Great Scene: “Witness”

If I asked you to name the most memorable scene in Witness (1985), it would probably be this one: Where young Samuel witnesses a murder in a Philadelphia train station bathroom. It is an incident that unbeknownst to the story’s Protagonist John Book (Harrison Ford) will become his Call To Adventure. Here is the scene from the script:

ANGLE IN MEN'S ROOMAs Samuel enters.It's a long row of sinks, urinals, and stalls... Samuel stops 
before one of the urinals – a long, trough-like affair with
water drizzling down the rear porcelain panel.
It's set a little high for Samuel, and it is making GLUGGING
FLUSHING NOISES that are, at least, intimidating. Samuel
stares for a moment, then turns, looks toward the stalls,
stoops to see which are empty.
HIS POV – TOILETSBeneath the row of doors we can see no feet visible. Samuel
is alone in the restroom.
BACK TO SCENEAs Samuel proceeds along the row of door, finally selects a
stall near the end. He enters. As he does so, a heavily
bearded youth in a dirty sweatshirt enters. With some urgency,
he removes small notebook from his pocket and places it behind
a paper towel dispenser. Suddenly he glances up.
Two other men have entered the men's room; one is a large
BLACK MAN in a three-piece suit under an expensive, overcoat.
His PARTNER is a Caucasian in designer jeans, half boots and
a short leather jacket.
They advance on the young man with unmistakable menace.The young man whirls in terror; his two assailants lunge for
him... a savage, wordless struggle ensues in the close
confines of the lavatory.
ANGLE IN SAMUEL'S STALLAs the struggling men bounce off the door of his stall... he
can see their feet under the edge of the door.
BACK TO FIGHTAs the struggle builds to a climax... ends with the young
man stiffening with a grunt, his face draining of color.
The two attackers step away, the blade in the black man's
hand bloodstained. His partner stares at what they've
accomplished with a stunned expression:
PARTNER
Jesus...
The young man's hand comes away from his belly covered with
blood.
He stares at it, staggers toward the sinks. Finally his
bloodied hand reaches to smear at his face in the mirror.
Then he collapses to the floor.
The black man motions for his partner to watch the door,
then quickly reaches up and removes the notebook from behind
the dispenser.
ANGLE IN SAMUEL'S STALLAs he edges open the stall door a crack. Over his shoulder
we can see the black man, his BACK TO US, rifling the
backpack. But beyond him, in the mirror on the far wall, we
catch sight of the black man's face.
SAMUELAs he stares out the narrow crack. A beat, then he closes
the stall door.
ANGLE IN STALLSamuel tries to make the latch work, but it's warped and
won't fall closed.
BLACK MANAs he checks the notebook before placing it in his pocket.
His partner is covering the door, an automatic in his hand.
The black man makes for the exit, then on second thought,
glances at the row of stalls.
HIS POV – STALLSAll quiet, but...BACK TO SCENEThe black man whips out a .38 caliber revolver, and, starting
at the near end, starts pushing open the stall doors.
ANGLE IN SAM'S STALLAs the black man approaches, Samuel working desperately on
the latch. At the last minute he finally wedges it in.
BLACK MANHe elbows Samuel's stall... the door won't open.ANGLE IN SAM'S STALLFighting back panic, Samuel has retreated as far as he can.BLACK MANAs he gives the door a kick. It holds. He swears under his
breath.
ANGLE IN SAM'S STALLIn desperation, Samuel does the only thing he can think of...
he slips under the partition into the neighboring stall the
black man just checked out. But he loses his hat in the
process. His hand snakes back INTO FRAME to snatch it just
as the black man gives the door a ferocious kick that
splinters the lock and nearly takes it off its hinges. He's
framed there, the big muzzle of the .38 revolver looking
down our throats.
ANGLEAs his partner snaps from the doorway:PARTNER
Will you come on, for Christ's sakes!
A beat, then the black man holsters his weapon, turns to
follow the partner out.
BACK TO SAMUELAs we hear the SOUND OF THE TWO MEN EXITING the lavatory. A
long beat, then Samuel opens the stall door a crack.
HIS POW THROUGH DOORSamuel's own face reflected in the blood-smeared mirror...
then PANNING DOWN to the still figure of the young man lying
in the crimson pool of his own blood on the floor.

Here is the scene from the movie:

This is one of those movies that lays out perfectly in terms of character archetypes:

Protagonist: John Book
Nemesis: Schaeffer, McFee, Fergie (the bad cops)
Attractor: Rachel Lapp
Mentor: Eli Lapp, the Amish community
Trickster: Samuel Lapp

Screenplay by Earl W. Wallace & William Kelley, story by William Kelley and Pamela Wallace & Earl W. Wallace.

[Originally posted December 19, 2008]

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