Silent Witness

 (1985 - TV)

by Tuna

Anna (Valerie Bertinelli) and Kevin Dunne (John Savage) are a mostly happy young couple saving for their first house and trying to get pregnant in Pittsburgh. She works at a discount department store, and he comes from a close Irish family and owns a trash hauling business. After work on day, she meets him at the Happy Hour, his family's favorite gin mill. There, she sees her married brother-in-law and two of his friends romancing an obviously inebriated women (Melissa Leo). The four lose their balance and fall to the floor. The three pick her up, carry her to a table, and rape her. The bartender pulls out a club, but one of the three guys takes it from him and threatens everyone else in the bar if they interfere. Most leave, but Anna and Kevin are forced to stay and watch helplessly.

The girl, an alcoholic subject to blackouts, remembered who raped her, but not where, and wasn't going to report it until her counselor nearly forced her to. The Dunne family immediately pressures Anna and Kevin into not testifying, which would would make the trial the victim's word against the three accused and the bartender. Given the victim's history of blackouts, it looks like a cakewalk for the defense.

And now we come to the point of the film. The story centers around the rape, which we see in real time so that there is no question that it was rape, and a brutal one at that, with one of the three guys even taking out a knife. There is always some rhetoric about any film depicting rape as misogynistic, but here, the rape was shown accurately as a horrible violent crime, and is therefore, in my opinion, feminist, and not misogynistic at all.

But this film is not really about the rape or the rape victim at all. Until I took a long look at the title trying to figure out what to say, I didn't grasp that point. Once I did, the narrative decisions made more sense. The film is really about Anna's moral and ethical dilemma. When Anna sees the girl break under cross examination on TV, she has had enough. She agrees to testify, and the family, through their attorney, come after her in spades.

I would have preferred a different focus, one with more character development, especially showing the bond between the family members before the rape. That would have helped to explain everyone's reactions to the incident. I would have liked to understand, for example, why the rapist's wife and mother, even after knowing he was guilty, continued to perjure themselves and attacked other family members to defend him.

However, the film was about Anna dealing with the position she found herself in, with all of her sympathies on the side of the rape victim, and her loyalties with her husband, and given that fact, it is not a bad film. In fact, it is meatier than much TV fare, although I predicted the ending less than halfway through the film.








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6.1 IMDB summary (of 10)
(The score is statistically meaningless.)


It was made for cable TV.


  • Melissa Leo's breasts are seen in the rape sequence.


Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a:


Adequate drama, actually better than average by TV standards.