on July 3, 2011
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.
on June 20, 2004
"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.
Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power), an American living in London, is accused of killing an older woman who befriended him. His defense barrister (Charles Laughton) is convinced of the man's innocence but puzzled over the peculiar behavior of Mrs. Vole (Marlene Dietrich).
This movie's trailer touts the 'shocking' ending and, I have to say, I did find it so surprising that I immediately rewound the tape to watch and enjoy it again. Power is slick, handsome, and appears too old to always be called 'young man' by his lawyer, but is otherwise very good. Laughton is the real star of the show and gives an outstanding performance full of wit and passion. His scenes with Elsa Lanchester are very funny. Dietrich is mysterious until the very end, the epitome of an icy, cool, and calculating female. This is a very British story, with most of the action set in a courtroom. The dialogue is spirited and the pace is quick.
I had expected the movie to be dated and a bit dull, but I enjoyed it thoroughly.
on December 5, 2003
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.
on February 16, 2013
Many people consider this to be Tyrone Power's best and Marlene Deitrich plays the stero-typically unemotional German woman to a "T", in director, Billy Widler's movie. In my opinion, however, it is Charles Laughton who steals the show.
The dialogue his character has and the way he delivers it against the acting of his long-time wife, Elsa Lanchester, is just delightful. An excellent story and well worth watching for it's an early Hollywood example of a twist in the ending. One cannot be too surprised by the ending, though, considering the story was written by Agatha Christie.
From 1957 , and in Glorious Black & White , this film is not to be missed. It has so much going for it ; from a story by Agatha Christie , starring a list including Charles Laughton , Marlene Dietrich , Tyrone Power , Elsa Lanchester , and a young Ruta Lee , and directed by Billy Wilder. Charles Laughton today would be called fat , but in those days he would have been called portly or stout. Nevertheless , he is an imposing presence that dominates with wit and sarcasm. Elsa Manchsester , whose role as his nurse was not in the original play and was created by Billy Wilder , was , in real life , the wife of Charles Laughton. The interplay between them is priceless as she attempts to maintain his health and he , like a school boy
tries to sneak in the odd cigar or brandy.
The action involves a murder and courtroom with surprises galore ; you will be left gaping and the expression " my jaw dropped " is applicable
a number of times. A classic of epic proportions which will leave you both astounded and delighted.
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.
on June 3, 2003
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!
on April 6, 2003
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?!?
on March 20, 2003
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.