Saturday, November 30, 2019

EYEWITNESS (1956) Directed by Muriel Box

In my previous blog post, I wrote about the under-discussed and groundbreaking female screenwriter/film director overseas, Britain's Muriel Box. During her first marriage, she and her husband, Sydney Box, wrote screenplays. Their screenplay for the British drama, THE SEVENTH VEIL, starring James Mason and Ann Todd, brought them Oscars for Best Original Screenplay in 1947. In 1949, Oscar winner Muriel Box directed her first feature film. In my previous post, I wrote about the fifth feature film she directed, an energetic and entertaining film called CASH ON DELIVERY. It gave its star Shelley Winters, one of her too-rare leading roles in a comedy early in her film career after her first Oscar nomination. Winters, a 2-time Oscar winner, received the first of her four nominations for the 1951 George Stevens drama, A PLACE IN THE SUN. I've not read a lot about Muriel Box. However, what research I have done gave me that feeling that the British films she directed in the 1950s were mostly dismissed by critics because she was a woman. I did not get the feeling that she was praised and appreciated for being a trailblazer in the field of film directors the way actress/director Ida Lupino was when she started directing Hollywood films in the 1950s. I fully enjoyed two comedies from Muriel Box that I've seen -- 1954's CASH AND DELIVERY and her 1955 comedy about a broke and bickering pair of married actors. The two pose as a happily married couple on a live reality TV show just because they need the money. That Christmas season comedy poking fun at the early days of BBC TV is SIMON AND LAURA starring Peter Finch and Kay Kendall. The Muriel Box contributions to 1940s/1950s Women In Film history should not be overlooked.
I saw a drama directed by Muriel Box. It gave more muscle to my belief that she was an under-appreciated, trailblazing director in Great Britain, one who should've been invited to come over here to the U.S and direct a Hollywood film. 1956's EYEWITNESS is a worthwhile thriller. It's a good B-movie, suspenseful and well-acted, directed by Muriel Box from an original story and screenplay by Janet Green. Just like in SIMON AND LAURA, television causes friction in a marriage. Young, charming Lucy comes home to find her husband surprising her with 21 inches of new entertainment. He purchased a television set on the installment plan. "We can't afford it," Lucy states. They have enough in their modest home being paid for in monthly payments. She wants them to be smarter about money. "I want us to pay our way," she says. Jay, her husband, is not quite taking her seriously. Frustrated, she storms out of the house for a walk in the night air to cool off and eventually goes to a local theater to see a movie. When Lucy is finished watching the film, she needs to make a phone call in the theater. On her way down a hallway to the phone, she sees an assault and robbery in action. The theater manager is being beaten and the two villains are taking the money from the safe in his office. Lucy sees the two criminals, they see her, and she flees. This scene was one of my favorites. I thought "Damn! This dame can run." Lucy, in pumps and carrying a purse, top speeds it down the hallway, down stairs and out of the theater with one of the hoods in hot pursuit. Unfortunately, she runs into the street and gets hit by a bus.
In Box's loopy comedy, CASH ON DELIVERY, we see Shelley Winters as the unmarried working woman who clashes with a sexist attitude towards women and money. Her uncle left her $2 million in his will but felt that a husband had to handle a woman's money. In EYEWITNESS, it's the wife who keeps the married couple's finances in check more so than the husband does. Muriel Box loved to focus on the female experience in her screenwriting and directing. Lucy is a loving, responsible and independent wife. She's not "the little woman." She's a voice of reason to her husband. She's a threat to two male criminals.

She's taken to a local medical center to recover from her concussion. She had no I.D. in her purse. The theater manager was shot and killed by the leader of the two robbers, so there's major police activity on the case now. The killer robber tells his nervous partner that they're safe "...unless the girl talks. If she dies, we're in the clear." The partner regrets the shooting. He just wanted enough money to move to New Zealand. When he realizes his crime boss plans to find the medical center, find the recuperating witness and kill her, he gets even more nervous.
Jay, the husband, seems a bit ineffectual without Lucy. He's worried that she hasn't returned. At a police station, it dawns on him that the young lady in the street accident could be Lucy. Cops give him the address of the medical center. Just in time too. She's regaining consciousness. The killer made his way into the facility. He knows where she is.

Just like CASH ON DELIVERY, this is another Muriel Box feature that runs only about 80-minutes.  The fine cast doesn't have any British actors who were big stars to American audiences. If this EYEWITNESS screenplay had been at 20th Century Fox in the 1950s, the movie would've been a thriller starring Jean Peters or Jeanne Crain as Lucy. And the Hollywood studio would've assigned the project a male director. Spirited, smart Lucy Church was played by Muriel Pavlow. The actress passed away early this year at age 97. Michael Craig played Jay Church. He was seen opposite Julie Andrews as love interest in 1968's STAR!

Suspense, action, a little romance and a bit of humor to break up the tension. 1956's EYEWITNESS is another entertaining film from Britain's groundbreaking screenwriter and director, Muriel Box.

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