Winters force one indoors and the best way to avoid the piling housework is to curl up in front of the television and watch old movies. Thought Netflix is currently crumbling on new streaming content, it does have a good variety of older movies. When I say old, I mean of the black and white variety and nothing more sophisticated than that!
The 1957 version of the Agatha Christie short story “Witness for the Prosecution” ends with the following message before the credits role in
““The management of this theatre 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.”
Even though over 50 years have passed since the release of the movie, I will try to adhere to the request so as to not ruin the movie for people who haven’t seen it yet.
The story is based in London, where for some weird reason almost everyone speaks with an American accent. Sir Wilfred Robarts (Charles Laughton), barrister in His Majesty’s court, is just recovering from a heart attack when he is requested to prove the innocence of Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power). Vole is accused of murdering a rich widow Mrs. Emily French and the circumstantial evidence against him is heavy. His wife, a German woman, also abandons him on his arrest and the man is completely at despair. Surrounded by a fretting nurse, Robarts dives into the investigation because he sincerely believes in his client’s innocence. What follows is an hour long. riveting court room drama that keeps you hooked with it’s unending twists and turns.
Directed by the Academy Award winning Billy Wilder, the movie has his stamp all over it. It’s shot primarily indoors and heavily driven by character performances. The dialog is sharp and exceedingly witty. As I researched for this review, I learnt that Wilder has also directed Sunset Boulevard and Some Like it Hot, two of my all time favorite movies and I am now going to watch all of his movies. I love the work of directors whose movies are less gimmicky and heavily reliant on individual performances. Sometimes, these days, when I watch a newly released movie, I find myself exhausted as my eyes adjust to the 3D and the fast changing landscapes. I fear that movies are not made to tell good stories anymore, but to create maximum visual impact.
Laughton is immensely likable as the worldly-wise but slightly petulant barrister. Though this was Power’s last film before he died of a heart attack at the age of 44, his performance though convincing, is not entirely memorable. I think after Laughton, the star of the movie is Marlene Dietrich , who plays the role of the cold and calculating wife of the accused. Oh how she makes you hate her! And what wonderful screen presence! And how can one forget the hilarious performance by Elsa Lanchester, who plays the barrister’s strict –to-the-point-of-annoying nurse. Their banter brings all the laughs in the movie. She was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance in this movie.
Witness for the Prosecution is a classic courtroom drama, shot expertly and intelligently. Definitely worth watching !