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In 1958 Billy Wilder made one of the best film adaptations of an Agatha
Christie story when he directed WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION, with
Charles Laughton, Marlene Dietrich, Tyrone Power, Elsa Lanchester, and
Una O'Connor. It is one of those mystery films that, even when you
understand the trick, does not fail to remain entertaining. But it has
to be done in a certain way, with a sense of decorum and tradition
(personified by Laughton as Sir Wilfred Robarts - brilliant defense
barrister but guardian of England's precious laws and sense of
justice). It is infectious. Even Power as the seemingly helpless
Leonard Vole is desperately hoping that the system of justice will save
But along comes this version of 1982. One would have thought it could not fail with a star like Sir Ralph Richardson as Robarts and Diana Rigg as Christine Vole. But it does fail. Even with Dame Deborah Kerr as Nurse Plimsoll and Dame Wendy Hiller as Janet Mackenzie (the Una O'Connor role)it fails. Richardson is too laid back for Sir Wilfrid. When Rigg testifies against her husband, after having previously given him an alibi for the murder, Richardson almost seems to tease her about her behavior. In the same situation in the Wilder film, Laughton's justifiable anger at this turnabout leads to a peroration point where he shouts out that she is a perpetual liar. It was far more affective with Laughton, although Richardson was (traditionally) a greater actor.
Similarly, Tyrone Power's Leonard Vole was (as I said when reviewing the 1958 film version)playing Leonard for all the part is worth, and created the most sinister part he played after his best performance in NIGHTMARE ALLEY as Stanton Carlyle. The last ten minutes of the film show what a totally amoral and vicious louse Power's Vole really is. Beau Bridges was as laid back as Richardson, making the mistake of making Vole seem a nice guy. Vole can be helpless in the arms of the British judicial system or he can be a louse. He can't be a guy you want to take out for a fishing expedition.
I give this film a "6" - barely because the cast tried. Their ideas were wrong in Richardson and Bridges' interpretations.
In 1954, when the efficient but bitter and stubborn barrister Sir
Wilfrid Robarts (Ralph Richardson) returns to his office in London
recovering from a heart attack, he is invited to defend Leonard Stephen
Vole (Beau Bridges), who is the prime suspect in a murder case. Leonard
is a former soldier that fought in World War II and is married with his
beloved German wife Christine Helm Vole (Diana Rigg). He is unemployed
and accused of seducing and murdering the wealthy middle-aged single
woman Emily French (Patricia Leslie) to inherit 80,000 pounds. His
unique alibi would be the testimony of Christine, which would not be
accepted by the court, since she is his wife. Along the trial,
Christine is surprisingly called to testify in court by the
prosecution, when secrets about their lives are disclosed.
"Witness for the Prosecution" (1957) is another remarkable movie of Billy Wilder and one of the best about trial. Based on the play of Agatha Christie, the plot is perfectly tied-up without any flaw in the screenplay, which has many plot points and witty lines in a perfect combination of the caustic and sarcastic "British humor" with crime, drama and mystery. Despite being a good remake with great cast and performances, I do not understand the purpose of shooting frame-by-frame the masterpiece of Billy Wilder. The last time I had seen this film was on 14 June 2003. My vote is seven.
Title (Brazil): "Testemunha de Acusação" ("Witness for the Prosecution")
Everyone who has seen both versions will compare. Well, Charles Laughton and Tyrone Power in my opinion are better than Ralph Richardson and Beau Bridges. Charles Laughton simply is very funny. Tyrone Power performs a more shady character. But Diana Riggs is excellent, while Marlene Dietrich, much to my surprise and disappointment, is quite woody. The story in both versions are very alike. Though I haven't read the book, I assume they remain both quite close to it. So preference depends on the acting. I don't have one. I quite enjoyed both. The strength of the story is proved by the fact, that one can enjoy it even with knowing the real meaning of all the twists and turns.
This remake of the Laughton/Power/Dietrich film is quite enjoyable, owing to skillful casting, top production values, and, of course, Dame Christie's cracking good story. Sadly, the only liability is the performance of Sir Ralph Richardson (It's almost unspeakable to say this; I feel like Brutus plunging the knife into his Caesar). This was one of his last performances, and his immense skill simply cannot overcome his advanced age. (Granted, his character is supposed to be aged and ill, but Sir Ralph is unable to act intrigued and energized by his last case the way Laughton was in the original.) Still, his presence alone delivers barrels full of audience goodwill, and the piece is anchored by fine performances from Diana Rigg in the Dietrich role, Deborah Kerr in Elsa Lanchester's part (a fun bit of off-casting!) and by Beau Bridges, who stretches himself beyond his normal nice-guy blandness and convinces in the Ty Power role. A nice movie for a rainy afternoon or a boring holiday!
While this TV remake of the classic 1957 Billy Wilder film can't hold a candle to the original, it's fun if taken on its own. It's well cast and has a beautiful period feel. And let's face it, any chance to see Diana Rigg is a welcome one!!
The better version of Witness For The Prosecution,starring a very remarkable Diana Rigg as a frosty and yet highly intense dark lady,and presenting the most compelling courtroom drama ever seen on the screen,with a duel to death among an ambitious and insinuating prosecutor played with his usual malicious glint by a wonderful Donald Pleasance and a dying and cunning barrister played with vulnerable naughtiness by a titanic Ralph Richardson.The stellar cast is completed by the Gotha of beloved English character actors:Wendy Hiller,Richard Vernon,David Langton,Peter Sallis...even Deborah Kerr in an endearing role of comic relief.A major success,highly deserving a DVD edition,and very curiously far superior to the Billy Wilder version,exceedingly verging on glamor and comedy.
Sorry but I find the original a bit slow. The original court case is probably more dramatic. However, I like the cast better in this newer rendition and wish it was available on DVD. Diana Rigg as always is great. Deborah Kerr and Donald Pleasance also turn in good performances.
This is Dame Agatha at her best. I also have the 1957 original, but I
tell you this version is far better! Credit Diana Rigg for that, she
the show and gives a towering performance.
The film starts when Janet is on her way back to the house(Wendy Hiller)She hears two people-she sees one of them-but can't see the other-it's a man. She goes upstairs-then she hears screams and crashing about. She goes down stairs to find a middle aged woman dead.
That's the set up. What follows is a series of plot twists. Leonard Vole(Beau Bridges) Is arrested for the crime and is brought to trial. The Barrister Sir Wilford Robarts(Ralph Richardson)is asked to take the case.
Is Leonard Vole Guilty? Be prepared for one of the most surprising endings in a mystery! It's shot in the arm from Agatha Christie! Oh, Agatha How could you?
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I benefited by watching the 1957 version and this one within hours of
Each has it's weaknesses and strengths. The major weakness IMO of this version was the music used. It intruded and didn't match the mood of the story. Though Ralph Richardson's portrayal doesn't have the bravado of Charles Laughton's, he brought a quiet conviction to the part. Beau Bridges was compared unfavorably to Tyrone Power but he (Bridges) showed the boyish charm that would take in a lonely older woman who would want to mother him or even marry him. Power came across as more mature and world weary though he did bring his own brand of charm to the part. Diana Rigg was very good but I felt Marlene Dietrich in the 1957 film was the better actress, especially, as a native German speaker, she was able to pull off a Cockney (or near enough) accent.
People have said the scene where Sir Wilfred meets the "Cockney" woman differed and that the 1957 version was the correct and superior one have got it wrong. This version's meeting is the one in the short story the movies were based on. Never having seen the play or read a copy I can't say which meeting was used in it but I do own the book that contains the short story and have recently read it.
There are complaints that they followed almost word for word and scene for scene the Wilder version but I don't have a problem with that. A good story is a good story and they wouldn't be the first nor the last to do such a thing.
This 1982 TV film boasts a grand cast (with a notable exception), good
camera-work, sets, and lighting. The 1957 version made in Hollywood
cast Hollywood actors-most of them British residents. The exception to
that was Tyrone Power, although there was no mention in the original
story of Leonard Vole being an American. This remake follows suit by
casting Beau Bridges as Vole-a great mistake. Whereas Power gave an
excellent performance, Bridges is weak and is easily dominated by the
talents of the other actors.
Sir Ralph Richardson gives a fine performance, playing barrister Sir Wilfred Robarts with a charm and whimsicality that was his trademark. Deborah Kerr is also quite good as the nurse-a definite improvement from Elsa Lanchester's annoying performance in the earlier film. For a reason unknown to many people, producers of film adaptations of Agatha Christie stories seem to think comedy elements are necessary when the genius of Christie was creating taut, dramatic, mysterious, and dangerous situations-mostly dealing with murder, and there's nothing funny about that. Some may see it as "entertaining," but these elements are totally unnecessary and mostly out of place (and not believable either).
This version took pains to cast truly great actors in even the smaller parts. The legal profession is represented by such distinguished persons as Donald Pleasence, Michael Gough, David Langton and Richard Vernon, and Peter Copley played the doctor. Even the servant Janet McKenzie is played by none other than Dame Wendy Hiller! Diana (later Dame Diana) Rigg is also quite good as Romaine (they restored the character's original name), although unlike Marlene Dietrich she had to assume the German accent.
Norman Rosemont, who was responsible for making many of the best TV movies during the 1970s and 80s, produced this one.
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