Key Witness (1960 film)

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Key Witness
Directed by Phil Karlson
Written by
  • Alfred Brenner
  • Sidney Michaels
Based onnovel by Frank Kane
Produced by Pandro S. Berman
CinematographyHarold E. Wellman
Edited by Ferris Webster
Music by Charles Wolcott
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
October 6, 1960
Running time
82 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$857,000 [1]
Box office$810,000 [1]

Key Witness is a black-and-white 1960 American neo-noir film [2] crime film directed by Phil Karlson and starring Jeffrey Hunter, Pat Crowley, and Dennis Hopper. [3]



Fred Morrow, an average Los Angeles citizen, witnesses a gang murder when he stops in a café to use a telephone. Aware that he is the only witness against them, the gang members, led by young "Cowboy" Tomkins, seek out his identity and terrorize his family and him to keep him from testifying against them.

A police detective, Torno, fears he will lose his only witness, but Fred stands up to the gang, despite wife Ann's hysteria. Cowboy gives the Morrows until midnight to change their minds, while gang members Ruby, Muggles and Apple and he throw a rock through the family's window and slash their car's tires.

Cowboy leads the cops on a car chase, but is caught. In court, though, Fred changes his testimony after learning Ann has been attacked by Ruby, and their child is held at gunpoint by Muggles. He later provokes Apple, who is black, into siding against Cowboy, who reveals his racist attitudes toward his accomplice. Torno takes the entire gang into custody, with Apple agreeing to testify.



According to MGM records, the film earned $360,000 in the US and Canada and $450,000 in other countries, resulting in a loss of $496,000. [1] Reviews generally praised the film, although The Hollywood Reporter and Variety criticized its element of racism. [5]

Writing in The New York Times , reviewer Howard Thompson praised the film, saying "If 'Key Witness' could be better, we don't know how." He also noted, "...this little picture is fast, tough, tight, sickeningly real to watch and wonderfully well put together." [6]

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  1. 1 2 3 The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study.
  2. Silver, Alain; Ward, Elizabeth; Ursini, James; Porfirio, Robert (2010). Film Noir: The Encyclopaedia. Overlook Duckworth (New York). ISBN   978-1-59020-144-2.
  3. Key Witness at the American Film Institute Catalog.
  4. Dye, David (1988). Child and Youth Actors: Filmographies of Their Entire Careers, 1914–1985. p. 29. ISBN   0-89950-247-4.
  5. "AFI Entry".
  6. Thompson, Howard (1960-11-12). "Worthwhile Double Bill Explores the Law". The New York Times. p. 15.