Sunday, May 16, 2010

Witness for the Prosecution

I love courtroom dramas. This film is one of the best. I think Billy Wilder is a fantastic director. This film is one of his best. Charles Laughton is a terrific actor. This movie is one of his best. I love classic cinema. Witness for the Prosecution is one of the great classic movies.

This movie is based upon a play written by mystery master Agatha Christie. There are enough twists and turns to keep any mystery fan happy. The whodunit and why they did it quotient is quite high. Ms. Christie's reputation for leading us down a mysterious path comes to full fruition here. And because she originally wrote this for the stage, the dialogue is wonderful. Lots of clues within lies wrapped in intrigue. But Billy Wilder took the Christie play and changed it from just a murder mystery into a full-blown character study. The roles of the defendant, played by Tyrone Power, and his wife, wonderfully portrayed by Marlene Dietrich, are diminished in the film to give us more of the barrister (lawyer) played by Charles Laughton. Laughton demands your attention no matter what he is doing. From 'Mutiny on the Bounty' to 'The Big Clock' (read my post) to 'Spartacus' to here, Laughton's work is always fantastic. Wilder wisely chose to focus more upon his character and less on the defendant. Because this is a film and not on stage, Wilder was also able to show us many different settings. The play takes place entirely in a courtroom.

The mystery involves the murder of a woman whom Tyrone Power has befriended. Her body was found by her maid and she has identified Power as being at her home near her time of death. Dietrich plays his wife. He helped her escape from post-war Germany. For this she feels a great deal of gratitude. Power hires Laughton to be his defender in court. Every bit of evidence points toward Power. Can Laughton get his acquittal? Did he actually commit the murder? Who is the Witness for the Prosecution?

Along with Laughton, Marlene Dietrich does a fabulous job. She portrays the wife of the defendant with a cool air that perfectly fits her role in our mystery. Also added to the film is the wonderful character actor Elsa Lancaster. Her part, and the health woes of the barrister, were added to provide depth to the movie. Almost the entire cast is fantastic. The lone exception:Tyrone Power. I know he meant to play anguished once the trial is underway, but his portrayal was so over the top it foreshadows current over-actor Al Pacino. Lots of screaming and hair-pulling, but little genuine acting.

Oh well, don't let that deter you from enjoying this fantastic film! Witness for the Prosecution is one of the best courtroom dramas ever filmed. It features a great script, world-class directing and terrific acting (ignoring Mr. Power).

Filmed in 1957, directed by Billy Wilder, written by Larry Marcus from the Agatha Christie play, starring Charles Laughton, Marlene Dietrich, Tyrone Power, Elsa Lancaster and Norma Varden.

1 comment:

  1. Disagree with you about Power totally. Without giving the story away to those who haven't seen it, Leonard Vole (NOT Tyrone Power) is in that courtroom. Leonard Vole's wife Christine had been an actress in Germany. Leonard, I want to point out, had never acted. Billy Wilder wasn't an idiot. Everything in that movie was planned out, including the interpretations. Look at Leonard after the trial and when he first meets Christine. You'll notice a difference in performance.