It's Britain, 1953. Upon his return to work following a heart attack, irrepressible barrister Sir Wilfrid Robarts, known as a barrister for the hopeless, takes on a murder case, much to the exasperation of his medical team, led by his overly regulated private nurse, Miss Plimsoll, who tries her hardest to ensure that he not return to his hard living ways - including excessive cigar smoking and drinking - while he takes his medication and gets his much needed rest. That case is defending American war veteran Leonard Vole, a poor, out of work, struggling inventor who is accused of murdering his fifty-six year old lonely and wealthy widowed acquaintance, Emily French. The initial evidence is circumstantial but points to Leonard as the murderer. Despite being happily married to East German former beer hall performer Christine Vole, he fostered that friendship with Mrs. French in the hopes that she would finance one of his many inventions to the tune of a few hundred pounds. It thus does ... Written by
Charles Laughton, who could be moody and difficult, was apparently a dream to work with, throwing himself into the role with dedication and delight. Billy Wilder later recalled a day that was set aside just for shooting reaction shots of the jury and courtroom crowd (composed of extras hired only for the day). Normally, the assistant director would read the actors' lines and the extras would react. However, Laughton, who was fascinated with the whole process of filmmaking, begged to help. So he came in on his day off and read all of the off-camera speeches for the jury members. He read not only his part, but also the judge's, the prosecutor's and even Marlene Dietrich's. According to biographer Maurice Zolotow in his book "Billy Wilder in Hollywood", the author said, "it was an exhibition of craftsmanship such as Wilder had never seen. He believes that Charles Laughton had the greatest technical range and power of any actor, man or woman, whom he has known." See more »
(at around 9 mins), inside his chamber, Sir Wilfrid lights his cigar and Leonard Vole locks the door to make sure that Miss Plimsoll can't enter the room and catch him smoking. But at 14.56 minutes, Sir Wilfrid leaves his chamber without first unlocking the door. See more »
Oh, pardon, Mrs. Vole, handle her gently especially when you break the news of the arrest. Bear in mind, she's a foreigner. So be prepared for hysterics and even a fainting spell. Better have smelling salts ready, a box of tissues and a nip of brandy.
[Enters Mrs. Vole]
I do not think that will be necessary. I never faint because I'm not sure that I will fall gracefully and I never use smelling salts because they puff up the eyes. I'm Christine Vole.
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As the end credits appear on screen, an announcer's voice is heard: "The management of this theater suggests that for the greater entertainment of your friends who have not yet seen the picture you will not divulge to anyone the secret of the ending of Witness for the Prosecution." See more »
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.
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