Town on Trial (1957) Poster

(1957)

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6/10
Quite a decent murder mystery, if dated...
tim-764-2918568 July 2012
The main reason to watch this movie now, for me - and I guess most - is for John Mills, as the firm but fair Scotland Yard Inspector Detective, who has to solve a couple of murders of young women in a sleepy Home Counties town in England.

It's all about the rather sermonising 1950's "respectable" folk who wag their fingers at a local beauty - a Marilyn Monroe (sort of) lookalike who carries on with married men and flaunts her curvy figure at the local snobbish Sports Club, the elitism of which extends beyond their usual, especially as the membership secretary is a fan of hers....

One night, she is strangled and of course, a whole array of the obvious candidates spring up, some red herrings and some real. Charles Coburn as a disgraced GP and Derek Farr who has more business fingers in more pies than are reasonable are two of the more recognisable stars that come under the Inspector's radar.

The film is well enough made, the story complex enough to satisfy the average amateur sleuth and John Mills is sturdy, even if his 'romance' with one of the deceased young friends is both awkward and frankly, ridiculous. There's also a pretty meaty and suspenseful ending, that Hitchcock himself might have come up with.
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9/10
Good old Johnny Mills
donaldgordon7974 February 2003
Having been stuck in the house on a cold winter afternoon I switched on Channel 4 to view their afternoon film Town on Trial and am I glad I did This is a hidden gem of a movie. It will keep you guessing right up to the end who the murderer is. Try and spot Dandy Nichols in a bit part(this is what I love about these old fifties films,spotting actors who go on to greater things) If you can get a copy to rent you will not be disappointed. I give it nine out of ten
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Neat thriller
DFS50028 August 2003
The calm of prosperous Oakley Park is shattered when a local woman is found murdered. A Scotland Yard detective is called in to solve the case. He unmasks the murderer but not before another woman is killed.

This picture contains some of the stock characters we see in many thrillers; the woman killed just because she is sexually attractive, the detective who gets results by breaking the rules and a community of outwardly respectable people who all have their dirty little secrets. These elements could have resulted in a predictable formulaic thriller but "Town on Trial" is lifted onto a higher class by the writing, direction and acting.

The acting is consistently good from the bit part players up to the stars. The two outstanding performances are given by Alec McCowen as a suspect and John Mills as the detective.

I would recommend this film to any viewer.
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6/10
A competent, reasonably entertaining but ultimately unmemorable thriller
roger-pettit128 April 2012
"Town on Trial" is the kind of film that is simply not made these days. I imagine it is the sort of thing that formed part of the staple repertoire of B-movies that were shown in cinemas in the days when filmgoers were treated to an appetiser before the main feature was aired. Such films were usually unpretentious, workmanlike dramas that provided solid but unmemorable entertainment to get patrons in the mood for the (hopefully) more sophisticated fare that was to follow. "Town on Trial" is a good example of that kind of film.

The plot concerns the investigation into the murder of a femme fatale in the commuter-belt town of Oakley Park in what I assume is meant to be southern England of the 1950s. The investigation is undertaken by Superintendent Halloran (John Mills), who becomes romantically involved with the niece of the town's GP. A further murder takes place before Superintendent Halloran solves the case.

Any critical analysis of a film such as this is largely superfluous. "Town on Trial" knows exactly what it is doing - and delivers a solidly entertaining mystery that has the air of an early forerunner of an episode of the current British TV series "Midsomer Murders". The cast includes an impressive array of well-known British character actors of the time, such as Raymond Huntley, Derek Farr, Fay Compton, Harry Fowler, Geoffrey Keen, Margaretta Scott and the wonderfully-named Totti Truman Taylor. It is competently directed and scripted and, while it will not live long in the memory, provides 90 minutes or so of undemanding entertainment. 6/10.
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4/10
Clumsy plotting, but some outstanding scenes
philk-431 January 2005
I come out somewhere between these two last verdicts. The plot had more holes than a chunk of gruyere, motivations I'd agree were distinctly shaky, and chemistry between Mills and Barbara Bates as the girl he falls for was notably lacking. (Love scenes have never exactly been Johnny Mills's forte, have they?) But as so often with British films of this vintage, the portrayal of a particular era and social milieu is fascinating, and the supporting performances include some gems. I liked Derek Farr's increasingly sweaty reactions as the bogus ex-officer running the social club as his own little harem; initially loathsome, but gradually becoming a pitiable figure as his carefully-constructed social persona crumbles about his ears. And Elizabeth Seal turns in a tour de force as the respectable mayor's daughter going determinedly to the bad. Her spirited, bottom-wiggling solo dance at the club was utterly wonderful.
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8/10
Not available in the States?
nellybly-31 April 2011
Warning: Spoilers
I watched this on television many a moon ago as a young teenager and I'm now over 60. I really liked this movie and would love to see it again. Since I like British movies of the '40s-early '60s I probably wouldn't be too disappointed seeing it again. I especially like thrillers, suspense, and mysteries. I thought the way they fingerprinted every male in town trying to find the killer was great (I read somewhere that that was used in a real case). Also the notes found with Ezekiel 23:5 "And Aholah played the harlot when she was mine; and she doted on her lovers, on the Assyrians her neighbours . . ." because of the first victim's reputation and the author's opinion of women in general had me running to a Bible and I actually memorized it.

The young man climbing the church tower/belfry (or some high precipice) when he felt cornered really had me hold my breath.

This is all from memory, mind you. It hasn't even been shown on television here in the States in years. I lived in the Los Angeles area when I did see it.

I really really wish it would be made available in a Region 1 DVD though at this point I'd probably take any format and any region I could get!
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8/10
One of the strangest intros I can recall
MartinHafer24 June 2017
When "Town on Trial" begins, you hear the voice of the murderer before he commits the crime! You see him looking at pretty Molly at the country club...and you hear him saying how she has it coming because she's one of THOSE sort of girls! Well, Molly certainly was pretty and liked to show off her figure...and the sicko thought this meant he was entitled to kill her!!

Police Superintendent Halloran (John Mills) is assigned to the case. And, unfortunately, it's not a quick and easy case to solve...and some of it is because the rich folks he questions sometimes have a strong sense of entitlement. In fact, the more he investigates, the more these folks put pressure on his superiors to take him off the case! What's to come of this?

This is a very good film. Sure, the story is good but the reason I liked it was the very fine acting of Mills. He was a heck of a good actor and made even average material well above average. Well worth your time.
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7/10
Excellent whodunit.
MOscarbradley27 August 2018
With its small town setting, use of a local 'roadhouse' and the casting of Charles Coburn and Barbara Bates it's fairly obvious the British-made crime melodrama "Town on Trial" had its eye on the American market, (even the title sounds more American than British). John Mills is the policeman investigating the murder of local good-time girl Molly, (Magda Miller), and the movie is told in flashback. All we know is that the killer is one of a group of men seen watching Molly bounce around on the tennis court in the opening sequence and director John Guillermin does a fine job of keeping us guessing as to which one it might be. All the performances, particularly Mills and Coburn, are excellent and as murder mysteries go this one is surprisingly intelligent and consistently enjoyable. One of Guillermin's better efforts.
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5/10
Cosy British murder mystery
Leofwine_draca27 August 2018
Warning: Spoilers
TOWN ON TRIAL is a cosy British murder mystery of the 1950s which has a greater emphasis on characterisation than most. It reminded me of Agatha Christie a little. The story sees John Mills playing a dogged detective on the hunt for a killer with a penchant for strangling young women. A various well-to-do crowd are responsible, and one of half a dozen male suspects is responsible, but which? This film plays out in a slow and dated fashion, not particularly suspenseful, and only really picking up for a lively climax, but a solid cast keep you watching. I was particularly entertained to see Alec McCowen, famous for playing the detective in FRENZY, in a youthful role and there are turns from the likes of Dennis Price, Raymond Huntley and Harry Fowler.
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7/10
The Dark Underside of Fifties Britain
JamesHitchcock29 October 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Although there were a number of British films noirs, few of these are well-known today. Robert Hamer, for example, is justly remembered for his blackly comic masterpiece "Kind Hearts and Coronets", but less so for his two great noirs, "It Always Rains on Sunday" and "The Long Memory". Carol Reed's celebrated trilogy of "Odd Man Out", "The Third Man" and "The Man Between" may be an exception, but it is notable that although these films were made by a British director none of them were actually set in mainland Britain.

"Town on Trial" is another British noir which has largely been forgotten. We normally associate film noir with the mean streets of American cities, often Los Angeles, and British examples tended to be set in working-class areas. "It Always Rains on Sunday", for example, was set in London's East End and "The Long Memory" in the back streets of Gravesend. Some later examples, such as "Tread Softly Stranger", also contained elements of kitchen-sink realism. This one, however, is set in a respectable Home Counties commuter town, Oakley Park. A young woman named Molly Stevens is found murdered and Superintendent Mike Halloran, a Scotland Yard detective, is sent to investigate.

Halloran's problem is that he has too many suspects. Molly, a sexy good- time girl, had a long list of enemies, mostly men whom she has flirted with and then rejected, or women jealous of the attentions paid to her by their husbands or boyfriends. Three men, however, fall under particular suspicion, namely Peter Crowley, a former boyfriend of Molly, Mark Roper, a married man who was having an affair with Molly and was the father of her unborn child, and John Fenner, the sinister Canadian- born local doctor. (Charles Coburn was cast in the role, possibly because he had earlier played a sinister doctor in "King's Row").

Despite the title, this is not a courtroom drama. The town is "on trial" in the sense that the investigations into the murder reveal some unpleasant secrets which the predominantly middle-class townspeople, who believe firmly in keeping up appearances and in not washing dirty laundry in public, would prefer to keep hidden. The prominent Dixon family try to hush up the wild behaviour of their daughter, even though she is not a suspect in the murder. Dr. Fenner is revealed to have left Canada under a cloud when a misdiagnosis led to a patient's death. The wealthy and outwardly respectable Roper, the secretary of the posh local tennis club of which Molly was also a member, has several skeletons in his cupboard, quite apart from his extramarital affair. He is heavily in debt and is revealed to have lied about his war record to cover up a dishonourable discharge for embezzlement.

Adding to the complexity of the situation is a growing romance between Halloran and Elizabeth, a beautiful nurse who is also Fenner's niece- and who might also be lying to protect her uncle. Elizabeth is played by Barbara Bates, a former Hollywood starlet (today best remembered for her small but important role in "All about Eve") who was trying to revive her once-promising career in Britain. This sub-plot seems like an unnecessary distraction. As another reviewer has pointed out, John Mills was never at his best in romantic roles, particularly as he was 49 in 1957, nearly two decades older than Bates.

Another weakness is that the killer's motives remain ambiguous. Even when his identity is revealed it is never made clear whether he killed Molly because of a personal grudge- he was one of her rejected lovers- or because of a fanatical religious Puritanism. (He goes on to kill another young woman who he considers to be acting in a sexually provocative manner).

The film also, however, has its strengths. In his role as a detective, as opposed to his role as a lover, Mills's performance is a perfectly good one, and he receives good support from some of the other cast members, notably Derek Farr as the sleazy Roper. There is a brilliant cliff-hanging finale on the church steeple, a scene in which director John Guillermin clearly reveals the influence of Alfred Hitchcock, who also liked setting cliff-hangers on prominent buildings or structures, such as the Forth Bridge scene in "The 39 Steps". "Town on Trial" still holds interest today as an exposé of the dark underside of 1950s middle- class respectability. 7/10
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9/10
An outstanding British whodunit. - F. Maurice Speed.
JohnHowardReid6 April 2018
Warning: Spoilers
Copyright 1956 by Marksman Films Ltd. Released through Columbia Pictures Corp. No New York opening. U.S. release: August 1957. U.K. release: 18 February 1957. Australian release: 26 September 1957. 8,654 feet. 96 minutes.

NOTES: "Introducing" Elizabeth Seal, although she had in fact previously appeared in Radio Cab Murder (1954).

Producer: Maxwell Setton. Copyright 1956 by Marksman Films Ltd. Released through Columbia Pictures Corp. No New York opening. U.S. release: August 1957. U.K. release: 18 February 1957. Australian release: 26 September 1957. 8,654 feet. 96 minutes.

COMMENT: You'd think a movie with a cast like this would more than fill the average suburban cinema of a Friday night. Mills, Coburn, Farr were all super-popular players. Farr had even recently played a most successful season on the stage, opposite his actress wife, Muriel Pavlow. But when I saw the movie at my neighborhood Odeon, I was one of only three paying patrons in the theatre! It wasn't only that television had already started to take its big bite out of cinema attendances, but that audiences simply didn't take to Mills as either a policeman or a murder suspect. To most picturegoers, Mills was a serviceman - whether in the army, navy or air force didn't matter, so long as he was in uniform. Out of uniform, he was barely tolerated as a businessman or farmer, completely ignored as either a light romantic figure or comedy cut-up or a disturbed "little man" with serious emotional problems.

Thus general audiences chose to ignore all of Mills' best performances. Instead he was "ideally" cast as the epitome of breezy officer types, all-right chaps, stiff upper-lip and all that.

A grippingly fast-paced, mystery thriller, Town on Trial is an original screenplay by Ken Hughes and Robert Westerby, written in the classic tradition of credibly-hewn characters, realistic incident and a bobby-dazzler of an action climax. There are only four suspects, yet the writers keep us in fine suspense right up to the climactic revelation. And although the identity of the killer is cleverly concealed, the script plays fair . John Guillermin has directed this fine script with verve, style and imagination. No doubt all the subjective camerawork is detailed in the script, but it's fascinatingly presented all the same. A large budget with lots of extras and location settings also helps. The performances are all major league. From the tantalising glimpse of Magda Miller, through the high-spirited sexiness of Elizabeth Seal, to the nastily vicious (?) or helpfully sincere (?) Charles Coburn who brings all his magnificent charisma to bear on a difficult role which he brings off so superbly.

Production credits are likewise absolutely first-rate. Photography, music, film editing and art direction are especially commendable.
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6/10
Passions run high in the leafy lanes of Surrey........
ianlouisiana2 May 2012
Warning: Spoilers
With lust in their eyes,a group of men watch a nubile(not to say pleasingly plump) blonde playing genteel and wholesomely sexy tennis. Each of these will,in turn,be suspects when the unfortunate young woman gets murdered and Dept Supt Halloran from Scotland Yard - pause for a quick intake of breath - gets called in on the case. Messrs Derek Farr,Alec McCowen and Charles Coburn come immediately under his gaze,a Battle of Britain hero,a teenager(that alone was a crime in 1957 - believe me)and a doctor on the run from some sort of malpractice suit in Canada who has brought his niece along for company and so she can provide a little love interest for Supt Halloran. And here we have "Town on trial"'s greatest(and it has a few) weakness. No matter how much he leers,shouts and menaces,Mr John Mills is totally unconvincing as a tough Scotland Yard detective.He cajoles,he threatens,he lies,even,but he just doesn't cut it. Coppers in 1957 were big,bluff,Brylcreem tonsured men with broken noses and fists like hams who had cut their teeth on mean streets and didn't take any sh*t from anybody - indeed they were seldom offered it in a milieu where both sides of the law knew exactly where they stood. You murdered someone - you risked the rope.Halloran's suspects would all have known that. The thin veneer of respectability is stripped under the basilisk - like eye of Supt Halloran and eventually he gets his man,but not before another murder occurs. Tennis Club morals are vilified and the local teenage hangout,"The Hotspot"(it would probably be called "The 'G' Spot" nowadays) is shown as a den of mildly inappropriate behaviour("It's a rock and roll joint" says Harry Lock,amusing as a sartorially challenged detective). If you're in your seventies and want to remember when you wore a high - necked pullover and a tie to repair your motor - cycle and helmets were for Geoff Duke,you might find "Town on trial" diverting. If not it's a bit of social history that might be amusing.
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Surely not that good.
bcwresearch9 February 2003
I too watched the Channel 4 showing. Must disagree with the previous comment. I thought it was a very mediocre film, especially when you think the story was penned by Francis Durbridge. As for the plot, well please tell what were the motives for the murders? I will agree, an excellent film to watch, if you are looking out for those great 'B' film character actors. ( uncredited appearance of Hal Osmond, then only 38, looking thirty years older). The petrol forecourt scene, and chastisement of Superintendent John Mills by the bicycling village 'plod' were great little scenes. Who was the actor who played the 'bobby'?
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The killer's identity is fairly obvious early on, but still front rank stuff thanks to strong characters, direction and fine acting all round.
jamesraeburn200312 September 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Scotland Yard's Detective Superintendent Hollarin (John Mills) arrives in the small town of Oakley Park to investigate the murder of a young girl called Molly Stevens whom was found strangled with a stocking in the grounds of an upmarket tennis club. Virtually the entire town falls under suspicion including her former boyfriend Peter Crowley (Alec McCowen) whom she deserted in favour of the club secretary Mark Roper (Derek Farr) who also had a reason for wanting her dead since he is a married man and he also got her pregnant. If that had come out he would have lost his job. The town's physician, Dr Fenner (Charles Coburn), is being blackmailed by Roper who knows that he left his practice in Canada when a wrong diagnosis resulted in one of his patients dying and his niece, Elizabeth (Barbara Bates), agreed to give Roper a false alibi in order to protect her uncle. In addition, the prominent Dixon family's daughter Fiona (Elizabeth Seal) was very friendly with Molly: they used to frequent a dubious nightclub which is facing an illegal gambling charge, get drunk and go joy riding with boys. This angered her father, Charles (Geoffrey Keen), who is a town councillor and is earmarked to become Oakley Park's Mayor and did not like the thought of his daughter keeping that kind of company. The police gradually close in on the murderer, but not before Fiona is killed while a dance is taking place at the club...

As a straightforward murder mystery it is something of a let down because the identity of the killer is fairly obvious by about half way into the film's running time. Shame on the screenwriters Ken Hughes and Robert Westerby! Nevertheless, this mysteriously obscure little film is still well worth the watch thanks to strong realistic characterisations, vigorous direction by John Guillermin in what must have been one of his first 'A' features and excellent acting all round.

John Mills offers a career best performance as the tough, dogged police superintendent who never plays by the rules and quite often finding himself in hot water with his superiors and the townsfolk who do not like his sometimes unorthodox methods and, above all, resent an outsider meddling in their affairs. Derek Farr, a familiar face of British cinema at that time, also stands out playing the dishonest and thoroughly dislikeable club secretary Mark Roper. In addition to his cheating on his wife and blackmailing the local doctor, he also lies about his war service in the RAF claiming to have been a distinguished fighter pilot yet Mills discovers he was only a lowly member of the ground crew who was dishonorably discharged for theft. There is an extremely effective scene where the Superintendent confronts him about this in quite an aggressive manner and we learn that the reason for his anger towards Roper was that his wife and child were killed during an air raid. And when he attempted to volunteer for the RAF himself, he was turned down and he resents anyone who lies about their war service like he did.

The sense of small town distrust of outsiders is well conveyed and Guillermin opted to shoot the film in Weybridge, Surrey, England, which serves the plot very well. Basil Emmott, a lighting cameraman of prolific output whose work helped lift numerous 'B' pictures above the average, heightens the strong sense of place and the mysteriousness with his rich black and white camera-work. The suspense reaches fever pitch at the climax where Mills climbs up the steeple of a church to confront his killer who is threatening to commit suicide from throwing himself off the roof. The murder scenes are also very well done and are sufficient to send a chill down the spine even though the composer, Tristram Carey, opted to play a harpsichord over them predating the Margaret Rutherford Miss Marple films by a few years.
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5/10
Not Quite Cricket At The Tennis Club
writers_reign27 April 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Once again it would seem that I watched an entirely different film to the majority of those who have posted here. The film I saw was a crude and horribly misguided attempt to play Hollywood at its own game and needless to say it turned out to be game, set and match, to Sunset Boulevard. John Mills fails hopelessly to convince as the (would be) tough talking maverick cop, complete with clichés such as pushing his trilby to the back of his head. The usual suspects who peopled British films in the 50s are wheeled out, Geoffrey Keen, Alec McCowan, Derek Farr, Dandy Nicols, supplemented for reasons best known to the producers, by Charles Coburn. There's a killer on the loose and the suspense of waiting for him/her to strike again constitutes a photo finish with watching paint dry. For an encore the killer climbs a church steeple and Mills goes up after him - this was done ten times better in Mine Own Executioner a decade earlier with Burgess Meredith following Keiron Moore to a roof. Moore failed to survive, would that Alec McCowan had followed suit.
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4/10
Good direction spoilt by poor script and miscasting
badajoz-126 April 2012
Warning: Spoilers
The film shows the good and the bad of 50s crime genre movies made in the UK. The direction by John Guillermin (who went on to do some good work) is thoughtful and interesting - different angles and camera movement- but the script has too many holes. You cannot move from whodunnit to deep psychological explanation of the mind of the murderer in about three seconds flat! The storyline of the veneer of a fifties town, where all the so called important people are really hiding secrets, being ripped off by the investigation of a murder of a free and easy, amply bosomed, lay is OK, but it needed a lot more depth and exploration than it is given here. The acting is fine apart from the ridiculous miscasting of John Mills as a tenacious tough detective not afraid to ruffle the dignitas of the leading citizens and capable of seducing the female lead!!!! It should have been Stanley Baker who would have brought more brooding menace and fear to those covering up their indiscretions! And the ending is trite, laughable, and terribly rushed, despite its dramatic location - up a church spire!!!!!! The fifties but not as most remember it!
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5/10
What a disappointment
posthouse945 May 2012
I taped the film from C4 and watched it yesterday. I agree it was very disjointed. John Mills was cast completely against character and was not very convincing.Did anyone else notice a scene repeat? After Elizabeth Seal was murdered at the dance, John Mills interviewed Charles Coburn in a side room. He came out of the room to speak to Barbara Bates then instructed a Police Officer to take her home, then is shown coming out of the room again to see her before the next scene! What struck me most was the fact that the Police cars were invariably driven too fast. Charles Coburn was I thought the best actor on show. Nice to see Harry Fowler playing the band leader for a change rather than a spiv.
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