Brief Encounter – Rediscovering ‘Witness in the Dark’ (UK 1959 – 59 mins)

Posted in Rediscover by - April 05, 2015
Brief Encounter – Rediscovering ‘Witness in the Dark’ (UK 1959 – 59 mins)

In the 1950’s the UK churned out dozens of low budget second features, often featuring lesser-known actors and cheap sets. Many of these filler films were watchable at best, but as most of them ran for little more than an hour they were fairly easy to tolerate. Some of these movies though were actually very good, and one that stands out for me is the rather obscure 1959 thriller ‘Witness in the Dark’, a pretty standard picture but featuring a terrific central performance.

After a burglar (Nigel Green) kills an old lady in her flat, he encounters a young woman; Jane Pringle (Patricia Dainton) on the stairs below. Realizing that she is blind, he slowly passes Jane and makes his escape, while she only manages to briefly feel his overcoat. As the sole witness to the crime, Jane is relentlessly hounded by the police to recall any info that she can. When it comes to light that the old lady had left to Jane in her will, the valuable brooch which the man was after, she unwittingly becomes his potential next victim.

While there is no major plot twist that elevates the best of these B-movies, ‘Witness in the Dark’ does have a couple of those ‘surprise’ investigation moments, and the simple story is engaging enough to hold your interest. The scene where Jane meets the killer on the stairs is actually very tense, as the man realizes that she is blind and ignores her request to talk. Although she thinks herself a burden and is anguished at her lack of sight, it was Jane’s blindness that kept her from being the intruder’s second victim that day. The final confrontation between Jane and the murderer is also very suspenseful.

Attractive Patricia Dainton is excellent as Jane and easily convinces as a blind person. I tend to pay extra attention to actors when they are playing blind, in the expectation that at some point a crack will show in their performance. But here, Dainton is believable throughout and it’s a shame she took early retirement from acting just two years later. Respected actor Nigel Green played the quietly cold killer to great effect and his stocky frame made him more imposing against dainty Patricia Dainton. Green would later have memorable roles in the classic Michael Caine movies ‘Zulu’ (’64) and especially ‘The Ipcress File’ (’65), before his untimely death in 1972 from a barbiturate overdose. He was just 47 years old. Prolific television star Conrad Phillips was ideal as the kindly inspector on the case, and Madge Ryan was great as an annoyingly nosy neighbour.

German-born director Wolf Rilla does a serviceable job and uses some neat close-ups to help create more tension, especially in the worried face of Jane’s tormented character. Rilla’s biggest success would come the following year when he directed the terrific cult kiddie-shocker ‘Village of the Damned’ (’60). Canadian John Lemont wrote the tight screenplay which was based on dramatist James Parish’s original play. Lemont would later write and direct the excellent British noir ‘The Frightened City’ (’61) starring Herbert Lom and a pre-Bond Sean Connery.

A sadly little-known thriller ‘Witness in the Dark’ actually manages to flesh out the female lead’s interesting character and, at barely an hour in running time, it’s a taut potboiler and I think one of the best of the late Fifties B-movies.

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