5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Surprising, intelligent, and entertaining.
Review for Fox Video DVD 2008 release of Witness for the Prosecution.
The picture and sound quality are flawless.
A movie from Billy Wilder. It's a courtroom drama. It's well cast and the acting is great. They're believable. The way it's filmed reminds me of an Alfred Hitchcock movie. It's Intelligent, entertaining, dramatic with a twist of funny,...
Published on July 3 2011 by ElyseAli
3.0 out of 5 stars BEAR WITNESS TO A PENNY-PINCHING TRANSFER FROM MGM
Part of the problem with MGM DVD releases of late is that they weren't the studio responsible for producing the original feature film. Their disinterest shows. Most MGM DVD's have been mastered (and I use the term loosely) from second, third or fourth generation prints instead of original camera negatives. Many are bare bones in the way of extra features and almost all...
Published on April 6 2003 by Nix Pix
Most Helpful First | Newest First
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Surprising, intelligent, and entertaining.,
This review is from: Witness for the Prosecution (DVD)
Review for Fox Video DVD 2008 release of Witness for the Prosecution.
The picture and sound quality are flawless.
A movie from Billy Wilder. It's a courtroom drama. It's well cast and the acting is great. They're believable. The way it's filmed reminds me of an Alfred Hitchcock movie. It's Intelligent, entertaining, dramatic with a twist of funny, twists, and suprises.
Definately deserves a spot in your movie collection. Worth the money and time you'll spend on it.
I envy anyone watching it for the first time! You'll be left satisfied.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "It's not the jury's judgment that worries me. It's mine.",
"No more murder cases," is the doctor's strict prohibition upon reluctantly releasing renowned barrister and recent heart attack survivor Sir Wilfrid Robarts (Charles Laughton) from hospital. (Although even the word "released" seems to be a matter of slight dispute here, because in the words of Sir Wilfrid's nurse Miss Plimsoll [Elsa Lanchester], he was "expelled for conduct unbecoming a cardiac patient." But let's leave that aside for now.) Following the doctor's orders, Sir Wilfrid's staff have lined up an array of civil cases: a divorce, a tax appeal, and a marine insurance claim - surely those will satisfy their hard-to-please employer's demands?
Err ... not likely.
So, try as he might to be a good patient, Sir Wilfrid needs only little encouragement to accept the case of handsome drifter and small-time inventor Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power), accused of murdering his rich benefactress Emily French (Norma Varden). Of course, the very circumstances that most disturb the famous barrister's colleagues Mayhew and Brogan-Moore (Henry Daniell and John Williams) - Mrs. French's infatuation with Vole, his visit to her on the night of the murder, the lack of an alternative suspect and his inheritance under her new will - just make the matter more interesting in Sir Wilfrid's eyes. Most problematic, however, is Vole's alibi, which depends entirely on the testimony of his German wife Christine (Marlene Dietrich), an actress he had met when stationed with the RAF in WWII-ravaged Hamburg. Troubling, insofar, isn't only that Christine is her husband's sole alibi witness and that - Sir Wilfrid explains - a devoted wife's testimony doesn't carry much weight anyway. The real problem is that Christine isn't the loving, desperate wife one might expect to begin with: far from that, she is cool, calculating and surprisingly self-controlled; so much so that, worried because he cannot figure out her game, Sir Wilfrid decides not let her testify at all, rather than risk damaging his case. That, however, seems to have been one of his illustrious career's few major miscalculations - because now he and his client suddenly have to face Christine as a witness for the prosecution. And her testimony on the stand is only one of several surprises she has in store.
"Witness for the Prosecution" is based on a concept Agatha Christie first realized as a four-person short story (published in the 1933 collection "The Hound of Death") and subsequently adapted into what she herself would later call her best play, which opened in London in 1953 and in 1954 on Broadway, where it won the N.Y. Drama Critics' Circle citation as Best Foreign Play. Throughout the adaptations the storyline was fleshed out more and more, the focus shifted from the work of solicitor Mayherne (whose name changed to Mayhew) to that of QC Sir Wilfrid Robarts, and the screenplay ingeniously added Miss Plimsoll's character, utilizing the proven on-screen chemistry of real-life spouses Laughton and Lanchester, for whom this was an astonishing eleventh collaboration, and whose banter bristles with director/co-screenwriter Billy Wilder's dry wit and the fireworks of the couple's pricelessly deadpan delivery, timing and genuine joy in performing together.
Perhaps most importantly, the story's ending changed: not entirely, but enough to give it a different and, albeit very dramatic, less cynical slant than the short story's original conclusion. - To those of us who have grown up with Christie's works, those of her idol Conan Doyle and on a steady diet of Perry Mason, Rumpole of the Bailey and many subsequent other fictional attorneys, the plot twists of "Witness for the Prosecution" (including its ending) may not come as a major surprise. At the moment of the movie's release, however, the ending was a much-guarded secret; viewers were encouraged not to reveal it both in the movie's trailer and at the beginning of the film itself; and even the Royal Family was sworn to silence before a private showing. Similarly, features such as the skillful, methodical unveiling of a seemingly upstanding, disinterested witness's hidden bias in cross-examination have long become standard fare in both real and fictional courtrooms, and any mystery fan worth their salt has heard more than one celluloid attorney yell at a cornered witness: "Were you lying then or are you lying now?" (Not recommended in real-life trial practice, incidentally.) Yet, in these and other respects it was "Witness for the Prosecution" which laid the groundwork for many a courtroom drama to come; and herein lies much of its ongoing importance.
Moreover, this is simply an outstandingly-acted film; not only by Laughton, Lanchester and a perfectly-cast Marlene Dietrich but by every single actor, also including Torin Thatcher (prosecutor Mr. Myers), Francis Compton (the presiding Judge) and, most noteably, Una O'Connor (Mrs. French's disgruntled housekeeper). This is true even if Tyrone Power's emotional outbursts in court may be bewildering to today's viewers - and why, I wonder, was an American-born star acceptable for an Englishman's part without even having to bother trying to put on an English accent anyway, whereas Dietrich and other non-native English speakers of the period, like Greta Garbo and Ingrid Bergman, were routinely cast as foreigners? (Yes, yes, I know. Redford and "Out of Africa" come to mind more recently, too, but that's a can of worms I won't open here.)
"Witness for the Prosecution" won a Golden Globe for Elsa Lanchester, but unfortunately none of its six Academy Award nominations (which undeservedly didn't even include Marlene Dietrich), taking second seat to the year's big winner "Bridge on the River Kwai" in the Best Picture, Best Director (David Lean), Best Actor (Alec Guinness) and Best Editing categories, and to "Sayonara" for Best Supporting Acress (Miyoshi Umeki) and Best Sound. No matter: with the noirish note resulting from its use of multiple levels of ambiguity - in noticeable contrast to Christie's Poirot and Miss Marple mysteries - it fits seamlessly next to such Billy Wilder masterpieces as "Sunset Boulevard" and "Double Indemnity;" and it has long become true courtroom classic.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Many delights, some disappointments,
This review is from: Witness for the Prosecution [Import] (VHS Tape)
When I first saw this movie as a teenager I loved the courtroom drama and attendant plot twists. But Wilder also has a rare genius for creating fully-fledged comic characters with a few deft, witty lines, and that's what delights me now. Charles Laughton is hilarious as the acerbic barrister Sir Wilfrid Robarts, battling with a fussy nurse, a cranky elderly witness, and a sarcastic judge, and the film has several laugh-out-loud moments. I still think the plot is entertaining, but it does have some mighty creaky sections. The screenplay is based on a short story and play by Agatha Christie, and Christie's plot twists are perhaps more notable for their ingenuity than their plausibility. Incidentally, the short story has a different and to me preferable ending.
It's true that Tyrone Powers is pretty hard to watch, but that's not all his fault -- he's given some terrible lines to work with, and after the past decade of seeing stony-faced defendents on Court TV, it seems crazy when Powers starts emoting all over the courtroom. As for Dietrich, her performance varies wildly. At times such as the flashback scene to Germany, she's very naturalistic -- interesting, even fascinating to watch. At other times, you can almost hear Wilder yelling through a megaphone, "Now let's see some ACTING", and Dietrich, like the British soldiers in the trenches of Ypres, goes bravely over the top.
Overall, however, "Witness for the Prosecution" is great. Itt belongs to the set of films that I will always stop and watch while flipping through the cable channels late at night.
5.0 out of 5 stars "Where is my cocoa?",
Sir Wilfrid Robarts (Charles Laughton), Barrister is returning to work prematurely from hospital for a heart condition. He is accompanied by fussy Miss Plimsoll (Elsa Lanchester) Nurse.
Sir Wilfred promised not to take on any strenuous case. However in exchange for a chance to pilfer a forbidden cigar he soon gets intriguingly involved in a murder case. You can tell that Leonard Stephen Vole is being actively accused of murder based on circumstantial evidence. Sr. Wilfred after giving charismatic Leonard the eye-glass test is sure that he is innocent and knows if he does not take an active part in the trial that Leonard is doomed. To make matters worse Leonard's wife Christine Helm Vole (Marlene Dietrich), his only alibi, is some sort of cool character and looks suspicious her self.
Will Sir Wilfred take on the case? And if so will he die trying?
What is Christine's secret?
How will it turn out in the end?
This film is well played and will keep you on the edge of your seat. You will be like the jury vacillating over his innocence and the outcome of the trial. Do not let Leonard's story distract you from the bantering and budding affair between Sir Wilfred and Nurse Plimsoll.
5.0 out of 5 stars Nothing short of a triumph!,
Sir Wilfrid Robarts (played by Charles Laughton) is renown as one of the greatest barristers in England, but his failing health has placed him at the mercy of doctors, and in the clutches of an overbearing nurse (Elsa Lancaster). However, when he is introduced to Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power), an innocent man on his way to the gallows, Sir Wilfrid decides to risk his health and use his jurisprudential skills to save Vole. A wrinkle in the case is Vole's surprisingly harsh wife (Marlene Dietrich), but fortunately a wife can never be used as a witness for the prosecution. [Black-and-white, released in 1957, with a running time of 1:56.]
This movie is based on Agatha Christie's 1933 book with the same title, and is nothing short of a triumph! The three main actors of the movie (Laughton, Power and Dietrich) put on a wonderful performance, making this movie gripping from start to finish. Plus, as a fan of John Mortimer's Rumpole of the Bailey books, I must say that I liked the setting. (I do believe that any Rumpole fan will also adore this movie.)
So, if you are interested in courtroom drama, classic movies and great acting, and want a movie that is all three, then you must get this DVD!
3.0 out of 5 stars BEAR WITNESS TO A PENNY-PINCHING TRANSFER FROM MGM,
Part of the problem with MGM DVD releases of late is that they weren't the studio responsible for producing the original feature film. Their disinterest shows. Most MGM DVD's have been mastered (and I use the term loosely) from second, third or fourth generation prints instead of original camera negatives. Many are bare bones in the way of extra features and almost all of the newly released classic line of catalogue titles don't even come with a color insert that lists chapter breaks. "Witness for the Prosecution" can bear witness to all of the above.
Basically, this is an overdone courtroom drama - think of an episode of "Law and Order" transported to a British locale and stretched to feature length running time and that's basically the idea behind this movie. Charles Laughton is a barrister defending Tyrone Power, who is accused of killing his employer one stormy night. There's plenty of melodrama and some really bad acting by Marlene Dietrich in the second half as she tries to impersonate a cockney waif in order to throw Laughton off course. The one salvation of the film is Laughton's performance - it's brilliant!
As pure cinema, this movie would play as moderately entertaining if it weren't for the fact that MGM has once again given us the short end of the stick. A non-anamorphic print, riddled with aliasing, edge enhancement and pixelization. The gray scale is rendered properly (a small comfort)and the audio is amply provided for (another small comfort) but we basically get a forty year old print that's been run through the projector once too often and presented for us with no attempt to clean up the original camera negative before rushing things out to DVD. Of course there are no extras. From a studio that can't even give you a slip of paper inside to tell you how many chapter breaks there are - was there ever any doubt about extra features?!?
5.0 out of 5 stars Charles Laughton steals the show...,
Elsa Lanchester is brilliant as the nurse for the acerbic barrister, newly home from the hospital after suffering a heart attack; nevertheless, he continues to smoke cigars and drink brandy whenever he can be skillful enough to hide them from the ever watchful Miss Plimsill (Lanchester). Tyrone Power is superb as the charming, disingenuous ne'er-do-well, unable to settle down after the War, and inventing egg beaters that beat AND separate the yolk from the white, and other dubious household necessities. Marlene Dietrich makes a Grand Entrance, and promptly puzzles Sir Wilfrid beyond speech, with her apparent cool, collected behaviour upon hearing her husband is going to be charged with the murder of Emily French, a rich older widow befriended by Power when he assisted her in the selection of a hat. The trial is the real action and centerpiece of the movie. but I enjoyed the byplay between Sir Wilfrid and Miss Plimsill even more...upon emerging from the car when he first comes home, Miss Plimsill reminds him to "Take teeny weeny steps, Sir Wilfrid, remember, we had a teeny weeny heart attack..." to which he replies: "Oh shut up." And his threats (after she confiscates some cigars he was smuggling in his cane) "I'll do it some dark night when her back is turned; I'll plunge her thermometer between her shoulder blades..." There are many unexpected twists here, and the ending is a real shocker, a complete surprise, and quite satisfying. Great performances by an exceptional cast, and as always, IMHO, Laughton steals the show.
4.0 out of 5 stars "Be prepared for hysterics and even a fainting spell.",
Leonard Vole: But this is England, where I thought you never arrest, let alone convict, people for crimes they have not committed.
Sir Wilfrid: We try not to make a habit of it.
When the name "Billy Wilder" is mentioned, most people immediately think of "Sunset Blvd." (1950), "Some Like It Hot" (1959), or "The Apartment" (1960). However, "Witness for the Prosecution" should be mentioned in the same breath. It is one of the hidden gems of cinema that not many people know of, but is beloved by those that do. Never has a courtroom drama been so entertaining, clever, and fun at the same time. You will be guessing throughout the film thanks to its twists and turns and be giddily amused when the facts are all finally set straight.
The story opens with Sir Wilfrid (Charles Laughton) returning to work after recovering from health problems. The cranky barrister is eager to resume his legal duties despite warnings to take it easy from his personal nurse. He gets more excitement than he bargained for when he is referred a client named Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power) - a man who is about to be arrested for murdering a wealthy widow. Is Vole innocent as he claims? The surrounding circumstances are suspicious: the widow had recently changed her will, leaving all of her money to Vole, and Vole's only alibi for the night in question is his wife. The police believe they have their man but Sir Wilfrid thinks otherwise and takes the case. As he pieces the facts together, Sir Wilfrid senses something is not right. He immediately figures out that Vole's wife, Christine (Marlene Dietrich), is playing a mysterious game of her own. But how exactly does she fit into the puzzle?
Laughton as Sir Wilfrid is brilliant as the hardheaded barrister who stubbornly refuses to be stumped by the mystery at hand. Power also turns in a quality performance as the accused. His performance perfectly balances his character's charm and sliminess so that you're not quite sure whether he is guilty or not until the very end. Yet, the person who steals the show is the mesmerizing Dietrich. She manages to maintain the same level of screen presence as Laughton and proves to be a most adequate foil for him. The final scenes where she and Laughton put everything into perspective after the trial concludes are riveting. Both performers are at the top of their game in this film. When all is said and done, "Witness for the Prosecution" will prove to be the most fun you've ever had in a courtroom.
5.0 out of 5 stars To Cherish,
What a great movie. First of all, it's somewhat astonishing that this is a Billy Wilder film. The only thing it has in common with his other classics like "The Apartment," "Sunset Boulevard," or "Some Like it Hot" is its intelligence and sophistication. Otherwise, it is an entirely different kind of experience--a courtroom drama, a twisty mystery, an excursion into what is most British, and a vehicle for great performances by Charles Laughton, Elsa Lanchester and Marlene Dietrich. Laughton is especially wonderful as a barrister with a bad heart, who duels throughout with his scornful, but ultimately devoted, nurse who tries vainly to keep him away from cigars and bad food. Laughton survives this bodily assault, because in the end, he is shown to be essentially a servant of truth. The cynicism of American jurisprudence is absent here--Laughton's character does not give into easy rationalizations about his role(and to say more would be unfair to those who haven't seen it.) Laughton strives for nobility. And yet, despite the wig and the courtliness, he is very alive in this role. I just loved this film.
5.0 out of 5 stars Another Triumph for Billy Wilder !,
With a number of excellent reviews for this classic court-room film, there is not much for me to add. You expect Charles Laughton to be superb, and he doesn't let you down--this is another one of his great roles, and he attacks it with relish.
However, as another reviewer notes, the surprise here is Tyrone Power--his performance is low-key at first, but it builds to a shattering climax--he was much more than just a great-looking man. Sadly, this turned out to be his last film--he succumbed to a heart attack during his next film, "Solomon and Sheba" ( to be replaced by Yul Brynner ). However, with "Witness for the Prosecution", Mr. Power certainly went out "on top".
What else can you say about Billy Wilder--a great director at the top of his game !
This is one film where revealing too much of the plot would be unthinkable, and the finale is one of the great "surprise endings" in the history of the motion picture. In fact, in the 50s when this film was released, audiences were asked not to reveal the ending to their friends. I wonder how closely such "advice" would be followed today !? I remember when the "secret" in "The Crying Game" was spoiled for many viewers, even by film "critics". ( Late note dated 10 August 2003--well--guess what ? Some guy named "Nick" in Windsor, Ontario--who is not so impressed with the film--his privilege, of course--doesn't hesitate to spoil one of the film's key surprises for anyone who has yet to see it. It's like sitting in a movie theatre, and having someone talking behind you, telling you what's going to happen next--well done, Nick ! )
As for the DVD, for a 45 year old movie, the black and white picture is excellent. Highly recommended.
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Witness for the Prosecution by DVD (DVD - 2008)