Without a Trace (1983)

Without a Trace (1983)

This film, centering on a child’s abduction, casts Kate Nelligan as the distraught mother who lashes out at the police (in the person of a relentless detective played by Judd Hirsch), who treat her and her husband as suspects, even as she hounds them to find her child and drives away her husband (David Dukes) and friends (including Stockard Channing) with her intensity and single-mindedness.

Without a Trace is a 1983 dramatic film. It is based on the novel Still Missing by Beth Gutcheon. The film stars Kate Nelligan, Judd Hirsch, David Dukes and Stockard Channing. The story is partly based on the disappearance of Etan Patz.

Susan Selky is a well-known English professor at Columbia University. She lives in a Brooklyn brownstone with her 6-year-old son Alex (Danny Corkill). One March morning, Susan sees Alex off to school, which is only two blocks away. Alex turns to wave to his mother, then disappears around the corner.

Susan returns home after work, and becomes increasingly alarmed when Alex is late. She calls her friend and neighbor Jocelyn Norris, whose daughter is a classmate of Alex’s, and learns Alex never went to school. She immediately calls the New York City Police Department, and officers descend on the townhouse, led by Lieutenant Al Menetti. Susan is questioned closely on all aspects of her life and her son’s, and the police initially suspect her estranged husband, Graham, a professor at New York University, but he produces an alibi.

Susan’s case generates attention from the local media, and citizens help in the search by distributing posters. Susan is initially criticized for allowing her son to walk to school by himself. Susan takes a polygraph test that clears her as a suspect. Numerous leads are checked out, including several reports that Alex may have been seen in the back seat of a blue 1965 Chevy. A psychic is also called in, but each lead fizzles.

The investigation drags on, and Graham is at odds with Menetti after budget cuts force Menetti to dismantle the command center in Susan’s apartment and run the case from the precinct. Menetti’s attention is soon diverted to other cases, but the Selky case is always a priority. At one point, Graham takes matters into his own hands after he receives a ransom call. Given a beating, he requires a hospital stay.

A break in the case finally happens on the Fourth of July, when Susan’s housecleaner, Philippe, is arrested as a suspect. A pair of Alex’s bloody underpants was found in his apartment, where the gay Philippe was picked up with a 14-year-old male prostitute. Susan visits Philippe in jail, and he tells her that the bloody underpants came about when he used them to stop bleeding after he cut himself washing dishes in Susan’s house. Convinced Philippe is innocent, Susan tries to persuade Menetti to drop the charges, but he refuses, citing undisclosed physical evidence.

Without a Trace Movie Poster (1983)

Without a Trace (1983)

Directed by: Stanley R. Jaffe
Starring: Kate Nelligan, Judd Hirsch, David Dukes, Stockard Channing, Jacqueline Brookes, Keith McDermott, Kathleen Widdoes, Cheryl Giannini
Screenplay by: Beth Gutcheon
Production Design by: Paul Sylbert
Cinematography by: John Bailey
Film Editing by: Cynthia Scheider
Costume Design by: Gloria Gresham
Set Decoration by: Alan Hicks
Art Direction by: Gregory Bolton
Music by: Jack Nitzsche
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox
Release Date: February 4, 1983