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 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.
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 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 June 26, 2001
I love old movies; The Maltese Falcon, The Third Man, Notorious, etc. I do not love Witness For The Prosecution. I bought it because of Leonard Maltin's fawning review, but found it to be stagey, even for a movie based on a play, and the characterizations (Dietrich's the exception) mightily ham-fisted. Every scene with Dietrich is great, but she's really not in the movie much, leaving us with unfunny, in fact embarrassing, humor relief from Elsa Lanchester. If you liked the corny humor of such duos as the two jokers in "Stalag 17" you won't mind her, but she didn't make me laugh even once. In addition, the courtroom scenes are laughable as far as realism goes, which I can occaisonally handle, but this film went overboard. Laughton's character should amaze us with his courtroom abilities, but instead Wilder just wrote a smattering of flowery lines for him to spout and allows him to steam through the trial nearly unopposed by the apparently incompetent prosecutor. Perry Mason's arch-nemesis Burger had more luck than this guy. I can see from the other reviews that many people love this film, but I just want to give warning that it's not for everyone.
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.
on July 12, 2004
I first saw this movie as I was walking out the door, and continued to stand mezmirized by the twists and turns. To see these two great actors, not playing their normal roles but so opposite of what I normally see them as.
I was 2 hours late for an appointment, because I was literally glued to the TV
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!