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Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Classic Film Review: Town On Trial (1957)

Town on Trial stars John Mills as Superintendent Halloran, a detective brought in to investigate the death of an attractive young woman who was adored by all the men of the community and loathed by most of the women. The film begins with the arrest of a mystery man and, as a police officer begins reading his statement, we are taken back to the day of the murder. There are three suspects highlighted: married Mark Roper (Derek Farr), the victim's ex-boyfriend Peter Crowley (Alec McCowen) and Dr Fenner (Charles Coburn). Halloran finds his methods under scrutiny as the murderer evades justice and threatens to kill again.

This was a tense film with some expected twists and some unexpected ones leading to a genuinely nail-biting climax, beautifully filmed and acted. John Mills is as dependable as ever as Halloran and the rest of the main cast is acceptable, with the exception of Charles Coburn who is thoroughly excellent. However, the supporting cast of wives, parents and friends is patchy in places and, though they add to the overall effect of the 'town on trial', occasionally their scenes feel a little laboured.

Another problem with this film stemmed from the romance between Halloran and Dr Fenner's niece, Elizabeth (Barbara Bates). There was no need for this relationship to become romantic - it was awkward and unnecessary, seeming only to provide an ally for Halloran who would criticise him at the crucial moment. I think the relationship would've been much stronger as a mere friendship and this would've saved the audience from some shoddy scenes between the pair. Taken otherwise, however, Barbara Bates is very good as Elizabeth.

Overall, I enjoyed Town on Trial. It kept my attention throughout, particularly with the gigantic red herring towards the end which was excellently played. This film is worth watching for the finale alone with Mills at his best. This is a tense mystery with a good ending - to the actual murder plot, at least.

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