The Warner Archive March 12, 2019 DVD release of the Oscar-nominated 1931 crime melodrama film "The Star Witness" is part of an awesome recent series of Archive releases of this niche genre. Upcoming posts on "Unashamed" and "Woman Wanted" reinforces the star power and the entertainment value of movies with this theme.
"Witness" has the best pedigree and the related most depth of the three films. William Wellman of "The Public Enemy" and the 1937 version of "A Star is Born" directs. The cast includes Walter Huston and vaudeville legend Charles "Chic" Sale.
Written narration at the beginning of "Witness" sets the stage for the story and the theme of the morals by stating that the action occurs in every American city.
The plot thickens a few minutes into the film as the Leeds family settles down to dinner. Father George is a middle-aged middle-management bean counter; spouse Abby is a typical housewife who tries to keep everyone well-fed and clean and also tries to maintain domestic tranquility.
Eldest son Jackie is a cautionary tale; he is an unemployed high-school dropout who spends his days at the pool hall and has unrealistically grand expectations. He also has very little respect for George despite that man providing him a comfortable standard of living in those very rough economic times. Daughter Sue is a modern woman with a job and a boyfriend with whom she openly gets affectionate in his car while parked outside the Leeds family home.
Little Rascal Donny is a tough-talking little-league loving everyboy; he deals with his low position on the family totem by bullying baby of the family Ned. This does not prevent Ned from idolizing his slightly older brother.
The "Grandpa Simpson" of the family is feisty Battle of Bull Run veteran "Private Summerhill." This feisty old codger barges in uninvited playing his fife as the family is eating dinner. The added insult to the injury is his announcement that he staying for a couple of days.
Relative calm has descended when the clan hears a ruckus in the street below; this prompts the group to rush to the window in time to see a wild chase complete with gunfire; this culminates in an essentially front-row seat for a man fatally shooting two others.
The plot further thickens on the gunman rushing into the Leeds home and terrorizing the family before taking a powder.
The cops soon show up and conduct what may be the most laughably suggestive identification process in film history; this leads to arresting gangster Maxey Campo.
The resolve of the Leeds family is tested as Team Campo puts on the heat to get them to change their story; this includes an entertaining beatdown of a gullible George, Meanwhile District Attorney Whitlock (Huston) is trying to get the titular smoking gun to not waiver from fingering the perp. at his trial.
Eleventh hour pressure creates drama as both sides strive for a favorable outcome. A sign of the times that represents a generation gap has Jackie balking at sticking his neck out for the greater good and his grandfather advocating fulfilling a patriotic duty.
The moral of this tribute to truth, justice, and the American way is not let bullies prevent you from doing the right thing despite the cost of standing up to tyranny.