes to the garage asking for money so that he can leave town. Torno and the police, who have followed Apple, surprise the gang, but Cowboy escapes in a stolen Jaguar and leads the police on a chase through Los Angeles streets and freeways. After eluding them by turning the wrong way up an exit ramp, Cowboy drives over an embankment. Torno catches him on foot and subdues him. Meanwhile, Apple's mother interrupts him as he is packing to tell him that Muggles, Ruby and another gang member, "Magician," have come for him. When Apple tells his mother that he is leaving to take a job in San Diego, she indignantly says that although she scrubs floors for a living, she is not a fool, but he asks her to believe him and she says she does. Magician, a racist, hits Apple, whom they accuse of purposely leading the police to the garage. When Muggles pulls a gun on him, Ruby takes it away, saying she believes Apple. That night, Fred identifies Cowboy through a one-way glass at the police station. The next day, Ruby decides to kidnap the Morrows' children. Apple is aghast, but the others agree to her plan. As Fred is about to testify, Ruby attacks Ann in the courthouse hallway. When Fred learns about the attack, he testifies he was mistaken in his identification of Cowboy. Meanwhile, on the playground at the children’s school, Muggles locates the Morrows' son and pulls a gun. Apple hits his arm as Muggles shoots, wounding the boy. As they drive off, Apple rolls out of the moving car. Muggles sees him run to Fred's house and tells Cowboy, now free on bail. When Fred finds Apple at the Morrow home, Fred slugs him and makes a racist remark, then tries to provoke him into a fight. Apple asks help to reach Torno, but Fred taunts him, saying facetiously that he should tell the newspapers he is underprivileged, fatherless, hungry, lonely or mentally ill, so that they will protect him. When Fred calls him "boy," Apple is about to leave, when the gang shows up. Cowboy pulls a switchblade, and Fred tries to protect Apple. The gang make a circle around the two, and Cowboy asks Fred why he is risking his life for a "nigger." After another racist remark, they fight, and Fred knocks the knife away. Torno then arrives with the police, who capture the gang. Fred tells him that now he has two key witnesses. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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