Known for his ability to define genres (see the MOVIE A DAY review of STALAG 17), Billy Wilder’s WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION is no exception. One of the greatest courtroom dramas, it has great twists and turns that would influence others for years to come.
Based on the Agatha Christie play of the same name, the film introduces us to the famed British barrister Sir Wilfred Robards (Charles Laughton) who has just been released from the hospital having survived a heart attack. Forced to take less stressful cases, he can’t resist when a juicy murder case drops in his lap.
Much to the chagrin of his nurse (Laughton’s wife and the Bride of Frankenstein herself, Elsa Lanchester) and his dedicated staff, Sir Wilfred takes on Leonard Stephen Vole’s (Tyrone Power) case. He has been accused of murdering a wealthy older socialite who he befriended. The case is stacked against him and even his wife Christine (Marlene Dietrich) has turned against him and intends to appear as a key witness for the prosecution (thus the title).
Definitely a film of the 1950’s, the acting is a little melodramatic, but I’ve come to expect that from films of that period. With that said though, the characters themselves are quite well conceived and under Wilder’s direction provide a perfect mix of humor and mystery.
The twists and turns of the plot combined with Laughton’s stellar performance make WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION definitely worth your time. And as the narrator implores at the end of the film, please don’t divulge the twist ending to anyone who hasn’t seen it yet.