Town on Trial

Town on Trial is a 1957 British mystery film directed by John Guillermin and starring John Mills, Charles Coburn, Barbara Bates and Derek Farr. A whole town comes under suspicion when two grisly murders are carried out—particularly members of the local sports club.

Town on Trial
UK quad format poster
Directed byJohn Guillermin
Produced byMaxwell Setton
Written byKen Hughes
Robert Westerby
StarringJohn Mills
Charles Coburn
Barbara Bates
Derek Farr
Alec McCowen
Music byTristram Cary
CinematographyBasil Emmott
Edited byMax Benedict
Marksman Films[1]
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • 22 January 1957 (1957-01-22) (UK)
  • August 1957 (1957-08) (US)
Running time
96 mins [2]
CountryUnited Kingdom


While playing tennis at a posh club in a town near London called Oakley Park, young and flirty Molly Stevens attracts considerable interest. The men ogle her and the women detest her. She is later found dead, strangled with a stocking. The local police chief requests the help of Scotland Yard, so Detective Superintendent Mike Halloran is sent to investigate. The locals, however, resent having an outsider poking into their affairs.

A book of love poems, including an inscription from a Peter Crowley, is found in the victim's flat. There is also a photo of a group of men together with Molly and Fiona Dixon, a young woman from the prominent Dixon family. Her father, although shocked to learn that his daughter knew the "trashy" Molly, will not let Halloran question her.

Halloran eventually learns that Molly left Peter Crowley for a married man, Mark Roper, who is the club's secretary. Roper denies any involvement, and also claims that he was giving nurse Elizabeth Fenner a lift to the hospital at the time of the murder.

The coroner reveals Molly was two months pregnant. Dr. John Fenner, the local Canadian expat physician who certified the death, is asked by Halloran why he neglected to report that fact. Fenner claims he was trying to avoid a scandal for Roper and the club.

Elizabeth turns out to be the doctor's niece and also a Canadian expat. She confirms that Roper gave her a lift, but this later turns out to be a lie - a result of her attempts to protect the reputation of her uncle, who left his practice in Toronto after a misdiagnosis led to a patient's death. This is something the locals are unaware of, but Roper knows and is using this secret to blackmail the doctor.

Roper, always bragging about his wartime heroics as a RAF fighter pilot, is revealed by Halloran to have been nothing but a lowly ground crew member, who was dishonourably discharged after theft and is currently heavily in debt. The club demands Roper's resignation. He turns up at a party, gets drunk and starts a fight. Leaving the party and going for a walk, Fiona is ambushed and strangled to death. Her body is placed in the trunk of Dr. Fenner's car.

Halloran finds out that Peter Crowley has been treated for schizophrenia. Peter flees to a church, climbing to the top of the steeple and threatening to jump. Halloran ascends the steeple to prevent the suicide, risking his own life in the process, and manages to convince Peter not to kill himself. A fire brigade turntable ladder rescues the two just as they are about to fall.

Main cast


  1. BFI: Town on Trial Linked 2015-03-01
  2. BBFC: Town of Trial Linked 2015-03-01
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