The movie Witness is easily one of the best of Harrison Ford's career, though often overlooked by some of his more mainstream roles in films like The Fugitive, Indiana Jones, Star Wars, or Blade Runner. But it's an incredible thriller, following Ford's character Detective John Book has he protects a young Amish boy Samuel (Lukas Haas) and his mother Rachel Lapp (Kelly McGillis) after Samuel witnesses a dirty police officer (Danny Glover) commit a murder in the men's room of the Philadelphia train station. Book hides out with the Lapp family in their Amish community and falls for the Amish widow while participating in a barn-raising and more, far from the big city. It might come as a surprise to hear that the Oscar-nominated film was actually inspired by the TV show Gunsmoke.
William Kelley and Earl W. Wallace had started their writing careers working on the hit western series Gunsmoke, and there was one particular episode that really stuck with them. In the 12th season of the show, the episode "Quaker Girl" follows Thad (Roger Ewing) as he heads to a small Quaker community to capture the killer Fred Bateman, played by William Shatner. Both men end up in the Quaker town claiming to be the "real" Fred Bateman until the true killer is discovered. In the process, Thad starts falling for a young Quaker girl before he has to head back to Dodge City.
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Off the bat, you can already sense some similarities between the episode and the final product of Witness. Sure, it was tweaked to take place at an Amish farm, but there is a murder, time spent in the community, and a love story. Initially, when Kelley and Wallace presented their script (co-written with Wallace's wife) to producer Edward Feldman, there were some changes that needed to be made. Feldman felt like it was way too long and it had too much of a focus on the Amish traditions. It was also originally titled Called Home (the Amish term for death) but was later changed to make more sense to mainstream audiences. With the thriller aspects of the film enhanced in re-writes, Feldman was confident in the finished product and was able to secure Harrison Ford in the starring role of John Book. But for some reason, no studio wanted it.
Nearly every studio in Hollywood turned their back on the script having no interest in making a "rural film" until Paramount Pictures finally gave a green light and secured Australian director Peter Weir. The hard work getting the film picked up definitely paid off. It was filmed in Pennsylvania in parts of the real Amish country of Lancaster to give as accurate a portrayal as possible of the Amish way of life in the film. It was nominated for a slew of Oscars including Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Actor for Ford, winning the Academy Award for Best Screenplay. And to think...it all started over a decade before with one episode of Gunsmoke.