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A Hitchcockian Billy Wilder
littlemartinarocena30 December 2007
At the end of the day the films you give top marks are those films that become constant companions. You can see them again at the drop of a hat, you show them to people who have never see them and it's always a triumph. "Witness For The Prosecution" is one of those wonders. Suspend your disbelief for a couple of hours and enjoy this banquet of a romp. Charles Laughton showed here what he was made of better, more clearly and more loudly than in any other film and all of his films, at least the moments with him in it, are unforgettable - Captain Blight or Henry VIII, Quasimodo or that malefic Senator from South Carolina. Here the severity of his lawyer by vocation takes your senses away with his masterful judicial way to see logic and it's such an incredible fun to watch him do it. Tyrone Power is a toy in his hands but not Marlene Dietrich who stands her ground, not merely as a character but as a presence on the screen. Billy Wilder visits early Hitchcock territory with wit and fun. Elsa Lanchester's nurse is the cherry on top of this delightful film.
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Love That Laughton
flickershows29 August 2004
Warning: Spoilers
Charlie Chaplin was funny. Charles Laughton was witty. As good as 'Witness For The Prosecution' is---Agatha Christie's story, the other actors, the technical expertise---the Oscar-nominated Laughton is THE reason to see this film. What he brings to Billy Wilder's 1957 courtroom thriller is his tremendous wit and intellect. It's a serious story, but the dark-comic tag team of Wilder/Laughton upgraded the film from "a good courtroom mystery" to "a classic of the courtroom genre".

The headlining star, Tyrone Power, sure doesn't help them very much. He plays anguish about as smoothly as ripped sandpaper...and anguish is the unfortunate emotion he's got to play for most of the picture. Power has been accused of murdering a wealthy older woman. His wife (Marlene Dietrich) seems to be doing all she can to sell him out, appearing as...drum roll, please, drummer man...the star witness for the prosecution. Laughton is the brilliant (and ailing) English barrister defending Power. The plot twists 'n' turns a dozen ways from Sunday, just as it always does in Christie's best work.

Amongst all the talk of bloody murder, there are running gags about cigars and alcohol. More dark wit---Laughton's character's poor health might cause him to drop dead at any moment. Wilder weaved thrills and smiles as well as any director. In this, he was wise to anchor the supporting cast with mainstays of the stiff upper lip. John Williams and Ian Wolfe (Hirsch from "WKRP"), not to mention Laughton's control-freak assistant Elsa Lanchester (who was also CL's real-life wife), are bloody good.

Movies of this type have been ripped off so often that students of the "don't give away the ending" class are bound to figure it out. I did. That hardly mattered because there were STILL more surprises to come. Through all that plot, Dietrich winds up being the most fascinating character. Project back and you'll realize how well her performance works. But she & Power are merely the star attractions in 'Witness For The Prosecution'. The main dish is Charles Laughton. Considering how ironic and cynical our society has become, it's stunning that brilliant old pros like Wilder and Laughton aren't more popular today. After this movie, they've become personal heroes of mine.
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What a movie!
scott-buchanan1 September 2004
Warning: Spoilers
A film I have not seen for years but will always remember with fondness. A classic thriller with all the right ingredients - Power and Dietrich are spectacular, and, by early standards (and recent ones!), the twist is excellent.

Charles Laughton however, provides us with a glib chuckle as the aging defense attorney ruled by his overlord maid. A distraction that only adds to an excellent plot line.

I can't imagine another film of the genre and the era, that so wickedly entangles the essential thriller with a 'crime of passion' (oops, spot the plot killer...) gem. A classic.

A film for true movie lovers. Take it from me!
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Another triumph for cinematic genius Billy Wilder!
The_Void3 February 2005
Billy Wilder is a director with an understanding of cinema that is almost unmatched throughout the medium's entire history - that's why his films are always so good. Witness for the Prosecution is yet another highlight in the great director's history, and it proves that courtroom dramas can be both riveting and a great opportunity for some first rate comedy. Wilder's film features one of the most well paced plots I've ever seen in a film, and it's a plot that includes some very finely tuned twists. Towards the end, Wilder bombards us with twist after twist, each one both making sense and topping the one before it. In a time when people are impressed by films such as 'The Sixth Sense', Billy Wilder still shows us how to skilfully attribute a twist into a film's plot. The plot itself follows the story of Sir Wilfrid Robarts; an ace defence lawyer that has been told that his health won't allow him to tackle anything more than mundane cases, but is brought back into the fray when a case involving the murder of an elderly woman comes into his hands. Wilfrid must now juggle the case and his health as he attempts to keep the young man from being sent down.

Like all Wilder films, this one is a very pleasurable viewing. Wilder manages to find a middle ground between substance and entertainment, and so this is a film that will please fans of both aspects. The film is deliriously entertaining throughout, with some truly great lines of dialogue (most of which is very quotable) and every twist adds a new level to the story. The substance comes from a multitude of angles, and themes of love, health, sacrifice and most notably, justice, are all more than prevalent. The acting is certainly of note in Witness for the Prosecution. Charles Laughton is absolutely sublime as the undermining and stubborn Wilfrid Robarts; his performance is very strong, and makes up the backbone of the film. The main supporting performance comes from Marlene Dietrich. I'm not a big fan of hers; despite having a great pair of legs, she just doesn't do anything for me, but in this film she brings sufficient coldness to her character and really makes it her own. The final main performance comes from Tyrone Power; he isn't as great as the other two, but does enough with his character to ensure he's believable. Highly recommended viewing!
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Fun with Charles and Marlene
willandthomas-picturehou4 January 2008
To see "Witness for the Prosecution" for the first time in 2008 is a jolting surprise. Nobody could do it better than Billy Wilder did in 1957. A man accused of murder, Tyrone Power, the weakest link in this terrific chain. Sir Wilfred is called to defend him, he is played by the extraordinary Charles Laughton, but he's just out of hospital - he wasn't dismissed he was expelled - and due to doctor's orders he's not to take any criminal cases. He finds Power charming and personable enough but he's not going to risk his life to save his until Marlene Dietrich makes her entrance - and what an entrance! How marvelous that what amounts to a bit of Agatha Christie's usual fare becomes such an entertaining and at times right down riveting piece of film-making.
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The Goal Is Always Justice
bkoganbing6 March 2006
In a recent biography of Billy Wilder, Agatha Christie is quoted as saying that this was the best adaption of her work ever done on the screen. I can't praise Witness for the Prosecution any higher than that.

Tyrone Power in his farewell film plays Leonard Vole who befriends a dotty old widow played by Norma Varden. She even rewrites her will leaving him the bulk of a very large estate. When she's murdered, Scotland Yard arrests Power.

Power's solicitor Henry Daniell retains a dream team for defense of John Williams and the recently recovered Charles Laughton. Laughton is recovering from a heart attack and against medical advice plunges into the case. Laughton also has to deal with the efforts of his assigned nurse Elsa Lanchester to keep him following doctor's advice.

The original play this was taken from concentrated completely on the Power character and the machinations of his wife. Wilder built up the character of the nurse and barrister Sir Wilfred Robards so that they almost equaled the screen time of Mr. and Mrs. Vole. So much so that Charles Laughton was nominated for an Academy Award in 1957, but lost to Alec Guinness.

Marlene Dietrich plays Mrs. Vole. She's a war bride over from Germany and she's got her own agenda going. Her performance and what her character does is the key to the whole film. Dietrich probably would have gotten an Oscar nomination herself, but due to the fact that if her performance was hyped up for Academy consideration, the element of surprise would have been lost in the film. Wilder in fact apologized to Marlene for that.

The Anglo-Saxon legal system's goal is justice. Justice is served though not quite in the way it usually is in Witness for the Prosecution.
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Billy Wilder meets Agatha Christie
michelerealini2 March 2004
Another brilliant work in the legendary career of Billy Wilder. The director signs a cinematic adaptation of this Agatha Christie story: actually it is really as if the camera went on stage for filming the play. But the film is passionating and exciting, there's no time to get bored.

Another thing we shall not forget is that Billy Wilder is European. He manages to keep the spirit of the film very British, with lots of humour and sarcasm. Compared to films like this one, "legal" movies from John Grisham's novels are empty and meaningless, without soul.

Mr.Wilder is the director, we know; we have Charles Laughton, Tyrone Power and Marlene Dietrich: what a cast! Add a superb black and white cinematography... The result is amazing, with a film where dialogues are flawless and carry everything.

Times are different now, but the atmosphere and the taste of movies like this one are impossible to find in contemporary films.
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EntertainingTrial Movie That Still Holds Up
ccthemovieman-18 November 2005
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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If you've seen the movie, be sure to read Christie's story. If you've read the story, still see this movie.
Anansi0021 November 2004
Witness for the Prosecution is, as IMDb voters cann attest, a great movie. A clever, character-driven courtroom drama, it deserved the Academy Award nominations that it received in 1958, and it has justly endured to the present day. Starring the terrific talents of Charles Laughton, Tyrone Power, and particularly Marlene Dietrich, directed by Billy Wilder, and based on the superb short story by Agatha Christie, it is a combination has all of the very best ingredients, and delivers a nearly outstanding film.

The movie centers around Laughton's character, an aged, feisty, and very canny English barrister (lawyer) who is in poor health and headed toward retirement. The opening of the movie is entirely Laughton's show, as he portrays a curmudgeonly and endearing character. On his first day home from the hospital, he soon takes up the defense of Leonard Vole (Power) a man who is charged with murder and up against a barrage of circumstantial evidence. Power is convincing as the honest and somewhat naive defendant, in increasingly over his head. Soon, Dietrich makes her entrance as Vole's cool German femme fatal of a wife. After a few flashbacks to set up the story of the murder case, Laughton takes up Vole's case. What ensues is a well-written and well-directed courtroom drama, in which Laughton continues to shine, delivering a convincing performance peppered with humor. Soon, the story takes a series of dramatic twists, during which Power plays his part as the beleaguered defendant to the hilt and Dietrich uses the gifts that made her a legend. By the end, the audience has been treated to an excellent drama with sensational acting.

The result is a classic, but not an icon in the sense that Christie's short story, penned twenty years earlier, would become. While it may be the best-regarded of all Christie adaptations (Murder on the Orient Express a possible exception), the movie does not seem to have the stature it ought to have. At the end of the movie, I did not feel the same as when I read the story, and not just because I knew all along how it would turn out. With such visible talent on all fronts, I took a long look at what it was, and what was missing. The answer: Christie.

The movie is good in its own right, but from the beginning misses the crucial aspect that the original story has: the mystery. Agatha Christie is the master of suspense, and throughout the story, that suspense, that anxiousness to know what will happen next, the eagerness to know where this next twist will lead, and the shock that comes at the very end, were what the story was all about. The direction the movie went, the legal thriller, substituted drama for mystery, and while the movie only added to the story, changing very little of what Christie wrote, the movie lost the grip that only she could create. Christie treated the courtroom proceedings (the centerpiece of the movie) with brevity, focusing on the intrigue surrounding the case. Also, the Hollywood ending overdoes it a little bit, and deprives the most important plot twist of some of its its emotional impact.

That said, however, the movie is still a classic. Fortunately, the heart of the story was still very strong, with a unique plot and rich characters, which were taken advantage of by Wilder and the cast, respectively. And, as it turns out, the movie is a good complement to the story. To those who have only seen the movie, the story should be read to truly appreciate the missing value of the mystery. To those who have read the story, the movie nails the characters (particularly Dietrich's Mrs. Vole). All in all, I give this movie a 9 out of 10, and would gladly see it again.
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Superb and unjustly maligned film
jasonhurd31 July 2004

I'm not sure I have the ability to adequately praise this film. The original short story(rather unremarkable, actually)has been expanded into a magnificent example of Hollywood entertainment at its best. In addition to perhaps the finest line-up of character actors ever assembled(next to Cukor's David Copperfield, that is), we get Laughton and Dietrich at the top of their form. The person who criticised Lanchester's performance as "annoying" missed the point entirely. Miss Plimsoll is meant to be annoying! Also, what's with all the bad-mouthing of Tyrone Power? "Hammy"; "terrible"; "worst performance ever". These are the perceptive IMDb reviews? Only one of you got it right: it's hammy because Leonard Vole is the one acting, not Power! For 95% of the film, the character is dissembling, only showing his true colors at the end. Of course it looks hammy: Vole isn't a born actor like his wife. And to all those know-it-alls who called this film mediocre and predictable, I look forward to your upcoming film projects which I'm sure will be paragons of excellence and worthy to be set alongside classics of the golden age.
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This had me to the bitter end!
Hitchcoc10 March 2006
I love it when a movie captivates me, carries me along, then surprises me at the end. This is a masterpiece of human maneuvering. It has outstanding acting and a plot to die for. This is a fairly pedestrian Agatha Christie short story. I'm not saying it's not a wonderful story, just that it doesn't come to life like it does on the screen. Charles Laughton is the wonder barrister who is taking the case, even though he is in poor health. The murder case seems a relatively simple one until we begin to trip over the many layers left lying on the path. Marlene Dietrich does a masterful job in all her roles (I won't say anymore than that so I don't spoil the ending). Tyrone Power is able to balance his pathos and his potential guilt. The beauty of the movie is that it never takes itself too seriously. There are some modestly funny subplots and a great deal of careful investigation. I guarantee you that once you start watching, you won't be able to turn it off.
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Wilder, Laughton, Lanchester, & Dietrich Add Sparkle to Christie's Courtroom Classic
dtb13 January 2007
Warning: Spoilers
WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD! The Billy Wilder touch adds cynical wit to his sparkling adaptation of Dame Agatha Christie's play WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION (WftP), with some of the best lines in a Wilder movie since DOUBLE INDEMNITY, thanks to Wilder, Harry Kurnitz, and Larry Marcus. In our household, "Is that really desirable?" has become a catchphrase, along with many other gems from the mouths of star Charles Laughton and the rest of the sterling cast! :-) I only hope people seeing this for the first time haven't already seen Marlene Dietrich's scene-stealing performance in Orson Welles' TOUCH OF EVIL, or they might tumble to the twist finale before they're supposed to! :-) (In fact, if I recall correctly, when WftP was shown on Turner Classic Movies, Robert Osborne mentioned in his intro that Welles helped Dietrich out with her WftP "Cockney informant" makeup as a favor!) La Dietrich looks fabulous and keeps you fascinated even when she's coming across as the ultimate bitch; it's a shame she wasn't nominated for an Oscar along with co-stars Charles Laughton and Elsa Lanchester. Tyrone Power's usual slightly wooden delivery actually serves him well as the defendant; somehow it adds to defendant Leonard Vole's air of feckless innocence. Henry Daniell, John Williams, Ian Wolfe, Torin Thatcher, and particularly Norma Varden as the ill-fated Emily French provide able support, too, with Una O'Connor stealing her scenes as Mrs. French's loyal but "antagnistic" Scottish housekeeper. A young, brunette Ruta Lee provides a memorable moment or two. As sickly but sly barrister Wilfrid Robarts and his chipper but no-nonsense nurse, Miss Plimsoll, real-life husband and wife Laughton and Lanchester shine in the most engaging performances of their careers. The comic sparring chemistry between Sir Wilfrid Robarts and Miss Plimsoll, and the warmth and understanding that's grown between them by movie's end, had my husband Vinnie opining that if another movie was made featuring these characters, Miss Plimsoll would probably end up as Mrs. Robarts before it was over -- what a delightful series that could have been! Hey, at the very least, I'd have paid good money to see Billy Wilder direct Laughton, Lanchester, and Dietrich in a sequel in which Sir Wilfrid prepares for the trial of Christine Vole, a.k.a. Christine Helm! :-)
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Like Perry Mason? You'll love this...
August19916 July 2004
I first saw this movie about 15 years ago and loved it. I just watched it on VHS and was captivated all over again. Agatha Christie's story, Billy Wilder's screenplay and direction, and the four main leads all get it right. Charles Laughton is absolutely superb, and Elsa Lanchester is a perfect foil.

Agatha Christie's story has more twists and turns than a roller coaster and this provides a strong foundation for the movie. But the actors give life to the characters. I haven't seen the 1982 version, but I'll admit to a bias for Marlene Dietrich. She and Tyrone Power pull just the right punches.

It's a mystery, of course. But a top notch one. So if you want only to dabble in the genre, this is the one to try. (If you like mysteries, it goes without saying that you must see it.) Moreover, this is one B&W movie for people who don't like B&W movies.
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"I suspected something, but not that. Never that!"
AlsExGal7 September 2015
That's a quotation from the film and what you'll say at the conclusion. I saw it the first time 36 years ago back when network TV ran old movies late at night, and I'd never even heard of it. I thought it was a Hitchcock film with all of the unexpected twists, but no, the director was Billy Wilder. How surprised I was to see Wilder do Hitchcock better than Hitchcock ever could! The set-up is this - Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power) is an inventor that is having trouble getting his inventions to market. He befriends a wealthy older woman, one Emily French. She is obviously flirting with him, and Vole, though married, flirts back, his objective being that maybe she will financially back one of his inventions. Then disaster strikes. Emily French is found murdered. Vole is an obvious suspect because Mrs. French has just changed her will and left everything to Vole. There is circumstantial evidence pointing to Vole, and he says he knows nothing about the will. Enter barrister Sir Wilfred, the finest in England, whose doctor has told him he must quit work and go on a vacation because of his heart condition. Sir Wilfred talks to Vole, believes his story, and also talks to his wife, Christine (Marlene Dietrich) who backs up Leonard's story but comes across as somewhat cold to her husband's peril. Sir Wilfred is convinced to take the case and agrees to retire upon this last trial. Past that I cannot tell you any details or I'll ruin it for you.

Everyone in the cast performs masterfully. Especially charming is the interaction between Laughton's character and his nurse played by his wife of then 28 years, Elsa Lanchester. They go back and forth at each other with Nurse Pimsoll insisting that Sir Wilfred keep his rigid schedule of medications and him treating her like a jailer with hilarious one liners at the poor woman's expense. Only a long married couple could do this feature length banter so well. If Nightmare Alley didn't convince you that Tyrone Power was more than a pretty face, this film will. Likewise, Marlene Dietrich is much more than a blue angel and a fine figure of a woman at age 56.

Notice all of the little touches. How Sir Wilfred seems to be ignoring testimony in court by counting out his pills, only to stand up and ask insightful questions when his turn comes. Plus this film really shows that nothing is off the record, even if the judge says that it is - the jury hears and sees everything. Sir Wilfred plays on that fact.

Great acting, great direction, great story - it doesn't get any better than this. Thus I give this a solid 10/10. And one irony - Power's character mentions several times about Sir Wilfred's heart, but it is Tyrone Power himself who will be dead of a heart attack by the end of the following year. Sadly, this is his last completed film.
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The Best of the Pre - 1970s Agatha Christie films?
theowinthrop2 February 2006
Warning: Spoilers
After the artistic success of AND THEN THERE WERE NONE, the only notable film based on Dame Agatha Christie's stories was a remake of LOVE FROM A STRANGER with John Hodiak and Sylvia Sidney as the ill-matched couple, but re-staged in the 1890s rather than 1930 England. Then, in 1957, Billy Wilder made this production of a short story by Dame Agatha called WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION. With a tip-top cast of Charles Laughton, Marlene Dietrich, Tyrone Power, and Elsa Lancaster, the film was a brilliantly done version of Christie's short story, changed in it's ending (but to a changed ending found in Christie's own dramatization).

Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power) is a salesman who meets an elderly, wealthy woman (Norma Varden) and gains her affections - much to the dislike and mistrust of her servant (Una O'Connor). O'Connor claims she saw the two together the night that Varden was beaten to death in her apartment. Vole is arrested, and his solicitor (Henry Daniell) wants England's best barrister, Sir Wilfred Robarts (Laughton) to defend him. Robarts is recovering from a heart attack, and is being nursed by Miss Plimsoll (Elsa Lancaster). He is a difficult patient, and is not looking forward to an enforced rest in Bermuda. So, despite the protests of Plimsoll he takes the case. He does promise her he will listen to his doctor and take his medicine. She does not trust him.

Sir Robert meets Vole's German born wife, Christina Helm (Dietrich), who alarms him. She is too cool, to detached at her husband's peril. But he goes ahead, and is soon in court fighting a first rate opponent (Torin Thatcher as Myers), and scores some impressive points against the prosecution, especially in cross-examining O'Connor. But at the critical moment he finds that by a subtle point of law, Dietrich can testify against Power, and does so. So the plot becomes, how to defeat this "witness for the prosecution"? Is there something that can turn the tables on her and her testimony.

And the evidence to use against Dietrich does appear - from an unexpected source. Is it effective? Will Power be saved in the end? Or is there something going on?

Although the conclusion of this film has been pretty well known for years, I will refrain from explaining what it is. A good mystery should surprise the audience, as this does every audience that sees it for the first time. Laughton and Lancaster make a funny pair (and in the end, an endearing one from Lancaster's point of view). Power gets to play his most sinister part since "the Great Stanton" Carlyle in NIGHTMARE ALLEY. And Dietrich does pull off the biggest surprise twist in her career.

As for Wilder, after some questionable films in the mid 1950s (THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH, THE SPIRIT OF ST. LOUIS) he was back in form. His handling of the courtroom scenes (which make up nearly 60% of the film) are far more realistic and speedy than Alfred Hitchcock's plodding THE PARADINE CASE a decade earlier. It was the best of the Christie films prior to MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS.
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Excellent, but one flaw (spoiler herein)
pderocco18 March 2002
Warning: Spoilers
This is a fun movie, with marvelous performances by Laughton, Dietrich and Lanchester. Even the usually mediocre Tyrone Power fits his role to a tee. It's the best filming of a Christie mystery that I've seen.

If you haven't seen it, though, read no further. For those of you who have, I would like to point out one relatively large flaw in the plot. Much is made during the final scene of Christine Helm's perjury. She even agrees with Sir Wilfred that she will go to prison, but teases, "it won't be for life, will it?"

Is it possible that neither Christine Helm, Sir Wilfred Robarts, Billy Wilder, nor Dame Agatha herself noticed the rather stunning fact that every word Frau Helm spoke on the stand was the absolute truth? The revelation of the final plot twist could have been that much more dramatic had she asked Sir Wilfred, in their moments alone together at the end, "Perjury? What perjury? I committed no perjury. Leonard was guilty as charged. And all I testified about the letters was that I wrote them, not that they were true. They can't touch him, and they can't touch me, either."

It's possible that the book ends differently, and this flaw was introduced in the adaptation. Not having the book handy, I can't verify it one way or the other.
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This witness is an absolute must!
JohnHowardReid23 December 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Naturally, the most popular Agatha Christie movie ever made, "Witness for the Prosecution" (1957), although it looks as British as Big Ben, was actually filmed in Hollywood.

Thanks to its great cast - Tyrone Power and Una O'Connor in their final movies, Charles Laughton, Marlene Dietrich, Elsa Lanchester, John Williams, Henry Daniell, and stage actor Francis Thompson as the judge - and the clever way the writers have opened out the stage play, this "Witness for the Prosecution" really grips and holds the interest even for those members of the audience (like myself) who know the plot backwards.

Billy Wilder's direction is as adroit as ever, but on this occasion, it is skilfully impersonal, allowing players and plot to adroitly command and dominate center stage.

This movie is currently available on an excellent 10/10 M-G-M DVD.
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The Mother of all Courtroom dramas/thrillers.
Coventry27 October 2017
Yours truly has never been much of a reader, though with one notable exception: the work of Agatha Christie. I absolutely, positively worship this brilliant woman and try to read as many of her novels, short stories and stage play adaptations as possible. "Witness for the Prosecution" is a genuine classic, and although somewhat atypical for Christie, it is undeniably one of the greatest stories ever penned down. There's one major disadvantage about having read all of Christie's whodunits, of course, namely that you can't experience the same astounding twist-in-the-end twice! I would really have loved to be overwhelmed by the climax of this film- version, especially because Marlene Dietrich and Tyrone Power give away such fabulous performances. The story, with its fascinating characters and dazzling plot twists, does remain the movie's biggest strongpoint, but there are a number of more reasons why "Witness for the Prosecution" is righteously considered as one of the most massive milestones in cinematic history. Billy Wilder's surefooted direction, for one, and the stellar performances of the entire ensemble cast. I mentioned Dietrich and Power already, but there's also the downright phenomenal Charles Laughton (arguably the most shamefully neglected actor/director in history) and an appealing supportive role for Elsa Lancaster. But do I daresay that the ultimate success-factor of this stage play adaptation is the masterful re-creation of the court trial? The bombastic settings and decors, the echoing acoustics, the powerful monologues of confident (and arrogant) barristers and the intimidating gowns and wigs are largely what make "Witness for the Prosecution" not only the first but also the mother of all courtroom dramas. This may just be the opinion of an avid fan, but practically ALL great courtroom-dramas that were released from the sixties until present day ("To Kill a Mockingbird", "Philadelphia", "Devil's Advocate", "A Few Good Men"…) were clearly influenced by "Witness for the Prosecution". In fact, I only have one minor complaint: *** Spoiler **** the film version adds one more final twist that I didn't find 100% plausible.
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Dynamite courtroom drama
MartinHafer16 July 2006
This is one of the absolute best courtroom movies ever made, along with ANATOMY OF A MURDER and THE VERDICT. All deserve a score of 10 and each is great in it own way.

This film is great, but not for the realism of ANATOMY OF A MURDER. Instead, it's got such a wonderful script full of wonderful twists and turns. Plus, having top actors on the top of their game (such as Charles Laughton, Tyrone Power and Marlena Dietrich) made this such a great film. Plus, it has one of the best all-time endings on film.

So is it realistic? Hardly, but given the magnificent script, this can easily be forgiven and just be enjoyed for the massive entertainment value it brings. If you don't enjoy this film, you must be dead!
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Suspenseful and amusing Christie
rmax30482311 January 2006
Warning: Spoilers
It's hard to imagine how Dame Agatha could have pounded out so many mysteries. I know she lived a long time, but still, if I lived as long as Methusala I couldn't grind out that many pieces. Not just novels, either, but plays, including this one. And they all tell the kinds of stories that involve a lot of lead time while the author works out the details of the intricate plots. Between Jack Kerouac knocking out "On The Road" on a single roll of toilet paper or whatever it was, and Nabokov and his multitudinous 3 X 5 index cards, Christie must have been very much closer to Nabokov.

This is an engrossing and tightly wound tale of greed, murder, deception, bigamy, adultery, and all the other good things in life. It's essentially a courtroom drama with several big -- REALLY big -- surprises. It does not end the way you might expect, with the true criminal suddenly revealed in all his moral turpitude by the expert, penetrating examination by the defense, breaking down in the witness chair and sobbing, "Okay. I did it! I DID IT! I didn't mean to kill her! I just wanted to frighten her."

The play's the thing in this movie, yet the director, Billy Wilder, brings his own snappy interpretation to it. The dialog is unashamedly fast. Nobody dawdles over "significant utterances." Even on the witness stand they seem to make a series of unhesitating declarations. "Yes." "No." "Yes, I told you already." And it wouldn't be as good as it is without the acting. Charles Laughton is the central figure, one of those cute old curmudgeons that everyone likes because of his weakness for cigars and brandy. His efforts to bootleg these items under the nose of his nurse, his real wife Elsa Lanchester, are pretty funny. "She won't even find the ASHES," he cackles innocently, like a child getting away with mischief, flicking his cigar ash into an empty drawer. She's always bright and chipper and energetic, a nice contrast to his flabby sedate presence.

Una O'Connor as the Scottish maid is extremely engaging as well, snapping back indignantly at the judge. Tyrone Power is called on to change from a careless and thoughtful guy, to one stricken by fate, then back again, and he pulls it off. Henry Daniell, a Robin Hood villain, and John Williams, ever the legal type, are welcome in every scene in which they appear. Reliable sorts, don't you know. But Marlene Dietrich takes the palm. She was everyone's idea of a no-baloney kind of woman but never anyone's idea of a great actress. And yet, she had me fooled here. Oh, hammy, sure, but her performances fit in because EVERYONE is hammy in "Witness for the Prosecution." God forbid anyone try to make anything serious and arty out of an Agatha Christie mystery! They're fine, just as they are.
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A Hickcoktian courtroom puzzle game masterfully played and perfectly directed by the great Billy Wilder
ma-cortes18 August 2015
Entertaining suspense movie packs thrills , intrigue , twists and turns ; being realized in Hitchcock style . As the tale is ordinary Hitchcock fare that plays and preys the senses including sensational acting , enjoyable dialog and interesting screenplay from start to finish . Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power) is detained on suspicion of killing an elderly acquaintance . He employs an experienced but aging barrister, Sir Wilfrid (Charles Lawton) as his defense attorney who is recovering from a severe heart attack . The ill advocate at law is attended by a nurse Miss Plimsoll (Elsa Lanchester , they were real-life husband and wife).

Excellent film packs drama , emotion , suspense and plot twists . This agreeable and often intriguing picture from master of comedy has a memorable scene after another . It contains interesting intrigue based on Agatha Christie's novel , fun intrigue , amusing situations and keeps the action at feverish pitch . The film followed the basic story of Agatha Christie's play, but director and co-screenwriter Billy Wilder opened up the story by including numerous scenes that did not take place solely in the courtroom, as the play had, and changed the emphasis from "Leonard Vole" to "Sir Wilfrid Robarts¨. Top-notch and unforgettable performance from Charles Laughton as the peculiar as well as intelligent barrister , throwing himself into the role with dedication and delight . Nice acting by Tyrone Power , this would be his last complete film , he would die of a heart attack while on the set of his next film (Salomon) less than one year after release of this one . Sensational support cast , including familiar faces such as Elsa Lanchester , John Williams , Henry Daniell , Ruta Lee , Torin Thatcher and veteran Ian Wolfe . Special mention for Una O'Connor , this was Una O'Connor's last big screen motion picture and she was the only member of the original Broadway cast of the play to repeat her role on film . Evocative and atmospheric cinematography in black and white by Russell Harlan . The producers were so concerned about the financial success of the film that during the credits, an announcer urges the audience not to reveal the film's ending to anyone . Lavishly produced by Arthur Hornblow Jr. and Edward Small , as the courtroom setting, which cost $75,000 to build, was a recreation of an actual courtroom in London's Central Criminal Courts , The Old Bailey.

The motion picture was very well directed by Billy Wilder who includes several punchlines , amusing dialogues , humor and entertaining intrigue . Billy was one of the best directors of history . In 1939 started the partnership with Charles Bracket on such movies as ¨Ninotchka¨ , ¨Ball of fire¨ , making their film debut as such with ¨Major and the minor¨ . ¨Sunset Boulevard¨ was their last picture together before they split up . Later on , Billy collaborated with another excellent screenwriter IAL Diamond . Both of them won an Academy Award for ¨Stalag 17¨ dealing with a POW camp starred by William Holden . After that , they wrote/produced/directed such classics as ¨Ace in the hole¨ , the touching romantic comedy ¨Sabrina¨ , this ¨Witness for the prosecution¨ and two movies with the great star Marilyn Monroe , the warmth ¨Seven year itch¨ and ¨Some like hot¨. All of them include screenplays that sizzle with wit . But their biggest success and highpoint resulted to be the sour and fun ¨¨The apartment¨. Subsequently in the 60s and 70s , the duo fell headlong into the pit , they realized nice though unsuccessful movies as ¨Buddy buddy¨ ,¨Fedora¨ , ¨Front page¨ and ¨Secret life of Sherlock Holmes¨, though the agreeable ¨Avanti¨ slowed the decline . The team had almost disappeared beneath a wave of bad reviews and failures . ¨Witness for prosecution¨ rating : Above average , essential and indispensable watching . It justly deserves its place among the best ¨Court Dramas¨ ever made . One of the very best films of all time and to see and see again . An extremely entertaining and riveting film and completely provoking , as it ranked #6 on the American Film Institute's list of the 10 greatest films in the genre "Courtroom Drama" . It's the kind of movie where you know what's coming but , because the treatment , enjoy it all the same .
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One of the best courtroom movies of all time
HotToastyRag16 April 2018
Witness for the Prosecution is one of the most entertaining courtroom stories of all time, written by the crime mistress herself, Agatha Christie. Charles Laughton completely owns the courtroom, starring as a famously brilliant barrister who's supposed to be taking a break for his health-but he gets drawn in by a truly compelling murder trial. Tyrone Power, in his last movie, has been accused of murdering a wealthy older woman. While all the evidence racks up against him, Charles doesn't give up hope and tries to win the case, all the while trying to crack the very hard nut Marlene Dietrich. Marlene is Tyrone's wife, and it's impossible to tell what she's really thinking or feeling.

I love this story, and I love both versions of the film, from 1957 and 1982. It's incredibly suspenseful and interesting-and also quite impossible to talk about without giving spoilers. If you've never seen Witness for the Prosecution, add this one to your list of classics to rent. The acting is fantastic, and the timing makes it a very entertaining old movie to watch. There are no boring bits in this drama; and I guarantee you'll still sit on the edge of your seat the second time you watch it.
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Qanqor4 October 2008
I have no idea why I'm writing this review. There are already 125 other reviews here, and that odds that anybody's even going *see* mine are slimmer than an already-slim person on a severe diet.

What's more, I don't have anything new to add. I just finished watching the movie for the first time, and I thought it was just magnificent. Wonderful cast, wonderful performances, and a completely engrossing and surprising plot. And even some charming humor on the side to keep things from getting too grim. I was able to foresee some of the ending but definitely not all of it.

So anyway, the main point I would want to make is just this: If you have NOT seen this movie, do NOT read any reviews with spoilers! Just see the movie!
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Agatha Christie is a classical detective story writer; arguably, THE classical detective story writer.
Spleen4 February 2001
Let me explain.

The best book on music I've ever read is "The Classical Style: Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven", by Charles Rosen. (Read it, it's fascinating.) One of Rosen's claims is that the classical style was the offspring of two impulses: the desire to surprise, and the desire to be formally perfect, to sound "right". In the decades before Haydn's maturity there were composers who startled and composers who satisfied; Haydn was the first to startle and satisfy in the same breath.

Detective story writers have the same ideal as classical composers. The solution must surprise us; yet the "shape" of the story, to those who know the solution, must be beautiful. And, as in music, it's hard to surprise and satisfy at once. If you must go one way or the other, much better to satisfy. One can see the denouement of a Thorndyke story by R. Austin Freeman a mile off, but it's always perfectly crafted, and that is enough. Too many modern detective stories startle us by having the murderer turn out to be one of a dozen characters when it could so easily have been one of the other eleven and nobody would have particularly cared because there's little beauty in the story whoever it turns out to be. But Agatha Christie ... not for nothing is she called "classical". Her solutions are almost always surprising - she may have been better at misdirection than anyone else who ever lived - but they always, in a way that's hard to describe, make perfect dramatic sense. -Okay, so she's not the world's best mystery WRITER. But I often think she attracts undue criticism because she so obviously writes less well than she plots, while the literary defects of writers who can't plot either pass unnoticed.

For all these reasons I'm surprised there aren't more first-rate films based on her works. (I can understand, though, why "The Mousetrap" has never been filmed.) Looking through the IMDb list of twenty-eight cinematic Christies, I'm surprised how many of the ones I've seen fall short of their potential. And twenty-eight isn't really, when you think about it, that many, especially when so many of them are remakes of earlier ones.

Still, most are worth watching, and this particular one is excellent. Faithful to the play, it has the usual finely crafted, classical, Agatha Christie twist. Wilder made it at a moment in his career when he could do no wrong. It must have taken him all of two seconds to decide that Charles Laughton would make the perfect Sir Wilfrid; then, perhaps, another fifteen minutes to settle on Marlene Dietrich as the title character. Just as "Double Indemnity" is set in a black-and-white California, "Witness" is set in a black-and-white England - it makes me wonder if it's a mistake filming Agatha Christie in colour. You'll enjoy this, trust me.
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Witness for Prosecution
caliadragon12 April 2005
This movie is truly gripping. The actors involved are top of the line and they all have the ability transport the viewer into the film and make you forget your surroundings.

This movie is worth watching. I am not a fan of Agatha Christie, but this movie is one of my favorites.

Charles Laughton makes this movie. He is what drew me to the movie to begin with. I was not disappointed.

Marlene Deitrich and Tyrone Power play their rolls to the max and manage to play both the jury and the audience to the end.

This movie is well worth watching.
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