Monday, April 17, 2006

Witness for the Prosecution

When an old, poorly-healthed judge Wilfrid Robarts is approached one night with a baffling case concerning Leonard Vole, the accused, it is up to him to try and find out what really went on. This job is not made easy for him when he meets the accused’s cold wife, played with ice intensity Marlene Dietrich, who, for some reason, seems to be working against her husband. Who is really telling the truth?

Anybody who knows Agatha Christie will know that nothing is ever how it seems. Just when you think you’ve found a red herring, you find out that you were right along… to then find out that everything was a bluff. Or something. So the plot twists, even for those who are familiar with Christie, will always surprise. And nobody is better chosen to adapt her play than Billy Wilder, one of Hollywood’s best capable, adaptable directors. He classily uses the courtroom backdrop with deft ingĂ©nue, creating a film with courtroom drama elements, as well as petty comedy and sizzling suspense, all brought together by the excellent performances.

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As the grumpy defence lawyer with an overbearing nurse, Charles Laughton combines comedy and drama excellently, never failing to make us smile, but also shining at the dramatic moments. Elsa Lanchester, who was married to Laughton in real-life, has great chemistry with him in their light-hearted banter. The other performance in the film that stands out is from Marlene Dietrich, as Vole’s ambiguous wife. As Christine, she uses her wintry persona to perfect effect, creating a character that is as intriguing as she is dislikeable.

A few tiny quibbles. The plot, though interesting, could never happen in real life. Things work out just a tiny bit too conveniently. But overall, this is a finely made, superbly acted, and very gripping mystery. Another hit for Mr. Wilder. Check it out.


Sol said...

It's a great film, and a lock for my top 250. You're right that Elsa Lanchester and Charles Laughton work well together... she wins my Best Supporting Actress award for 1957!

Emma said...

Wilder can do no wrong.

Sol said...

Yes, I haven't seen any bad films from him yet. That said, I think One, Two, Three is in a class below everything else.

Juliette said...

I know this movie well, Charles Laughton is fab in this - nice review, thanks.

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