Tyrone Power, Marlene Dietrich and Charles Laughton star in this brilliantly made courtroom drama (The Film Daily) that left audiences reeling from its surprise twists and shocking climax. Directed by Billy Wilder, script... more »ed by Wilder and Harry Kurnitz and based on Agatha Christie's hit London play, this splendid, six-time Oscar-nominated* classic crackles with emotional electricity (The New York Times) and continues to keep movie lovers riveted until the final, mesmerizing frame. When a wealthy widow is found murdered, her married suitor, Leonard Vole (Power), is accused of the crime. Vole's only hope for acquittal is the testimony of his wife (Dietrich) but his airtightalibi shatters when she reveals some shocking secrets of her own! *1957: Best Picture, Actor (Laughton), Supporting Actress (Elsa Lanchester), Director, Sound, Film Editing« less
Jes G. (jesgear) from DAVENPORT, IA Reviewed on 9/25/2014...
I hadn't been a fan of Laughton, but he totally won me over here. His banter with Lanchester is very entertaining. Dietrich is great as always. I'm not impressed with Power's performance, but it doesn't take away from the rest of the movie. It's a classic.
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Nothing short of a triumph!
Kurt A. Johnson | North-Central Illinois, USA | 06/03/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Sir Wilfrid Robarts (played by Charles Laughton) is renown as one of the greatest barristers in England, but his failing health has placed him at the mercy of doctors, and in the clutches of an overbearing nurse (Elsa Lancaster). However, when he is introduced to Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power), an innocent man on his way to the gallows, Sir Wilfrid decides to risk his health and use his jurisprudential skills to save Vole. A wrinkle in the case is Vole's surprisingly harsh wife (Marlene Dietrich), but fortunately a wife can never be used as a witness for the prosecution. [Black-and-white, released in 1957, with a running time of 1:56.]
This movie is based on Agatha Christie's shortstory of the same title, which was first published in the 1933 book The Hound of Death and Other Stories, and is nothing short of a triumph! The three main actors of the movie (Laughton, Power and Dietrich) put on a wonderful performance, making this movie gripping from start to finish. Plus, as a fan of John Mortimer's Rumpole of the Bailey books, I must say that I liked the setting. (I do believe that any Rumpole fan will also adore this movie.)
So, if you are interested in courtroom drama, classic movies and great acting, and want a movie that is all three, then you must get this DVD!"
The Last Extraordinary Performance by Charles Laughton
Robert Moore | Chicago, IL USA | 09/02/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Although this film is filled with a bevy of excellent actors and actresses, and although he did play the part of Gracchus in SPARTACUS a couple of years later, and an excellent supporting role in ADVISE AND CONSENT a couple of years after that, this is the last truly great performance in the career of perhaps the greatest character actor film has seen. Charles Laughton was in no sense a leading man: obsese, unattractive, unathletic, awkward. He nonetheless managed to put together an astonishing career. WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION was released in 1957, but until that moment, the 1950s had not been kind to Laughton, whose greatest success came in the 1930s and 1940s. He had directed the remarkable THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER in 1955, but his acting parts in the decade, apart from David Lean's HOBSON'S CHOICE, were for the most part undistinguished and not among the finest of his career. WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION is Laughton's glorious return and, because of declining health, last great role. If WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION had nothing else to recommend it, Laughton's performance would make it well, well worth seeing.Luckily, this film has far more than Laughton to recommend it. Ironically, it was also the last great role for Tyrone Power, for whom WITNESS was also a part of a comeback (he also excelled in THE SUN ALSO RISES). I have to say, for anyone who had seen Power in films in the 1940s, his physical appearance in 1957 is shocking. Much like Errol Flynn, he had lived a hard life, and it shows. He would die of a heartattack a year after this performance, and looks much older than 43 years old. Nonetheless, the remarkable thing about Power is that while not a particularly great actor during the heyday of his career, when he looks carried him from role to role, near the end of his life he grew considerably as an actor. WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION is one of his better performances, by far. Unlike Laughton and Power, both aging and in poor health, but similar to both in that the 1950s had up to that point not been one of her most active decades, Marlene Dietrich appears barely to have aged since the 1930s. The kinds of parts she was best suited for were far too subversive for the staid 1950s. Her natural cynicism and sexuality were far too threatening at that time even for the darkest of film noir. So, WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION was something of a comeback (or the continuation of a comeback in the case of Power) for the three principles. The cast was rounded out by some stellar characters actors, including the always amazing Una O'Connor, the frequently villanous Henry Daniell (though not in this one), and John Williams (who had played Audrey Hepburn's chaffeur father in Wilder's SABRINA, playing Laughton's law partner in this one).Unlike the three leads, Billy Wilder was not suffering from any kind of lull in his career when he made this film. He had, first as a screenwriter and then as a director, been marching from triumph to triumph for the previous twenty years, and would continue to do so for another ten years. The movie was untypical Wilder, however. Along with Preston Sturges, Wilder is arguably the greatest writer of comedy scripts in the history of film (he had cowriters, but their primary function was to correct his Germanicisms, to polish his rough English; Wilder supplied the ideas and action). In WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION, however, although adapting an Agatha Christie original, and adding a huge number of Wilderian touches, he largely is working from someone else's work. Wilder virtually always wrote completely original stories. A lot of people love the plot of this one, and especially the twists, but I have to say that I find this somewhat artificial, and some of the least appealing parts of the film. What I do delight in is the interplay between the various characters, the chemistry between the actors and actresses, the dozens of little touches and transitions that Wilder makes while working within the limitations of someone else's story. But most of all, this film is great because Charles Laughton was able to find one last, great role before his career came to an end."
Charles Laughton steals the show...
Schuyler V. Johnson | Lake Worth, FL USA | 03/21/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Elsa Lanchester is brilliant as the nurse for the acerbic barrister, newly home from the hospital after suffering a heart attack; nevertheless, he continues to smoke cigars and drink brandy whenever he can be skillful enough to hide them from the ever watchful Miss Plimsill (Lanchester). Tyrone Power is superb as the charming, disingenuous ne'er-do-well, unable to settle down after the War, and inventing egg beaters that beat AND separate the yolk from the white, and other dubious household necessities. Marlene Dietrich makes a Grand Entrance, and promptly puzzles Sir Wilfrid beyond speech, with her apparent cool, collected behaviour upon hearing her husband is going to be charged with the murder of Emily French, a rich older widow befriended by Power when he assisted her in the selection of a hat. The trial is the real action and centerpiece of the movie. but I enjoyed the byplay between Sir Wilfrid and Miss Plimsill even more...upon emerging from the car when he first comes home, Miss Plimsill reminds him to "Take teeny weeny steps, Sir Wilfrid, remember, we had a teeny weeny heart attack..." to which he replies: "Oh shut up." And his threats (after she confiscates some cigars he was smuggling in his cane) "I'll do it some dark night when her back is turned; I'll plunge her thermometer between her shoulder blades..." There are many unexpected twists here, and the ending is a real shocker, a complete surprise, and quite satisfying. Great performances by an exceptional cast, and as always, IMHO, Laughton steals the show."
Entertaining Trial Movie That Still Holds Up
Craig Connell | Lockport, NY USA | 05/03/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"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. "
Could this be the best film ever made?
Gordon Trunk | Minneapolis, MN | 11/16/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This film is a remarkable, unforgettable work of art in so many ways. Director Billy Wilder and a brilliant cast of actors gave "Witness for the Prosecution" every element of a superb movie. The film is a highly suspenseful courtroom drama, saturated with plot twists and surprises which do not let up until the very end. I have never seen another movie in which the element of suspense is so brilliantly done-the plot twists leave the viewer captivated and perplexed until all the loose ends come together in the film's unforgettable climax. Aside from the drama, "Witness for the Prosecution" has numerous bits of comedy interspersed throughout the storyline, which complement the film's enjoyability very much and do not in any way detract from its dramatic impact. The performances of the actors and their interaction with each other are done flawlessly. Charles Laughton leads the cast, starring in one of his last film roles as Sir Wilfrid Robarts, a crotchety old English barrister, who agrees to defend Leonard Vole (played by Tyrone Power, who also died shortly after the film was made) on a charge of murder. The case against Vole seems open-and-shut, as even his own wife (played by Marlene Dietrich) agrees to testify against him. But as we learn in the course of the film, there is much more to Leonard Vole and his wife Christine than first meets the eye, and just when you think you know how the story will end, the plot veers off in a new direction and the viewer is kept guessing until the final credits roll. For quality of acting, a great storyline, suspense, and great entertainment value, "Witness for the Prosecution" simply can't be beat. Every element of a great film is present here in abundance. Suffice it to say that, in my humble opinion, this movie represents the pinnacle of filmmaking, and was never surpassed before or since. Pure, undiluted cinematic genius."