It's Britain, 1953. Upon his return to work following a heart attack, irrepressible barrister Sir Wilfrid Robarts, known as a barrister for the hopeless, takes on a murder case, much to the exasperation of his medical team, led by his overly regulated private nurse, Miss Plimsoll, who tries her hardest to ensure that he not return to his hard living ways - including excessive cigar smoking and drinking - while he takes his medication and gets his much needed rest. That case is defending American war veteran Leonard Vole, a poor, out of work, struggling inventor who is accused of murdering his fifty-six year old lonely and wealthy widowed acquaintance, Emily French. The initial evidence is circumstantial but points to Leonard as the murderer. Despite being happily married to East German former beer hall performer Christine Vole, he fostered that friendship with Mrs. French in the hopes that she would finance one of his many inventions to the tune of a few hundred pounds. It thus does ... Written by
Harry Kurnitz never worked with Billy Wilder again after this film and explained why in 1964, saying the typical Wilder collaborators "have a hunted look, shuffle nervously, and have been known to break into tears if a door slams anywhere in the same building. ... (Wilder) is a fiend at work." See more »
When Vole, in his cell, starts relating the story of how he and Christine met, the scene dissolves into a flashback while Vole is speaking. But as it begins to dissolve, Vole, still clearly visible, has stopped talking even as his voice-over continues its narration. See more »
[getting progressively more agitated]
The question is whether you were lying then or are you lying now... or whether in fact you are a chronic and habitual LIAR!
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As the end credits appear on screen, an announcer's voice is heard: "The management of this theater 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." See more »
In a recent biography of Billy Wilder, Agatha Christie is quoted as saying that this was the best adaption of her work ever done on the screen. I can't praise Witness for the Prosecution any higher than that.
Tyrone Power in his farewell film plays Leonard Vole who befriends a dotty old widow played by Norma Varden. She even rewrites her will leaving him the bulk of a very large estate. When she's murdered, Scotland Yard arrests Power.
Power's solicitor Henry Daniell retains a dream team for defense of John Williams and the recently recovered Charles Laughton. Laughton is recovering from a heart attack and against medical advice plunges into the case. Laughton also has to deal with the efforts of his assigned nurse Elsa Lanchester to keep him following doctor's advice.
The original play this was taken from concentrated completely on the Power character and the machinations of his wife. Wilder built up the character of the nurse and barrister Sir Wilfred Robards so that they almost equaled the screen time of Mr. and Mrs. Vole. So much so that Charles Laughton was nominated for an Academy Award in 1957, but lost to Alec Guinness.
Marlene Dietrich plays Mrs. Vole. She's a war bride over from Germany and she's got her own agenda going. Her performance and what her character does is the key to the whole film. Dietrich probably would have gotten an Oscar nomination herself, but due to the fact that if her performance was hyped up for Academy consideration, the element of surprise would have been lost in the film. Wilder in fact apologized to Marlene for that.
The Anglo-Saxon legal system's goal is justice. Justice is served though not quite in the way it usually is in Witness for the Prosecution.
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