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Town On Trial (1956, John Mills, Charles Coburn)

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Menacing British whodunnit with a sharp twist, simmering social tension and a rare performance of coiled passion from John Mills.

When the body of good-time girl Molly Stevens (Magda Miller) is found raped and strangled in the small, white-collar suburb of Oakleigh Park, Superintendent Mike Halloran (John Mills) of Scotland Yard is placed in charge of the case. Halloran, a stern, working-class copper has been severely embittered by the wartime loss of both his wife and young daughter. He’s also insecure about his lowly social background, a problem compounded by the airs and graces of the witnesses in this case. His continued aggressive attitude forces the town (led by mayor Geoffrey Keen) against him, the only sympathy coming from Elizabeth Fenner (Barbara Bates), niece of the elderly Dr Fenner (Charles Coburn), Oakleigh Park’s kindly physician.

Halloran narrows his suspects down to three principals: Dr Fenner, Peter Crowley (Alex McCowen), a young patient of Fenner, and Mark Roper (Derek Farr), secretary of the local country-club who is blackmailing Fenner. When the body of another girl is found in the boot of Fenner’s car, Halloran is certain of the doctor’s guilt, despite Elizabeth’s protest. But there’s a startling denouement lying in store for the detective and the uppity locals.

production details
USA | 95 minutes | 1957

Director: John Guillermin
Writers: Ken Hughes, Robert Westerby

cast
Derek Farr as Mark Roper
Barbara Bates as Elizabeth Fenner
John Mills as Supt. Mike Halloran
Fay Compton as Mrs. Crowley
Charles Coburn as Dr. John Fenner
Alec McCowen as Peter Crowley (as Alec Mc Cowen)

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