Witness For the Prosecution

 
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Tyrone Power, Marlene Dietrich and Charles Laughton star in this brilliantly made courtroom drama (The Film Daily) that left audiences reeling from its surprise twists and shocking climax. Directed by Billy Wilder, scripted by Wilder and Harry Kurnitz and based on Agatha Christie's hit London play, this splendid, six-time Oscar-nominated* classic crackles with emotional electricity (The New York Times) and continues to keep movie lovers riveted until the final, mesmerizing frame. When a wealthy widow is found murdered, her married suitor, Leonard Vole (Power), is accused of the crime. Vole's only hope for acquittal is the testimony of his wife (Dietrich) but his airtightalibi shatters when she reveals some shocking secrets of her own! *1957: Best Picture, Actor (Laughton), Supporting Actress (Elsa Lanchester), Director, Sound, Film Editing

Billy Wilder cowrote and directed this brilliant 1957 mystery based on Agatha Christie's celebrated play about an aging London barrister (Charles Laughton) who's preparing to retire when he takes the defense in the most vexing murder case of his distinguished career. In his final completed film (he died of a heart attack less than a year later), Tyrone Power plays the prime suspect in the murder of a wealthy widow, and Marlene Dietrich plays the wife of the accused, whose testimony--and true identity--holds the key to solving the case. A classic of courtroom suspense, Witness for the Prosecution is one of those movies with enough double-crossing twists to keep the viewer guessing right up to the very end, when yet another surprise is deftly revealed. This being a Billy Wilder film, the dialogue is first-rate and the acting superb, with both Laughton and his offscreen wife Elsa Lanchester (playing the barrister's pesty nurse) winning Academy Awards for their performances. Although later films would concoct even more complicated courtroom scenarios, this remains one of the best films of its kind and a model for all those films that followed its lead. --Jeff Shannon

Customer Reviews:

  • "What Hypocrites You English Are!"
    Lawyers Charles Laughton and Henry Daniell get quite flustered when Marlene Dietrich hurls that line at them, after Laughton suggests that an older murdered woman doted on Dietrich's husband (and prime suspect) Tyrone Power as a son. The victim changed her will in his favor, you see, shortly before her murder and Power doesn't seem ever to have mentioned that he was a married man. He seems a likeable enough fellow, for all that, so Laughton decides to take the case, although as a heart patient he really ought to be resting. Well, at least his nurse Elsa Lanchester will do her part and coax and cajole him into compliance (or so she thinks). But when the prosecution shows up with a surprise witness, Laughton has to chew a lot of pills and use all his wits to try to secure an acquittal of his client.

    "Witness for the Prosecution" is a great story, and why wouldn't it be, since it stems from the mind of Agatha Christie herself. Everyone is turning in a top-notch performance; my only criticism concerns Mr. Power. It's much like my complaint against Richard Basehart in "Moby-Dick"--too many pointed references to the youthfulness of the character when the man before us is obviously not a whippersnapper. The vanity implied makes it a bit absurd, you see. Anyway, the extreme youth of Power's character isn't really the operative point; he's younger than the murder victim, and that's enough. The real firework displays come from Laughton and Dietrich. Both give Academy Award-calibre performances in their adversarial roles. Proof of the pudding is in the eating moment: During his first viewing of it, my generally hard-to-please brother calmly turned to us and said that it was the best movie he'd ever seen!

    The verdict is in: You're to be taken to a VCR where you should see "Witness for the Prosecution" as soon as possible....more info

  • "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....more info

  • 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....more info
  • Entertaining Trial Movie That Still Holds Up
    This is one of the best "trial movies" ever made. It's an outstanding film that is just as good today as it was almost 50 years ago when it was released in the theaters. The shocking ending caused quite a stir back then, too.

    The only part of the movie I thought looked dated and unrealistic was Tyrone Power's character being able to interrupt the trial with outbursts and not be reprimanded for it. There is no way that would be tolerated, at least today.

    Otherwise, it's a pretty solid film with a good cast that includes two fascinating characters played by actors who know how to entertain: Charles Laughton and Marlene Dietrich.

    Laughton, who plays Power's defense attorney, grabs the spotlight in the story but Dietrich almost steals the movie in her role as Power's wife. Laughton's dialog is terrific throughout, bringing a number of laughs to this serious film. He's just a joy to watch. Dietrich is even more riveting but just doesn't have anywhere near the same amount of screen time as Laughton.

    Not to be overlooked is Elsa Lanchester, playing Laughton's nurse. She, too, demonstrates her comedic talent and significantly adds to the fun of watching this film.

    If you like some fine drama, storyline twists, a little humor thrown in and great acting and dialog, this is a classic film to check out.
    ...more info
  • Witness for the Prosecution
    This is one of the best movies ever made it keeps you glued to your chair and so many red herrings are thrown in to keep you guessing. The acting by the whole cast is superb and I never tire of watching it and always see soemthing new in it....more info
  • Witness for the Prosecution
    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...more info
  • PERFECT :-)
    Well..almost. I just saw this movie a few days ago for the first time, but I've seen it several times since. The beginning of the film may seem a bit longer than it is...Not boring...The movie is really dominated by Charles Laughton and his outstanding performance. He "spices" up every scene he is in, with his funny comments. The leading lady is the one and only Marlene Dietrich. It has been said that this is her finest performance since "The Blue Angel" and I would say that it's not far from the truth.

    The "action" really starts when they all hit courtroom. A scene where many lies and "truths" come out.

    Anyway, I would say that Charles Laughton and Marlene Dietrich really holds the film to it's standards.

    Just see it for yourself...but remember that the truth may not be as simple as it seems....more info

  • 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 shortstory of the same title, which was first published in the 1933 book The Hound of Death and Other Stories, 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!...more info
  • Superb English courtroom drama
    Charles Laughton is utterly brilliant as acerbic, splashy and celebrated English barrister Sir Wilfrid Robarts in Billy Wilder's terrific "Witness for the Prosecution". The irascible Sir Wilfrid has just returned home after a two month convalescence following a heart attack. He arrives attached at the hip with nurse Miss Plimsoll played by a chatty Elsa Lanchester. Sir Wilfrid has been prohibited from drinking, smoking and practicing law in any stressful high profile cases.

    Laughton is visited by a solicitor friend seeking advice in a case involving Tyrone Power playing sketchy playboy type, Leonard Vole. Vole has been implicated in the bludgeoning death of an elderly and wealthy widow Emily Jane French. The married Vole had been wooing the widow hoping for financial backing for his invention. Initially Laughton's inclination is to follow doctor's orders and refer the case to his trusted associate played by John Williams. After interviewing Power, he is intrigued convinced of his innocence and decides to take the case. His contention that Power has no motive for the killing is dashed when he discovers that the widow has left him 80,000 pounds.

    Power's only alibi is the testimony of his German born actress wife Christine played by Marlene Dietrich, that he was home at the established time of the murder. Laughton questions Dietrich and learns that her marriage to Power is illegal and that she is actually a bigamist, being already married, Her cool demeanor and abrasive personality forces him to dismiss her as a potential witness for the defense.

    In the courtroom, compelling circumstantial evidence presented by the prosecutor, English character actor Torin Thatcher makes things look grim for Power. Much to the surprise of Laughton and his associate Mr. Brogan-Moore, Dietrich is called as a witness for the prosecution. She skewers Power by failing to corroborate his alibi, dooming him.

    Miraculously, later that evening, the night before the closing arguments, Laughton is tipped off to the presence of incriminating letters written by Dietrich which will exonerate Power and cast suspicion on her. With letters in hand, Laughton tears apart Dietrich on the witness stand and everyone now anxiously awaits the verdict.

    The verdict, however doesn't signal the end of the Agatha Christie inspired flick, as numerous plot twists at the conclusion enhance the reputation of this film as a timeless classic....more info
  • Simply a Masterpiece!
    From the time I first watched this film in the theater, to purchasing it on VHS and DVD, I have regarded this as one of the finest films ever, of any genre. No serious collection of movie classics is complete without it! In the true Agatha Christie mode, it is a fast-moving story that incorporates many unexpected twists and turns, and absolutely rivets the audience. This is Charles Laughton's finest performance, and he stands out as the key player in the entire drama, upstaging the "leading man" image of Tyrone Power. Frankly, there is not a weak portrayal among any of the cast. Magnificent film, and a fantastic reproduction effort on the film itself! ...more info
  • Agatha Christie brought to life in the court
    Witness for the Prosecution, a movie based on an Agatha Christie story of the same name, portrays a defense lawyer ridden with health issues and his attempt to win what will probably be his last, or maybe even biggest, case. Starting early with misdirections on all sides, the story builds with intrigue as the "guess who" murder trial unfolds. The lawyer for the defense, played by Charles Laughton, is the humor throughout. With amazingly good timing and wit his character keeps the intrigue going as the case unravels. Black and white as it may be, this movie is still a good film to see. Hey, that rhymes....more info
  • "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 "release" seems to be a matter of some dispute here, because according to 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.) And 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: 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 the 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 even if one wonders why an American-born star was acceptable for an Englishman's role without even having to bother trying to put on an English accent in the first place, 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 Oscar 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 since become a true courtroom classic.

    Also recommended:
    The Witness for the Prosecution (St. Martin's Minotaur Mysteries)
    Stage Fright
    The Blue Angel
    Marlene Dietrich - The Glamour Collection (Morocco/ Blonde Venus/ The Devil Is a Woman/ Flame of New Orleans/ Golden Earrings)
    The Big Clock (Universal Noir Collection)...more info
  • The perfect courtroom drama...
    Quite simply, this film is brilliant. In addition to being one of Billy Wilder's best films, this is one of the best courtroom dramas ever made! It is cleverly directed, has a compelling plot, features great performances (especially by Marlene Dietrich), and is all in all very exciting and entertaining. This is a film you won't forget.

    This plot of this film, which was based on a play by Agatha Christie, is your basic courtroom drama: a series of witnesses testify about the murder of a wealthy widow. Tyrone Power plays the young man accused of the murder, Marlene Dietrich gives an amazing performance as the key witness in the case, and Charles Laughton plays the lawyer determined to unravel the mystery. This film has some terrific, very surprising, twists and turns, so to say any more about the plot would give too much away!

    Anyhow, this film is really suspenseful, captivating, and memorable. It's a true classic by the brilliant director Billy Wilder, and has been imitated countless times since its release. But no imitation has come close to the original, which is why this film is a must-see. Highly recommended!...more info

  • witness for the prosecution

    this is another classics movie it have lies murder love betray tyrone power is great. marlene charles laughton is wonderful actor i would watch is over and over again....more info
  • A well crafted film.
    This is an excellent example of a good play transferred to the screen. It was Tyrone Power's last film. The interplay between Laughton and Elsa Lanchester is a delight to watch. Film buffs, of course, know that they were married. The entire cast turns in stellar performances. The direction, by Billy Wilder, is close to perfect. This film is a two hour cinematic gem....more info
  • Mesmerizing!
    DVD - MGM Entertainment - perfect print and audio. Thanks MGM! What a wonderful film! It's good, very good. Charles Laughton is a joy to watch and paired with Elsa Lanchester (his real-life wife) as his nurse is fun, fun, fun! Marlene Dietrich is in fine form. In fact, there's a darn good chance she'll take your breath away! This film is especially fun to watch for the very first time - from tip to tail, not missing a heartbeat. It's quite a ride!...more info
  • superior courtroom drama
    Tyrone Power gives a stellar performance in this true courtroom classic. all the principle actors involved, including a superb performance by Charles Laughton, gave excellent performances. this film captures your attention and engrosses the viewer completely. some of the most powerful performances given are those by a brilliant cast: Power, Laughton, Dietrich and a delightful performance given the enduringly cute Elsa Lanchester. as for the premise/plot, to divulge any real details wouldn't be fair to those who haven't seen this absolutely terrific film. a must for any avid collector of the classics.

    as for the DVD, the picture and sound are well above average. no extras though, too bad....more info
  • Witness for the Prosecution
    This has to be one of my favorite movies of all times. My brother and I were youngsters and luckily we were allowed to stay up late when the movie came on. We were mezmerized throughout. The ending blew us away, and we've talked about it for years. They just don't make movies like that anymore. I recommend it whole-heartedly!!!!...more info
  • MAGNIFICENT - BEST ALL-STAR FILM EVER
    ...I rememeber seeing Ralph Richardson, Deborah Kerr and Diana Rigg in the 1982 TV-remake, but THIS VERSION IS IT:

    The editing, performances, direction, script is right on target and it is a treasure to behold seeing such legendary names in the same scenes together. Yeah, we do have Grand Hotel, Dinner at Eight etc, but in THIS film - all the stars appear TOGETHER:-)

    A sad irony is that Tyrone Power(looking quite worn)died a year later of a heart-attack while filming in Spain. This disease is of major importance in the film and it`s sad the the youngest star of the cast was to die so sudden of it....

    Elsa Lanchester and Charles Laughton(always a married couple though he was admittingly a homosexual - when he revelaed this to Elsa soon after marriage, she enquired if he had done anything in their livingroom and he pointed out a chair... "Then the chair goes out" was Elsa`s remark and they remained together intil his death in 1962) are wonderful in their interplaying and she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her efforts...

    Marlene does her best acting job ever. ...more info
  • The first time I saw this...
    ...six unblinking, spellbound eyes took every moment in--that is to say, my parents and I (eye!) were thoroughly riveted. The plot was deliciously unpredictable, and Marlene was so unflinching in her role. Perhaps it's not the most feel-good movie in the world, but it's well worth watching anyhow. You're a witness......more info
  • "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.
    ...more info
  • Witness To A Classic
    I have owned the VHS version of this film for several years and was delighted to purchase it in DVD. If one has the choice, go for the DVD. It's widescreen, the transfer is flawless, and the sound is better. It's funny, but I enjoyed the VHS version for years until I saw how much better it became on DVD. I had to cut the contrast on my television by a couple of notches to get the right tone of grays, as happens often with these B/W films.

    This is indeed one of the best transfers of a Christie work to film. Unlike so many of her books, there is no hidden clue or plot twist that leaves one feeling cheated at the end of the film.

    It's the cast, of course, that makes the movie for us. Laughton and Lanchester take to their parts like they were born for them, filling their roles with obvious relish and enjoyment. It reminds us how liberating roles can be when the actors aren't young and trying to appear sexy!

    Marlene Dietrich plays her part to near-perfection. Considering she was 'way up in her fifties when this movie was made, she is effortless in her grace, if not also her beauty. Who could play this part at that age in today's films? No one I know. Ms. Dietrich always knew her best wardrobe and lighting, and she uses it to great advantage here.

    ..., Tyrone Power has never seemed to fit so well with the rest of this cast. I've always felt that he acted too 'young' for his part, for, like Ms. Dietrich, he is very obviously middle-aged, and not aging as well as she. While still a handsome man, he seems a good ten years too old for his part. He does his best, though, and certainly doesn't ruin the overall impression of the movie.

    As the movie requests, I won't go into the plot or the surprise ending, leaving that for the viewer. I will say that the courtroom scene is one of the best ever made re British courts, as enjoyable as that in "QB VII", being so different from our American system.

    This is a movie to treasure and watch over again whenever one feels the need for a 'feel good' film with good guys and bad ones, too. As always, we are so fortunate to be able to preserve these on digital media to enjoy for many years to come....more info

  • This classic movie really does have surprising twists and turns!
    This is a great movie with both outstanding acting and a compelling plot. I have to admit I did not see all the twists coming and was genuinely shocked by the surprises at the end. Charles Laughton is brilliant as the ailing,older defense attorney and Elsa Lancaster provides comic relief as his nurse that is miraculously not annoying. I did wonder how Tyrone Power could play a British citizen with such an obvious American accent. I'm surprised they didn't provide a back story that he was an American living in England instead of trying to pass him off as a native. Marlene Dietrich (in her mid 50's but still charismatic) is really not in the movie that much but she makes a real impact when she does appear and of course her genuine German accent fits right in to her part. There are no extras to speak of on the DVD and close captioning is not in English just French and Spanish which I always find disappointing but the accents are not difficult to follow. ...more info
  • A Remembered Classic
    I've gotten used to seeing my favorite old movies rediscovered by modern critics and trumpeted as "forgotten classics," "neglected masterpieces," and so on. *Witness for the Prosecution,* on the other hand, is one of a select group of old films that future generations will grow up hearing about, and deservedly so. Recognizing that even the most compelling pretzel of a plot can benefit from liberal doses of comic relief, the screenplay adaptation of Agatha Christie's novel wisely gives barrister Sir Wilfrid Robarts (Charles Laughton) a steady stream of delightful one-liners to deliver throughout both the high and low points of the action, continuing right through to an utterly inspired comic turn at the end, which I won't spoil here. Tyrone Power--who seemed to serve mostly as eye-candy in his leading-man roles in the forties--gives one of his best performances ever. And need anything really be said about Marlene Dietrich, other than that she's perfect as Power's scheming wife?

    As a lawyer, I sometimes find myself grinding my teeth at the ham-fisted histrionics that beleaguer even some of the best modern legal dramas. So imagine my surprise at the sophistication and witty understatement of this half-century old film. If I could give it more than five stars, I would....more info
  • Fun and intriguing all around
    I'm a confessed Agatha Christie fanatic. Read all her books back in the seventies (was furious when she died before I'd finished reading them all!), but somehow didn't get around to seeing this movie until Dec. 2005. What a fine thing to have waiting for me all these years. The cast is superb, the suspense wonderful, the story telling fine, the ending heart pounding. See the movie for a guaranteed good time. You may figure out part of the puzzle before the conclusion, but you'll never predict the whole thing. After you watch this one, find some local theater group performing "The Mousetrap" and go see it, too, for another night of thrilling entertainment!...more info
  • Smartly Played Star Turns and Agatha Christie's Plot Twists Elevate Wilder's Witty Courtroom Drama
    A labyrinth of deception is expected in an Agatha Christie mystery, and those unfamiliar with Billy Wilder's 1957 adaptation of the venerable writer's classic courtroom drama are in for a treat. Even if you already know how it all ends, there are still joys to be had from the star-studded cast and the master filmmaker's craftsmanship. Along with fellow screenwriters Larry Marcus and Harry Kurnitz, Wilder has imbued Christie's absorbing story with enough of his trademark humor to make the compelling film a genuine entertainment in the old Hollywood tradition. The plot centers on master barrister Sir Wilfrid Robarts, who decides to take as a client Leonard Vole, an unemployed kitchen-gadget inventor who is charged with murder. Robarts is in ill health and must tolerate the constant pestering of Miss Plimsoll, a nurse assigned to make sure Robarts slows down and takes his medications. Through a trick he employs by having sunlight reflect on his monocle, Robarts believes Vole to be innocent of the charge of killing wealthy, lonely matron Mrs. French. Naturally, there is a lot of circumstantial evidence that points to Vole being the killer.

    Enter Vole's cold German wife Christine, a former wartime chanteuse several years older than her husband and now his only alibi the night of the murder. The first surprising twist in the story occurs when Christine ends up playing the title role and kick-starts a series of revelations that lead to its somewhat unexpected conclusion. As Robarts, Charles Laughton has the best movie role of the latter phase of his lengthy career, displaying the character's sharp wit and cunning deductive skills with aplomb. His real-life wife Elsa Lanchester plays Miss Plimsoll with her familiar dotty manner and sing-song dithering. In his last completed role, Tyrone Power capitalizes on his seemingly effortless charm to play Vole but unfortunately tends to overact during key moments. Marlene Dietrich is ideally cast as the morally ambiguous Christine, showing off her legs in a wartime flashback and playing quite against character in the train station scene. You may be amused by a voiceover during the end credits that asks viewers not to reveal the surprise ending. A long trailer featuring Laughton is the only extra that comes with the 2001 DVD....more info
  • Witness for the Prosecution
    This has to be one of my favorite movies of all times. My brother and I were youngsters and luckily we were allowed to stay up late when the movie came on. We were mezmerized throughout. The ending blew us away, and we've talked about it for years. They just don't make movies like that anymore. I recommend it whole-heartedly!!!!...more info
  • A Whodunit Masterpiece
    I, myself, am not a fan of Agatha Christie's or of any of her followers; I rarely find the strength to keep up with all the clues and the various witnesses, lawyers, cross-examinations and objections which all lead up to the inevitable conclusion that, well, The Butler Did It. I can certainly understand the appeal in this kind of puzzle-movie; it just never appealed to me. To me the main problem with this kind of stories is that usually, more emphasis is put on the clues than on the characters - and so, when the real murderer is finally revealed, I say: "well, how about that?" - I simply don't care.

    But in every genre there are always some creations that transcend the genre. Witness for the Prosecution stands as a true masterpiece among the Whodunit murder mysteries, one that will be pure ecstasy to fans of the genre, but is also a fantastic creation on any level and in any standard. This one proves just my point, that a clever story with a lot of characters and a lot of clues and misguiding clues just isn't enough; Christie's play is masterful, of course, and the twist at the end is one of the great classic shockers of cinema, one that matches modern classics like The Usual Suspects and Memento, if not transcends them; but it took more than the story to make that ending work. The reason it all works so well is because the characters are so captivating. That is thanks to two elements - first, Billy Wilder's (Some Like It Hot, Sunset Blvd., The Seven Year Itch) masterful direction, and an ensemble of fantastic actors, all of whom bring their characters to life; Charles Laughton is beyond brilliant as the aging, ailing, wily solicitor, and Tyrone Power is electrifying and fascinating as his client. Most of all the diva Marlene Dietrich grants a truly show-stopping performance, and steals the show from the rest of the cast - proving just how great she really was.

    By far the greatest trial drama ever made, and one of the greatest murder mysteries, it took the combined talents of Christie, Wilder and the fantastic cast to create such amazing drama in the courtroom alone; Witness for the Prosecution is basically an ensemble piece that is no more than a theatre production, but Wilder uses the full powers that he has at his disposal as a film director - close-ups, music, cinematography, lighting - to their full potential; and thus once again it is proven that he is one of the most underrated directors in history. This is a classic that deserves to be remembered with the very best films of all time....more info
  • A gripping English courtroom drama

    As strongly advised by the narrator in the movie, we viewers are not to disclose the ending of the plot. And you'll be guaranteed a big twist and surprise that is beyond your imagination!

    Charles Laughton is the renowned persistent barrister with an even more persistent nurse and watchful housekeeper. He, against the advice of his doctor and his nurse, acted as the defence lawyer in an apparently hopeless to win trial. Tyrone Power was the accused murderer with a beautiful foreigner wife Marlene Dietrich. The time was a few years after the World War II ended and the place London when the public was still at large unsympathetic to Germans.

    The three stars acted superbly with impeccable lines. To top it all, the movie is given an ending that is wonderful, unexpected and at the same time serves the justice well. It can only be said that the punishment fits the crime and human nature (or weaknesses and prejudices, to be more specific) as portrayed in the movie is still highly relevant nowadays. To me, this is the most intriguing work by Agatha Christie.

    This movie can hardly be remade and deliver as much impact. There simply is not another trio who could play against each other so well. The conversations when Charles Laughton first inquired of the testimony of the husband and wife, separately, at his apartment were already as exciting as the subsequent court room drama. Credits must also be given to the director Billy Wilder (Sabrina, the Apartment, Some Like It Hot) who was a master of portraying characters, dialogues, wit and detail. No one could impress more than Marlene Dietrich as the intelligent wife with an unmistakable German accent. There is also a rare scene of her showing her legs. Tyrone Power grabbed the audience's attention with his plea for his innocence. And Charles Laughton is Charles Laughton - a big boy who pursued the case, as well as indulged himself in a few drinks and cigars, ferociously and fervantly. He is also the brain of the movie and the truth first dawned on him only till the end.

    It might also interest you that the nurse, Elsa Lanchester starred in the Bride of Frankestein and played as Charles Laughton's wife, Anne of Cleves, in the Private Life of Henry VIII. Another barrister in the movie, John Williams, actually assumed the role of Audrey Hepburn's father in Sabrina. With such a star-studded performance, you will not be a bit diasppointed. ...more info
  • A well crafted film.
    This is an excellent example of a good play transferred to the screen. It was Tyrone Power's last film. The interplay between Laughton and Elsa Lanchester is a delight to watch. Film buffs, of course, know that they were married. The entire cast turns in stellar performances. The direction, by Billy Wilder, is close to perfect. This film is a two hour cinematic gem....more info
  • witness for the prosecution
    gorgeous copy of this old film whih has been
    fully remasterized and it is a pleasure to look
    at again...more info
  • The best film Christie...and a fabulous courtroom drama!
    Seriously one of the great courtroom dramas of all time. A taut, unpredictable mystery...one of Agatha Christie's finest twists, and she was the master of the unguessable ending. Accompanied by terrific characters (all colorful and over the top, but highly entertaining) played to the hilt by some truly fine actors, many of whom were reaching the ends of their serious careers (Charles Laughton, Marlene Dietrich, Tyrone Power) but were also at the very top of their games.

    I won't trouble you with all the details of the plot. It's a seemingly simple murder mystery / courtroom drama that just gets more and more complex as the layers of the plot are peeled away. If you want a movie with deep, realistic characterizations...this is not it. If you want vivid, larger-than-life people engaged in a series of high-stakes cat-and-mouse games, you'll be very satisfied.

    Yes, the movie is nearly 50 years old, but it has aged unbelievably well. The direction is spot-on from the peerless Billy Wilder. His filmmaking is so clean and unpretentious, and yet powerfully effective. He knows when to use the closeup, when to pan back. They are technically unremarkable...except it is so difficult to make a movie this unobtrusive in its artistry, that I admire Wilder for that ability.

    Charles Laughton, as the attorney hired to represent murder suspect Tyrone Power, has NEVER been better. He might have gained more awards for his HENRY VIII and more lasting fame for HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME...but this character has it all. Bombast, cynicism, a real heart, great intelligence and a desert-dry wit. If his were the only memorable turn in the film, it would be enough to recommend it.

    But you've got to see the legendary Marlene Dietrich. She's past her height as a sex-symbol, but instead we get a rich performance that musters all her hard-won lessons over the decades. If anyone ever thought she was just a charismatic figure...they need to see this. She has charisma to burn, true, but skill as well. Tyrone Power is a dashing scoundrel, who may or may not be a murderer, and he is well-suited to the role...he's a mix of tough guy and romantic lead. Elsa Lancaster has a small role as Laughton's assistant, and she's simply a hoot. Throughout the film are many other recognizable British character actors of the `40s and `50s. It's a top-notch production from beginning to end.

    And the ending is a doozy as well. When the final twist is revealed, we're left to marvel at Agatha Christie's skills. As a youth, I read all her books (literally all) and I can say this: Agatha Christie may not have had the best writing skills (serviceable but not exactly Nobel Prize material) but her ability to craft an amazing and yet credible plot twist was and is unsurpassed. Much of her work has been imitated over the decades. Many of her twists still show up on everything from Murder She Wrote to CSI. But she consistently came up with great ending after great ending. For nearly 90 novels, and countless short stories. And WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION (based very closely on her stage play, which she based on a short story of hers) has one of her better twists.

    I can't recommend this movie highly enough!
    ...more info
  • wonderful classic
    If you haven't seen it, and haven't read Witness in Death, here's what it's about: Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power) is accused of killing a wealthy widow, and he applies to Sir Wilfrid (Charles Laughton), the best barrister in England, to defend him. But Sir Wilfrid's health is failing, and he initially refuses, until actually meeting Leonard convinces him to take the case.

    Leonard's wife Christine (Marlene Dietrich) is his alibi, but she's not very believable when she talks to Sir Wilfrid, and indeed she ends up as a witness for the prosecution.

    Even though I knew the plot, including the twists and turns, from reading Witness in Death, the movie itself was more than just the sum of its parts. The drama of whodunit and how and why was interspersed with humor, much of it coming from interactions between Sir Wilfrid and his nurse (Elsa Lanchester, who I remembered from Mary Poppins and That Darn Cat). In fact, it added an extra dimension watching the movie and thinking of Eve & Roarke watching it being performed by Richard Draco & Areena Mansfield.

    If you don't know what's going to happen, though, the twists are wonderful--my husband and sons loved it as much as I did....more info
  • should laughton have won the oscar?
    a tour-de-force for charles laughton as a barrister defending a wrongfully (?) accused tyrone power on a murder charge. great supporting work by marlene dietrich and elsa lanchester, and a neat (if somewhat predictable) script by the great billy wilder. major fun.

    and to answer my own header query: no. it went that year (deservedly) to alec guiness for "bridge on the river kwai": in the role laughton was originally set to play!
    ...more info
  • Many delights, some disappointments
    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....more info

  • 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?!?...more info
  • Could this be the best film ever made?
    This film is a remarkable, unforgettable work of art in so many ways. Director Billy Wilder and a brilliant cast of actors gave "Witness for the Prosecution" every element of a superb movie. The film is a highly suspenseful courtroom drama, saturated with plot twists and surprises which do not let up until the very end. I have never seen another movie in which the element of suspense is so brilliantly done-the plot twists leave the viewer captivated and perplexed until all the loose ends come together in the film's unforgettable climax. Aside from the drama, "Witness for the Prosecution" has numerous bits of comedy interspersed throughout the storyline, which complement the film's enjoyability very much and do not in any way detract from its dramatic impact. The performances of the actors and their interaction with each other are done flawlessly. Charles Laughton leads the cast, starring in one of his last film roles as Sir Wilfrid Robarts, a crotchety old English barrister, who agrees to defend Leonard Vole (played by Tyrone Power, who also died shortly after the film was made) on a charge of murder. The case against Vole seems open-and-shut, as even his own wife (played by Marlene Dietrich) agrees to testify against him. But as we learn in the course of the film, there is much more to Leonard Vole and his wife Christine than first meets the eye, and just when you think you know how the story will end, the plot veers off in a new direction and the viewer is kept guessing until the final credits roll. For quality of acting, a great storyline, suspense, and great entertainment value, "Witness for the Prosecution" simply can't be beat. Every element of a great film is present here in abundance. Suffice it to say that, in my humble opinion, this movie represents the pinnacle of filmmaking, and was never surpassed before or since. Pure, undiluted cinematic genius. ...more info
  • Classic court room drama
    A highlight in Billy Wilder's impressive oeuvre. The story hinges on the abilities of Marlene Dietrich and Tyrone Power to tell two different stories with equal conviction. Their performances and the story are anchored by the fussy, but brilliant barrister played by Charles Laughton. Wilder does an excellent job weaving the story without telegraphing the plot twists that accompany an Agatha Christie mystery. The only fault I find with the film is the pacing. The movie takes a little long to get started, how the defendant met his wife is not really important to the story. Then the ending concludes incredibly quickly. Followed a year later by "Anatomy of a Murder" these two classics can hold their own against any recent court room drama without needing any special forgiveness from the audience for their age....more info
  • WITNESS FOR THE 'PROSECUTION'
    I'm not going to spoil the plot since this Agatha Christie-based movie directed by Billy Wilder takes so many twists and turns, especially at the end. The AWARDS speak for themselves as to the quality of this film. Charles Laughton portrays the huge hunk of a man, barrister Sir Wilfrid, who, as the film opens, is returning home from an extended stay in the hospital for a near fatal heart attack. He is accompanied by his eccentric nurse whose sole job is to keep him away from everything he craves-cigars, brandy, women and high stress criminal cases. Of course, he immediately becomes intrigued with the case of Leonard Vole (Power) who is accused of killing a wealthy widow. His curiosity gets the best of him when he meets Christine Helm/Vole (Dietrich), Leonard's wife and only alibi, and so he decides to take Leonard's case. The rest of this fast-paced film concentrates on the courtroom drama with it famous surprises and great acting and is spiced with some very funny scenes and lines. Definitely one of the all time great courtroom films-put this at the top of the list. [...].

    ...more info
  • Keep your eyes on the movie (recommended)
    There's quite a bit of dialog in the beginning that well establishes each character and sets up the shocking conclusion. It is filled with mild humor and suspicious behavior. The dialog is engaging; there is just so much of it and no real "action" by today's standards you could begin to think the story is a drag. However, like veering over highway double yellow lines and awakening to high beams flashing in your face, your adrenaline elevates and eyes pop wide open as the plot unfolds with multiple twists and turns. The contrast is very effective. The acting is not only good, when characters act like they are acting you are fooled. Enjoy a series of unexpected climaxes that should not be spoiled for anyone who hasn't seen WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION.

    Movie quote: "You don't get arrested or convicted for things you haven't done." "We try not to make a habit out it."...more info
  • 3.5 stars out of 4
    The Bottom Line:

    An absolutely charming film with delightful performances by Charles Laughton in the lead and Elsa Lancaster as his nurse, Witness for the Prosecution is such an unbelievably fun movie that I cannot do justice to it in this review: just go out and see it....more info
  • witness for the prosecution

    this is another classics movie it have lies murder love betray tyrone power is great. marlene charles laughton is wonderful actor i would watch is over and over again....more info
  • Witness for the Prosecution
    I first saw this film the best part of 50 years ago. I think it has aged extremely well and remains among the best court room dramas I have seen. Its a delight to see Charles Laughton practising his craft, in the company of a strong cast, so I am happy to overlook the lapses in accent from Tyrone Power and Marlene Dietrich....more info
  • Make that 83 people who love it
    Though Thomas Wolfe advised against it, sometime heading home is a good thing. And what creates home more than those films you saw during your formative years? My first Marx Brothers, my first time with Bogart, my first gigantic plot twist all clank around in my brain even now. Sometimes, as with The Ipcress File, a return visit is massively disappointing. Sometimes though, a trip back is more exciting than imagined. Such a trip is Witness for the Prosecution, a film I loved when I first saw it, probably on TV way back when, and a film that looks even better today, especially in this lovely print.

    How could anyone dislike this film? While others here praise Power and Dietrich, I find their performances somewhat stilted and artificial. The plot conclusion muddies those waters, but they do not carry this tale. I'm happy to be in the minority, as they cannot sink this battleship. While Billy Wilder makes a wonderful captain, steering and choosing and selecting with a deftness not often seen, it is Charles Laughton, in what is certainly one of the finest performances on screen, who elevates this tale from the mere plot-driven supriseroo (like Ten Little Indians) to the realm of classics. He is extraordinary, moving from condescending, arrogant, sneering, scowling, and cranky, to overwhelmed with his own ignorance and staggered by how badly he is mistaken. Breathtaking in the smallest mannerisms and slightest vocal inflections. Elsa Lanchester, who often played the dithering wacko, is the perfect blend of subservience and skill. The supporting cast is all excellent. Familiar faces from a hundred films walk in, do a great job, and depart. But watching the aging Laughton, a man who no one could have seen as a box office draw, triumph, is a treat. A fine film with a fine transfer to display its greatness....more info
  • Cheesy by today's standards
    I agree that this movie is a prototype for countless future courtroom dramas, but that said, it wasn't too terribly exciting.

    Marlene Deitrich- icon at large- has always been a bit creepy to me- she's so cold- even when she's not supposed to be & don't get me started on her singing!

    I still like to watch films she stars in, because I believe one day I'll crack & understand what made her deeply sought after.

    If I had seen this in 1957, I'm sure I would have ooohed & aaahed at the twists aplenty, but they were lackluster in comparison to the many mystery books & movies I've read & seen.

    Most of it takes place in the courtroom- so I found I could just listen to it in the background without really paying attention to the screen.

    If you're interested in watching a film that helped make courtroom dramas what they are today, then you should check it out. I'm glad I watched it. Just don't expect to be thrilled beyond compare....more info

  • Film fan
    I have always liked films from courtrooms,(To Kill a Mockingbird")and I like the period around 1950 films. Charles and Marlene is almost missing from my film collection, so the choice was easy.
    I've also read about the film in different media, and it got good reweiw.
    It's many Oscar nominations helped also, and Billy Wilder speaks for himself....more info
  • wonderful classic
    If you haven't seen it, and haven't read Witness in Death, here's what it's about: Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power) is accused of killing a wealthy widow, and he applies to Sir Wilfrid (Charles Laughton), the best barrister in England, to defend him. But Sir Wilfrid's health is failing, and he initially refuses, until actually meeting Leonard convinces him to take the case.

    Leonard's wife Christine (Marlene Dietrich) is his alibi, but she's not very believable when she talks to Sir Wilfrid, and indeed she ends up as a witness for the prosecution.

    Even though I knew the plot, including the twists and turns, from reading Witness in Death, the movie itself was more than just the sum of its parts. The drama of whodunit and how and why was interspersed with humor, much of it coming from interactions between Sir Wilfrid and his nurse (Elsa Lanchester, who I remembered from Mary Poppins and That Darn Cat). In fact, it added an extra dimension watching the movie and thinking of Eve & Roarke watching it being performed by Richard Draco & Areena Mansfield.

    If you don't know what's going to happen, though, the twists are wonderful--my husband and sons loved it as much as I did....more info
  • The last 10 minutes are everything
    Agatha Christie's courtroom drama, directed by Billy Wilder, and starring Charles Laughton as the defense attorney, Tyrone Power as the man accused of murder, and Marlene Dietrich as his wife. The trial builds up to an acquittal, but the real action occurs during the last 10 minutes AFTER the trial, when we witness a cross, then a double cross, and then a triple cross!

    Laughton is superb (it's one of his best performances after his role as the Hunchback of Notre Dame), as is Dietrich, though there have been more powerful courtroom dramas produced for the screen than this one. As the end credits were shown, audiences were asked not to reveal the ending to others, and indeed the whole picture seems merely a prelude to that 10-minute ending....more info
  • Funny and poignant!
    Though made in the 1950's, this film retains its humor and still makes me laugh! It's also a serious courtroom drama with plenty of fun and intriguing twists!

    Laughton plays a lawyer who is ordered to "bed rest" by his doctor. Upon returning from the hospital, Laughton's character is confronted with an puzzling criminal defense case of an "inventor" who is charged with the murder of a rich elderly lady he has befriended. The courtroom scenes are fantastic and filled with tense moments, high-styled drama, and tremendous twists and turns. This is one of my favorite "black and whites".

    Very highly recommended....more info
  • The Last Extraordinary Performance by Charles Laughton
    Although this film is filled with a bevy of excellent actors and actresses, and although he did play the part of Gracchus in SPARTACUS a couple of years later, and an excellent supporting role in ADVISE AND CONSENT a couple of years after that, this is the last truly great performance in the career of perhaps the greatest character actor film has seen. Charles Laughton was in no sense a leading man: obsese, unattractive, unathletic, awkward. He nonetheless managed to put together an astonishing career. WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION was released in 1957, but until that moment, the 1950s had not been kind to Laughton, whose greatest success came in the 1930s and 1940s. He had directed the remarkable THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER in 1955, but his acting parts in the decade, apart from David Lean's HOBSON'S CHOICE, were for the most part undistinguished and not among the finest of his career. WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION is Laughton's glorious return and, because of declining health, last great role. If WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION had nothing else to recommend it, Laughton's performance would make it well, well worth seeing.

    Luckily, this film has far more than Laughton to recommend it. Ironically, it was also the last great role for Tyrone Power, for whom WITNESS was also a part of a comeback (he also excelled in THE SUN ALSO RISES). I have to say, for anyone who had seen Power in films in the 1940s, his physical appearance in 1957 is shocking. Much like Errol Flynn, he had lived a hard life, and it shows. He would die of a heartattack a year after this performance, and looks much older than 43 years old. Nonetheless, the remarkable thing about Power is that while not a particularly great actor during the heyday of his career, when he looks carried him from role to role, near the end of his life he grew considerably as an actor. WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION is one of his better performances, by far. Unlike Laughton and Power, both aging and in poor health, but similar to both in that the 1950s had up to that point not been one of her most active decades, Marlene Dietrich appears barely to have aged since the 1930s. The kinds of parts she was best suited for were far too subversive for the staid 1950s. Her natural cynicism and sexuality were far too threatening at that time even for the darkest of film noir. So, WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION was something of a comeback (or the continuation of a comeback in the case of Power) for the three principles. The cast was rounded out by some stellar characters actors, including the always amazing Una O'Connor, the frequently villanous Henry Daniell (though not in this one), and John Williams (who had played Audrey Hepburn's chaffeur father in Wilder's SABRINA, playing Laughton's law partner in this one).

    Unlike the three leads, Billy Wilder was not suffering from any kind of lull in his career when he made this film. He had, first as a screenwriter and then as a director, been marching from triumph to triumph for the previous twenty years, and would continue to do so for another ten years. The movie was untypical Wilder, however. Along with Preston Sturges, Wilder is arguably the greatest writer of comedy scripts in the history of film (he had cowriters, but their primary function was to correct his Germanicisms, to polish his rough English; Wilder supplied the ideas and action). In WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION, however, although adapting an Agatha Christie original, and adding a huge number of Wilderian touches, he largely is working from someone else's work. Wilder virtually always wrote completely original stories.

    A lot of people love the plot of this one, and especially the twists, but I have to say that I find this somewhat artificial, and some of the least appealing parts of the film. What I do delight in is the interplay between the various characters, the chemistry between the actors and actresses, the dozens of little touches and transitions that Wilder makes while working within the limitations of someone else's story.

    But most of all, this film is great because Charles Laughton was able to find one last, great role before his career came to an end....more info

 

 
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