Key Witness (1960) Poster


User Reviews

Review this title
19 Reviews
Sort by:
Filter by Rating:
Riveting noir by Phil Karlson
reelguy217 June 2003
Key Witness verges on the point of hysteria, and lacks credibility throughout, but it's still a riveting drama, directed by Phil Karlson in typically tough fashion.

Most of the performances are over-the-top, but as the witness to a gang stabbing, Jeffrey Hunter gives a standout performance. Without overacting, he brings plenty of energy and intensively to his role, playing an Everyman driven to the breaking point by the mob terrorizing him and his family. Next to Brainstorm (1965), this is his best work.

Although the film may infuriate you with its pat ending, you shouldn't be bored for an instant.
6 out of 6 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
only my most favorite movie ever!
bwanabe21 February 2006
Very rarely shown, I was fortunate to have seen it at its release.

Several dozen onlookers witness a daring gang murder, but only LA businessman Fred Morrow agrees to testify. His family is tormented by the youthful thugs, the police being unable to protect them from the gang's attacks and ever increasing violence. Will Morrow hang tough and perform his civic duty or will he recognize his mistake and develop amnesia, thereby allowing one of B-movie Hollywood's most brazen killers to go free? The theme music ("Ruby Duby Du"), written by Charles Wolcott, is absolutely haunting, and is far and away my favorite instrumental.

Jeffrey Hunter, Dennis Hopper, Pat Crowley, Johnny Nash and Susan Harrison make for a top-notch cast.

Four years after its release I met a person who likewise considered "Key Witness" his favorite movie. Forty-two years later we remain best friends.
7 out of 8 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Good acting trumps script defects in harrowing suspenser.
BrentCarleton14 January 2006
While it's true that the plot is frequently hampered by preposterous turns, this emerges as a genuinely harrowing thriller, largely owing to Jeffrey Hunter's conviction in the title role, as well as comely Patricia Crowley's interpretation as his panicked suburban wife.

It is to director Karlson's credit that he can take the improbable and still draw one in, such as the scene where Mr. Hunter's young son is shot by one of the thug's on the school playground--and one goes quite limp with horror.

And for all those doubting the veracity of witness retribution--try reading the daily newspapers.

However, Cinemasope is inappropriate for such an intimate story, and the cinematographer here is usually incapable of effectively composing for such a wide frame.

Look for Ted Knight in a bit as Dennis Hopper's defense attorney.
7 out of 8 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Very good film as I remembered seeing it 45 years ago.
hop2hop417 September 2005
Pretty good movie and relative to the times. But It was the song "Ruby Duby Du" that I remember. Its one of those tunes that once it gets into your head you can not stop it. I remember it being played throughout the movie but that was 46 years ago; maybe it was just the play on the radio and of course; bought the 45 as well. It was a hit song at the time. The gang leader's girl was named Ruby. As far as the film, story, itself; I remember the impression that movie gave me was one of helplessness or "how to fight such a terrible gang of young people". After all, its just a dad and his family. This was a movie about young thugs and a family. I could relate to the family but was frightened by the cold heartlessness of the gang. I remember the scene where the gang had entered the family's home and scratched the words "Key Witness" on the roof of their automobile inside the attached garage. That scene, for me, started the scary meanness threaded throughout the rest of the story. And oh yes, "the circle" with the father in the middle and finally one of the gang members went back-to-back with the dad as the movie's second hero. As I recall the daughter kinda liked that boy. Only the "Ruby Duby Du" song helped ease the tenseness for this 11 year old in 1960. I downloaded that song just a couple of years ago. Pretty cool dad...daddy-o.

7 out of 8 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Good Los Angeles Locations
jimddddd14 October 2011
By the late 1950s film noir was dead but the juvenile delinquent thriller, originally inspired by the novels of Hal Ellson from ten years earlier ("Duke," "The Golden Spike," etc), was thriving on the B-movie circuit. But MGM and producer Pandro Berman, perhaps hoping to repeat their 1955 success with "Blackboard Jungle," tried to blow "Key Witness" up into an A-movie, widescreen Cinemascope, "Rebel Without a Cause" alumni (Hopper, Corey Allen), and all. Though the plot relies on sometimes ridiculous turns (in one maddening scene, a deputy runs into a courtroom interrupting testimony) and the characters are mostly cartoons (Muggles certainly lives up to the first syllable in his name), director Phil Karlson's decision to shoot on the streets of Los Angeles keeps everything moderately realistic. The opening scene, set in a hilly slum neighborhood just north of City Hall in the Chinatown area (though it looks like old Bunker Hill and is referred to as "East L.A." in the film), immediately puts the viewer into the middle of the action and the period. If this film had been shot on a soundstage, as "Blackboard Jungle" was, it would have fallen apart within the first ten minutes, but once again L.A. saves the day. If you love the atmosphere of on-location films from this era, you'll enjoy the sensation of sitting through "Key Witness."
3 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
A Must for Hopper fans!
Tiger_Mark19 August 2002
I really enjoyed this film. However, I enjoy all films of this particular genre. Black and whites film from the late 1950's/early 1960's. Plenty of hip looking individuals with snappy lingo. The detectives wear hats and the punks are bad news. It reminds me of "Blackboard Jungle" or some Stanley Kramer film.The story is about doing the right thing, even when the wrong thing is much easier to do. Moreover, you get to see a young Dennis Hopper do his early version of Frank Booth from "Blue Velvet." Good stuff in a retro kind of way.
5 out of 6 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
It isn't that bad.
jefbecco25 October 2006
I think that people miss the historical aspect of this movie. It was 1960 and Hollywood was just figuring out how to make a "real" and gritty crime drama. Yes the film is bizarre - Father Knows Best meets The Wild Ones or The Blackboard Jungle. The average scriptwriter probably wasn't real familiar with the daily life of street criminals and the language would have gone right over their head.

But the movie shows the by 1960 crime was becoming more of a concern for the average middle class American family. People were starting to learn that their safe, secure little worlds, weren't and that the crime of the "lower class" neighborhoods was moving into their daily life.By 1970 middle class America would be much sadder and wiser, but this film shows that crime was a concern in during the good old days of President Ike.

Basically it's an interesting look at the time.It's one of the few older movies I've come across in which there is a reference to a character, even a villain, using Cocaine. Yes the thugs are too clean and they don't look like they smell. As a cop I can tell you the one thing that movies don't convey is the smell of that world. How can they?The only movie that I can think of that came the closest was "Training Day".

Don't compare this movie to modern productions, it isn't fair. Overacting and melodramatic scripts were normal and expected. Just watch shows like Star Trek,Route 66, The Big Valley and The Fugitive. Those shows were over the top by our standards, but not back then.It isn't that bad.
5 out of 7 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
MGM Takes A Walk On the Wild Side, Circa 1960
reprtr15 December 2014
KEY WITNESS, based on Frank Kane's novel of the same name, is sort of the successor to MGM's 1955 BLACKBOARD JUNGLE, but with more acting flourishes (mostly by the supporting cast) and realistic settings. By 1960, delinquency and gang violence were recognized as an unpleasant reality outside of "old" urban centers such as New York -- but also not always (or often) involving such well-scrubbed suburbanites as those depicted in REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE. Though its script stumbles in some notable places (a few involving basic logic -- except that this was a new world for many of the people who would have been watching in 1960), KEY WITNESS is a good depiction of the law abiding running up against the sociopathic lawless, with horrendous consequences for all concerned. The movie also plays, in somewhat naive fashion, on a racial angle in its plot and characterizations -- this is an odd touch, considering that the entire gang in Kane's book, if memory serves, was African-American. (Additionally, the book is more violent and also a lot more raunchy in terms of the Ruby character, who alludes to the idea of explaining her assault on the witness's wife because of a (rejected) lesbian overture in a courthouse ladies' room). The movie ends a little too squeaky clean and optimistically, not that differently from THE BLACKBOARD JUNGLE, but is more harrowing along the way. Along with releases such as THE SUBTERRANEANS, which was done around the same time, it was all a really interesting venture by MGM into territory far from its roots in high art and Americana, and an admission that the 1940s were long-gone. And anyone who likes the movie should check out the novel.
2 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Has its moments, but could have been much better in script, acting and direction!
JohnHowardReid3 July 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Copyright 1960 by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. New York opening at neighborhood theaters as a support to "Where the Hot Wind Blows": 11 November 1960. U.S. release: October 1960. Banned in the U.K. Australian release: 28 March 1962. Sydney opening as a support at the Liberty. Cut to 65 minutes in Australia. Original running time: 81 minutes.

SYNOPSIS: While making a phone call to his office, Los Angeles businessman Fred Morrow is witness to a brutal street killing in which a "drug-store romeo" is knifed to death for dancing with the girl of a hoodlum called Cowboy. After calling the police, Morrow is astounded to discover that none of the other witnesses to the murder are willing to testify. Though warned by police detective Rafael Torno that there may be dire consequences, Morrow agrees to be a key witness. Almost immediately, Morrow, his wife Ann and their two children are menaced by threatening phone calls, near auto accidents and ominous letters. Despite this, and prompted by a sense of civic duty, Morrow is adamant in his determination to see that Cowboy is brought to trial. But when the hoodlum is arrested, his gang swings into action.

NOTES: Film debut of singer, Johnny Nash.

COMMENT: Low-budget crime thriller, long on crime but short on thrills. It is quite obvious that young, idealistic Mr. Hunter is going to identify the killer in the court-room, so the film manages to build up very little suspense. Also, it is equally obvious that no-one is going to malign the Los Angeles Police Department in this film, so we never have any doubt that the police are going to provide Mr. Hunter and his family with solid protection.

Mr. Hunter, beautifully dressed and immaculately groomed, driving the latest model sedan and living in a lavishly appointed home in a tree-lined street, is hardly likely to elicit audience sympathy. Still, good to view Dennis Hopper, even if he is completely unrecognizable as the clean-shaven, short-haired killer, in the days before he became famous as director and star of Easy Rider.

Pat Crowley is colorless as Hunter's wife, while Susan Harrison goes to the other extreme with her exaggerated vamping as the killer's girl-friend. Miss Harrison is very unflatteringly photographed too. Phil Karlson's direction is uninteresting and routine, despite a bit of location shooting. The film is at best a distinctively minor exercise, shot on a very tight "B"-picture budget. However, it's always great to see Frank Silvera — this time he's a somewhat unconventional detective, a sort of philosophical realist, hardened by years of experience.
1 out of 1 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Song "Ruby Duby Du" on
sun-mines17 July 2007
I put a copy of "Ruby Duby Du" on I don't know how long it will last because I don't have the copyright. Tags: Wolcott.

Now, I don't appreciate this minimum length for comment being 10 lines of text. It's a waste of my time and your time.

I thought by now IMDb would have wised up.

So, I'm really sorry to have to do this to you all, but just to make IMDb happy, here's a little part of a little poem by my Dad:

"We do not know why the tear drop fell, and he would not like it so, But from his eyes I'll theorize he was looking into Hell.

A Hell of his own making, he knew where the trail had turned, Without his help the die was cast, and so the bridges burned.

High in the Hills of Tranquility sits a hawk on a lonely byrne. Broods he not in senility, but for a love who will never return.
4 out of 9 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Really a solid "B" movie
eman_groove18 July 2004
This movie really had me laughing and rolling in my lounge chair. The corny lines and predicaments the main characters were faced with let you know how advanced the screenplay writer was in the 50's & 60's. The so-called "hip-talk" was so funny that I know the actors probably had to do several takes to keep from laughing at themselves saying the lines. This movie believe it or not touches on the urban social conscience of the world too.

I thought Key Witness was interesting. The characters were of different genders, race, class and creed. It also also gave you an understanding about life in East L.A. during the late 50's & early 60's.

If Key Witness was re-made to reflect the times of today, the following actors should be cast in the character roles: Mr. Morrow - David Hasslehoff or Rob Lowe, Mrs. Morrow - Christina Applegate, Cowboy - Brad Pitt, Apple - David Alan Grier or Micheal Beach(Third Watch), Ruby - Christina Applegate, Carmen Electra, Madonna or Melissa Milano or Melissa Rivers (first acting gig) Muggles - Brad Pitt, Vince Vaughn or Colin Ferrell, Det. Turno - Obba Obatunde, Giancarlo Espisito, Charles S. Dutton, Magician - Vince Vaughn . The plot would be the same only updated to reflect the times. Its a classic for any young filmmaker to use as a guide and training tool. Check it out!
3 out of 10 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Sublimely idiotic
jayson-418 July 2004
It's quite possible that not a single motive or action in this entire film resembles anything human. Look at what you can learn from it: You receive a phone call in a supermarket that threatens your family? Don't hesitate to let your wife go off by herself to get "one last thing." One of your kids is shot in the schoolyard by a coke-crazed gang member? By all means let your other kid finish out the school day. And above all, try to involve yourself in one of the most ineptly choreographed climactic fight sequences in the history of cinema. There are literally hundreds of stroke-inducing moments in this truly moronic, dime store Cinemascope mess.

"Key Witness" seems to have sprung from some kind of weirdly fastidious "social consciousness" of its period, as if it were the philosophical love child of Ronald-Reagan liberals. But whatever its context, the film now appears to have been constructed by Martians with powerful telescopes.
2 out of 10 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Boring, stupid, patriotic trash; Dennis Hopper is bad as ever
bogorad25 November 2001
Got it on TCM between Maltese Falcon (1941) and The Secret Partner (1961). Boy, did this `witness' suck!

It's 100% predictable, it's over-played, it's boring. Everything in this movie sucked. Dennis hopper must have played his worst role here. The patriotic trash is all over this movie.

`A guy witnesses a murder in a community where no one's cooperating with police of fear. He stands by his testimony despite pressure from the bad guys and girls'. It you are willing to spend ~90min on this stupidity – go ahead.

Definitely a bad movie. 3/10
2 out of 16 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
curtis-819 August 2002
One of the great bad movies of all time with an over-the-top performance from Dennis Hopper which he wouldn't top in outrageousness until "Blue Velvet."

Sample dialogue:

Dennis Hopper: "You're real a talkin' talker, right? You know what happens to talkin' talkers who talk, Talker?"

Jeffery Hunter: "What are you talking about?"

And no, its not supposed to be a comedy--its supposed to be a hip, hardcore juvenile delinquent thriller. But it's hilarious!

Find it at all costs!
1 out of 7 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Key Witless
aimless-4624 October 2006
"Key Witness" was Sam Katzman's inspiration for "Hot Rods to Hell" (1967). In both, wholesome (All-American) families are terrorized by over-age wimpy teenage hoods. Katzman replaced Jeffrey Hunter with a bottom feeding Dana Andrews, Patricia Crowley with Jeanne Crain, and Dennis Hopper with Paul Bertoya. He substituted a Corvette for the XK Jag and moved the action out of the family living room and onto the road. And for some reason "Hot Rods to Hell" became a revered cult classic (with its own website) while "Key Witness" was assigned to daytime TCM obscurity.

This despite a bigger budget and superior performances from pretty much the entire cast. Susan Harrison (as the delinquent teen girlfriend who starts all the trouble and keeps it going until the end) is especially good. Ironically, it is the much better acting for the camera directing in "Key Witness" that keeps it from cult status. With these lame scripts competent performances tend to spoil the fun.

The two films have equally preachy themes although "Key Witness" works harder to pound you over the head about the duties of a good citizen. That is what businessman Fred Morrow (Hunter) is; as the title character. Fred stops at a hangout in East Los Angeles (circa late 1950's) to use the phone. Along with a small crowd he witnesses a gang murder. The crowd is composed of ordinary but bad citizens who refuse to cooperate with the police. But Fred considers it his duty and when Hopper's gang learns his identity they begin a campaign to discourage him from giving further testimony.

To the tune of "Ruby Duby Du", the gang torments the family members until a final big showdown scene. Hopper's gang is a pretty strange outfit. Hopper looks as wimpy as he did in "Giant" (where he actually played a wimp). The gang is multi-racial and they kill a Hispanic kid who looks about 30 and about as Hispanic as David Soul. The teen gang inexplicably has a garage full of cars and Hopper drives a large V-Twin motorcycle (probably a Harley) in the opening scene.

If you suspend disbelief and allow yourself to get into it, "Key Witness" will get your reactionary juices flowing and prove relatively entertaining. Not campy enough to be a classic it can still provide some good laughs, if that's your idea of a good time.

Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.
1 out of 8 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Keyed Up and Witless
carolynpaetow17 May 2012
Even Dennis Hopper doesn't look very punkish in this lame, dated yarn. In fact, Hopper and his male co-punks look like they just left men's prayer breakfast at the local Baptist church! And "man" is indeed the operative word, since most of them appear a lot closer to thirty than eighteen. And Johnny Nash, as the "colored boy" who endures the gang's racially derogatory jibes, even acts like he'd be more at home in Sunday school--or at a high school chess club meeting. It's hard to swallow the cinematic assertion that this bunch could get involved in murder, assault, grand larceny, and conspiracy to kidnap. But, while any thuggishness of appearance is downplayed, their behavior is so over the top that it emerges as farcical. Joby Baker, as a nastily oh-so-cool hepcat, is reminiscent of Mark Rydell in the 1956 feature Crime in the Streets. (Moreover, Baker plainly states that he doesn't like girls.) The actors, however, can scarcely be blamed for this lumpy melodrama. Jeffrey Hunter and Frank Silvera deliver straight, low-key efforts, and Terry Burnham, as Hunter's little daughter, puts in a fine performance. Pat Crowley, on the other hand, could emerge only as overwrought when she is scripted to fret about unwashed dishes as her family flees for its life. Despite the movie's incongruity of characters, the plot--though utterly predictable--does move along at a steady pace. At times, though, it feels overedited, as with an apparent reluctance to deal in detail with attacks on Hunter's family. The film's value lies in its interest as an unintentional parody of Fifties depictions. As such, it is well worth a look-see.
0 out of 1 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Key Witness-Acting is the Key to A Good Film *1/2
edwagreen26 October 2006
A very good plot is offset by horrendous acting in this film.

As far as the gang of criminals, bring in West Side Story, Rebel Without A Cause or even The Deadend Kids. The acting by many of the thespians is quite amateurish.

Jeffrey Hunter is miscast as a man who witnesses a murder and agrees to testify. The gang goes on a campaign of terror and harassment against his family. The gang members act in an inane way and don't take their parts serious enough.

The problems of urban decay are barely shown here. The cleaning lady, mother of one of the reluctant members of the gang, speaks as though she is a guidance counselor.

The weaknesses of our criminal justice system are exposed here. The film might have been better served if it had been told in documentary-like form.
0 out of 8 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
What a klinker
moviewatchinguy24 October 2006
The bizarre 'hepcat' language from the punks, their oh-so-clever 'street' names, the just-plain-corny phrases from the adults('Torno do me a favor. Stay as sweet as you are'), the ridiculous plot, the awful acting - these all add up to one laughably awful film. Like any bad accident, you just can't turn away.

Joby Baker gives the only decent and believable performance. The others characters' roles were so cluttered with clichés and overdone acting that Joby's work seemed Oscar-worthy by comparison.

Jeffery Hunter was much better in a later role, on Star Trek - strapped into a box with just one blinking yes/no light and no dialog.

It amazes me that Dennis Hopper has continued to get work in spite of performances like this.
0 out of 10 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.

See also

Awards | FAQ | User Ratings | External Reviews | Metacritic Reviews

Recently Viewed