Monday, August 26, 2013

Witness for the Prosecution (1957)

Director: Billy Wilder. Cast: Charles Laughton, Marlene Dietrich, Tyrone Power, Elsa Lanchester. 116 min. Drama/Mystery.

Roger Ebert once said if nothing happens in the first 10 minutes, nothing is going to happen. I believe you can determine during the first 5 minutes of a movie whether it's worthy of viewing. I tried the first few minutes of this half-century-old Agatha Christie-based story, and it locked its clutches on me for a full two hours - even though I already knew the twist ending. Maybe it was Laughton's captivating delivery of dialogue, maybe Dietrich's omni-devilish screen presence, or maybe just the luscious stark black-and-white photography. Another reminder of a bygone era of incredible film-making.

PS #1: It's available here in beautiful HD resolution. I can't make it any easier.

PS #2: Watch for Elsa Lanchester (the Bride of Frankenstein), in a terrifically engaging role as the bossy nurse.

PS #3: Thank you, Maryam, for the recommendation.

Mo says:


  1. so happy to see it got the rank of MoMagic! I know I missed some dialogues due to speedy chat) and I need to see it by closed caption again but I really loved it from the first scene to the end when in last 30 minute audience was shocked by featuring surprise after surprise.
    Spoiler : Did you notice the other lawyer always answered Luaghton's question about the couple ": I don't know! Maybe!" . Amazing!
    The beautiful end quote took my breath: "He was not killed. He was executed."
    I will watch the bride of Frankenstein as soon as I can. Another cinematic pitfall!
    I bring some trivia here:

    "The plot deals with Charles Laughton's character recovering from a severe heart attack while defending Tyrone Power's character. In reality, this would be Tyrone Power's last complete film - he would die of a heart attack while on the set of his next film less than one year after release of this one. ( at the age of 44 years?How sad. Good actor)

    *The press book, reviews and various articles about the production stated that the principal cast members themselves did not even know the ending of the film until the last day of shooting, when the final ten pages of the script were presented to them.

    *Alfred Hitchcock said "Many times, people have told me how much they enjoyed Witness for the Prosecution. They thought it was my film instead of Billy Wilder's. And Wilder told me people asked him about The Paradine Case, thinking he had done it."

    1. Interesting trivia. Agatha Christie's original story is actually a short story, so a huge part of the film is the screenwriter's dramatization - including the great ending quotes you mention.