Monday, 12 August 2013

Town on Trial - film review

I'm rather surprised to find that I don't seem to have mentioned Town on Trial, one of my favourite Fifties British crime films on this blog before. I first saw, and liked, the movie when I was quite young and I've enjoyed it a number of times since. One new thought occurred to me on the latest viewing the other day was that, in essentials, it is rather like a forerunner of Broadchurch. A tough, troubled cop comes to a small town to investigate a murder, and finds several skeletons in the closets of the locals, who close ranks against him.

Suffice to say that I enjoyed Town on Trial just as much as I enjoyed Broadchurch, although of course the latter benefits from the cliffhangers of a serial, and high quality production values. Taking the role in the film equivalent to David Tennant's in the TV show is John Mills, master of the stiff upper lip, as a cop who fancies the American niece of one of the suspects, a local doctor.

A girl is strangled and Mills soon makes himself unpopular, antagonsing the local Casanova and doyen of the tennis club as well as a number of other worthies. One of them, the repressive father of a pretty young girl who was friendly with the deceased, is played by Geoffrey Keen, who specialised in gruff hard man roles in film and TV for many years. I remember him best from The Troubleshooters, which is going back a very long time. But he also featured in six James Bond films.

The decisive clue to the killer's identity is one that has always stuck in my mind. I don't know a great deal about the screenplay writers, Ken Hughes and Robert Westerby, but the script is smoothly professional and they both did plenty of film work. Mills is as good as usual, but it's sad that Barbara Bates, his love interest, was evidently a troubled woman who later committed suicide. Elizabeth Seal, the young woman desperate to escape the nest, soon gave up acting, which was a pity, but other cast members including Raymond Huntley and Dandy Nicholls enjoyed successful careers. All in all, an entertaining, well-made film -and recognising that similarity to Broadchurch reminds me how fascinated we are by crime in "closed" communities.


Anonymous said...

"One of them, the repressive daughter of a pretty young girl who was friendly with the deceased, is played by Geoffrey Keen,"

Geoffrey Keen plays someone's daughter? This I've got to see!

Nan said...

I wish I had access to Town on Trial. I did see the first episode of Broadchurch and it was very good, but I don't get the channel it is on so will probably have to wait until it arrives on Netflix to see the rest.

Martin Edwards said...

Well spotted Anon, duly corrected. Though it would have been an entertaining watch, for sure!

Martin Edwards said...

Hi Nan, I hope you get the chance to see Town on Trial. It stands the test of time very well.