Tag Archives: Charles Laughton

Oldies but goldies: Witness For The Prosecution (1957)

Director: Billy Wilder, Main Cast: Tyrone PowerMarlene DietrichCharles LaughtonElsa Lanchester

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Based on an Agatha Christie’s story, this courtroom drama is wonderfully directed and co-written by Billy Wilder. Aging Sir Wilfrid Robarts (Laughton), barrister of the Crown and champion of hopeless cases, has just returned home from the hospital, when a fellow lawyer brings him Leonard Vole (Power), a young man soon to be accused of murder. Along with Sir Wilfrid we learn more about Vole and Mrs. French, the rich widow who has been killed, from the man himself and his German wife Christine (Dietrich), his only alibi. Wilder uses flashbacks quite effectively to show how Leonard met the victim and what kind of relationship they had. The audience at this point will dismiss Vole as a harmless but charming opportunist, and regard Christine as the most intriguing character so far: controlled, aloof and worldly; she is the one who, after all, really convinces Sir Wilfrid to take her husband’s case. The action moves into the the courtroom and the viewer is rewarded with priceless banter between the prosecution and the defense, dripping dry British humor, and utterly enjoyable. As is Agatha Christie’s wont, we witness setbacks for the defense, some juicy twists and a final big reveal (which I will not spoil for first-time viewers). I must say that Laughton and Dietrich are the ones who make the movie, they bring their characters to life with all their lights and shadows and display an undeniable talent and attention to details. Special kudos go to Elsa Lanchester as Sir Wilfrid’s nurse, she brings a light touch and comic relief that well balances the grim tone of the tale. Wilder crafts the story so well, without lulls or dull moments, and turns this film in a remarkable work of art, that remains a pleasure to revisit even after several viewings. Enthralling —9/10

Buy it from Amazon:

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This post is part of Sleuthathon, a blogathon hosted by Movies Silently, so please have a look at reviews of other great films about mysteries, detectives and the likes featured there:

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Filed under Oldies but goldies, Seen at home