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Key Witness

Key Witness(1960)

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Although the film is listed in the copyright register under the number "LP15382," that number is incorrect, and the correct number has not been identified. The opening credits contain the following statement: "The story you are about to see is fictional; but all good fiction is based on some truth; and the truth of this story is, that it May happen every day throughout the entire world. It can happen to you now in your town. If you fail to give your support to the laws you make; give your strength to justice, to decency and to the innocent. Law without enforcement is only a word. Enforcement without your help is not possible." The statement ends with the signature of Stanley Mosk, Attorney General, State of California.
       According to information in the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, in April 1958, when M-G-M submitted material on the proposed film to the PCA, officials stated "we do not feel that we can approve a picture based on this material. A year ago...we agreed that this office would not approve any more sadistically conceived juvenile delinquency pictures, which were filled with violence and savagery. We so informed producers generally, and since then there have been no pictures of this type presented." A script dated September 3, 1959 was similarly rejected as "unacceptable under the Code," and PCA officials informed the studio, "this story is filled with an accumulation of violence, savagery, and sadism to such a degree as to seem almost orgiastic." They warned of "an ominous background of public wrath" against such pictures and stated they could not "approve a film even remotely containing the amount of arrogant aggressiveness and anti-social violence which this script contains." The PCA demanded that "some scenes of the innate health and weight of society would have to be developed so that it would not seem to be ineffectual or easily violable by insolent, psychotic hoodlums as in the present script."
       Among other desired changes, the PCA asked the studio not to dramatize the first killing, to eliminate an attempt by the gang to run down "Apple" with a car, and to cut out a telephone threat to "sexually abuse Morrow's daughter." The studio complied with all these requests. In addition, PCA officials objected to the depiction of "Muggles" as a "dope addict" and the portrayal of "Ruby" as "a shameless little nymphomaniac," commenting, "The description of the way she dresses, walks, provokes men sexually, and particularly how she throws herself on the back seat of the automobile with her legs deliberately open in coaxing Cowboy, is nothing short of abominable." On October 2, 1959, following the first three days of rushes, although a number of changes had been made or promised, the PCA warned M-G-M that they still could not guarantee that the final film would be acceptable and cautioned, "Proceeding with it under these conditions is a gamble pure and simple on the part of the Studio."
       According to an Hollywood Reporter news item, at the time of production, Pandro S. Berman was to be listed as the film's line producer, but when the film was released a year later, Kathryn Hereford, "for many years [Berman's] girl Friday," who married Berman following the film's completion, received the credit. July 1959 Hollywood Reporter news items state that Robert Stack and Lee Remick were both considered for roles in the picture. According to a September 29, 1959 Hollywood Reporter news item, Inger Stevens, who was on loan to M-G-M from Paramount, was suspended for refusing a role in the film. A July 22, 1959 Hollywood Reporter news item notes that M-G-M pushed back the production date for the film in hopes that Anthony Franciosa would be available; however, he did not appear in the film. A September 17, 1959 Hollywood Reporter news item adds Darrell Jensen to the cast, but his appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. Hollywood Reporter reported in September 1958 that Larry Marcus was to do the screenplay, but Marcus' participation in the final film has not been confirmed.
       Portions of the film were shot on location in various sections of Los Angeles, CA. According to the pressbook, the freeway scenes were shot in five nights between 8 p.m. and 4 a.m. on an unopened segment of the Santa Ana Freeway.
       Reviews generally praised the film, although Hollywood Reporter and Variety criticized its element of racism. The Hollywood Reporter review stated, "It is done pointlessly and to no particular advantage." Variety commented, "Only important flaw is an unnecessary scene in which references are made [Johnny] Nash's race, Negro. It's been established earlier that the Negro's the only decent one in the gang, so adding the realtor's racial prejudices into the conflict then promptly resolving them-all in a few final minutes-is dramatically unsound."