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
Charles Laughton, who could be moody and difficult, was apparently a dream to work with, throwing himself into the role with dedication and delight. Billy Wilder later recalled a day that was set aside just for shooting reaction shots of the jury and courtroom crowd (composed of extras hired only for the day). Normally, the assistant director would read the actors' lines and the extras would react. However, Laughton, who was fascinated with the whole process of filmmaking, begged to help. So he came in on his day off and read all of the off-camera speeches for the jury members. He read not only his part, but also the judge's, the prosecutor's and even Marlene Dietrich's. According to biographer Maurice Zolotow in his book "Billy Wilder in Hollywood", the author said, "it was an exhibition of craftsmanship such as Wilder had never seen. He believes that Charles Laughton had the greatest technical range and power of any actor, man or woman, whom he has known." See more »
Though made in 1957, the film takes place in 1952, but in the opening shots of Sir Wilfrid's car on the streets of London (and in the rear-projection shots in the car's interior), several post-1952 cars can be seen in the background. See more »
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 »
Another brilliant work in the legendary career of Billy Wilder. The director signs a cinematic adaptation of this Agatha Christie story: actually it is really as if the camera went on stage for filming the play. But the film is passionating and exciting, there's no time to get bored.
Another thing we shall not forget is that Billy Wilder is European. He manages to keep the spirit of the film very British, with lots of humour and sarcasm. Compared to films like this one, "legal" movies from John Grisham's novels are empty and meaningless, without soul.
Mr.Wilder is the director, we know; we have Charles Laughton, Tyrone Power and Marlene Dietrich: what a cast! Add a superb black and white cinematography... The result is amazing, with a film where dialogues are flawless and carry everything.
Times are different now, but the atmosphere and the taste of movies like this one are impossible to find in contemporary films.
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