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Witness for the Prosecution

   

Witness for the Prosecution (1957) starring Charles Laughton, Elsa Lanchester, Tyrone Power, Marlene Dietrich

In Witness for the Prosecution, a wealthy widow is found murdered. Her married suitor, Leonard Vole, is accused of the crime. Vole’s only hope for acquittal is the testimony of his wife … But his airtight alibi shatters when she reveals some shocking secrets of her own!

Review

Witness for the Prosecution is an excellent film. It’s a compelling courtroom drama, with one twist after another. But along the way, we meet — and care about — multiple of the characters involved. Especially Charles Laughton’s, who give a great performance. Including his interactions with his suffocating nurse …. Played brilliantly by his real-world wife, Elsa Lanchester!

Miss Plimsoll: Is there too much of a draft? Should I roll up the window? 
Sir Wifrid: Just roll up your mouth, you talk too much. If I had known how much you talk I’d never have come out of my coma. 

The courtroom scene is literally often imitated, but never duplicated.

Sir Wifrid: My Lord, may I also remind my learned friend that his witness, by her own admission, has already violated so many oaths that I am surprised the Testament did not LEAP FROM HER HAND when she was sworn here today! I doubt if anything is to be gained by questioning you any further! That will be all, Frau Helm! 

And later …

Sir Wifrid: [getting progressively more agitated] The question is, Frau Helm, were you lying then, are you lying now, or are you not in fact a chronic and habitual LIAR! 

And the final resolution is both unexpected — and fits perfectly.

Cast

  • Tyrone Power (Nightmare Alley) … Leonard Vole. The opportunistic young man, accused of murdering his elderly beneficiary.
  • Marlene Dietrich (Marie Antoinette) … Christine. Vole’s German wife – and alibi. She may be much more…
  • Charles Laughton (Island of Lost Souls) … Sir Wifrid Roberts. The retired barrister, recovering from a heart attack. He’s brought out of retirement as defense attorney for Vole. A brilliant performance. His interactions with Miss Plimsoll are comedy gold! They give relief to the overall serious atmosphere.
  • Elsa Lanchester (Come to the Stable) … Miss Plimsoll. Sir Wilfrid’s suffering nurse. She’s a perfect match for him, and an absolute delight! One of the highlights of the film.
  • John Williams (Dial M for Murder) … Brogan-Moore. His junior counsel at the trial.
  • Henry Daniell (The Body Snatcher) … Mayhew. The barrister who brings the Vole case to Sir Wilfrid.
  • Ian Wolfe (The Raven 1935) … Carter. Sir Wilfrid’s chief clerk and office manager. And friend.
  • Torin Thatcher (7th Voyage of Sinbad) … Mr. Myers, Q.C. The Crown prosecutor.
  • Norma VardenMrs. Emily Jane French. The murder victim.
  • Una O’Connor (The Invisible Man) … Janet MacKenzie. Mrs. French’s housekeeper and a prosecution witness. She clearly dislikes Vole, and it’s hard to blame her.
  • Francis Compton (Boom Town) … Judge
  • Philip Tonge (Invisible Invaders) … Inspector Hearne
  • Ruta Lee (Seven Brides for Seven Brothers) … Diana. The attractive young lady, who’s been waiting for Vole to be freed. Causing Christine to be justifiably jealous!

Editorial review of Witness for the Prosecution courtesy of Amazon.com

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

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