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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.
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!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The play is a lot of fun that keeps you guessing until the end, and
Billy Wilder's film is one of the best Agatha Christie film adaptations
in my opinion. So this TV film had much to live up to. And it did so in
a worthy way, and generally compares favourably. The music score can be
a little too obtrusive sometimes, but the biggest problem was Beau
Bridges who is much too laid-lack, nowhere near shady enough and he
doesn't have the slick charm, charisma or even handsome enough looks to
have three women falling for him. Tyrone Power however did have those
things. However, the film is very well photographed and looks evocative
and wholly professional in how it was made. The direction is careful
and meticulous but never resorting to stodginess. The dialogue is
intelligent and sometimes funny, the courtroom scenes are well paced
and compelling and while the chemistry between Richardson and Rigg is
not quite as dynamic as Laughton and Dietrich and perhaps a little too
teasing it is still sharp and intense.
The story keeps you guessing, no matter how familiar you are with the story or not, coming from somebody who's seen the play twice and the Wilder film at least seven times the story was suspensefully and grippingly told which was what I was looking for really. The flashbacks didn't harm anything at all. I also don't mind it being word for word, screen for screen as it is well made stuff and has a good cast to carry it. I can understand why people would be dubious though, as I admittedly was too, seeing as the remake of Psycho was also word for word screen for screen and even shot for shot and it was an awful film because it had no sense of suspense or terror and the cast was bad, which was not the case here. In fact, apart from Bridges, the cast were very good. Ralph Richardson gives a quieter and perhaps more subtle performance than Charles Laughton, and it was a convincing approach and he still gives an enigmatic and twitchy performance as a result.
Though admittedly I do prefer the more shrewd and gleeful performance of Laughton who made the already great dialogue even funnier by his comic delivery alone. Diana Rigg is also very good and delightfully wicked, probably the member of the cast that I remember. She isn't quite as successful as Marlene Dietrich with the Cockney-voiced lady but takes a very noble stab at it with some clever direction, with Dietrich she succeeded in using a completely different voice which compensated for the little attempt taken to disguise her distinctive nose. Deborah Kerr is in a different role, but does so in a fun and charming performance with good chemistry with Richardson, while Donald Pleasance's prosecutor is appropriately cunning and thoughtfully observed. Wendy Hiller is very sweet and dotty. All in all, of course there were times that weren't quite there but this Witness for the Prosecution is still very worthy and compares favourably.
8/10 Bethany Cox
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.
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!!
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")
Excellent TV version of the Agatha Christie classic with an amazing
array of talent for this type of enterprise. This is the sort of high
quality fare that was standard on American television in the 70s & 80s
and is sadly missing today.
Bridges is okay but miscast. Leonard Vole needs to be played by someone with a slick charm as it was by Tyrone Power in the original, a persona like George Clooney projects now and Bridges while a capable actor doesn't have that quality.
Therefore he is easily put in the shade by the powerhouse team of Sir Ralph Richardson and Diana Rigg. Both give exceptional performances, Richardson sly, knowing and wise while Diana Rigg is perfect as the determined if misguided Christine. Deborah Kerr provides a nice light touch as Richardson nurse. Good fun all around.
*** 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.
Witness for the Prosecution (1982)
** 1/2 (out of 4)
Hallmark Hall of Fame remake of the 1957 Billy Wilder masterpiece taken from the Agatha Christie play. This time out it's Ralph Richardson playing the lawyer trying to get a man (Beau Bridges) off of murder charges and the key bit of evidence might come from his mysterious wife (Diana Rigg). Wilder's original version takes a rather unbelievable story and turned it into a masterpiece because everyone from the director to the wonderful cast took the material, ran with it and make the subject a lot better than it actually was. This remake does a somewhat decent job at certain aspect but in the end it really can't stand against the original version or on its own. The biggest problem with the film is the performance by Bridges, which is downright terrible. He's so over the the top and obnoxious that I really wanted to see him hang and this isn't good when we're suppose to be cheering for him to be freed. I found his performance so irritating that it really hurt the film for me and I really didn't expect to feel this way as I've enjoyed several of his performances over the years. Why director Gibson let him turn in a performance like this is beyond me. Richardson turns in a decent performance, although I do feel he was a tad bit too laid back for the character. While he's good in the role he never really takes it and makes it jump off the screen. Rigg is pretty good, although she too goes over the top too much in certain scenes. Donald Pleasence turns in a good performance as the prosecuting attorney and Deborah Kerr is quite charming as Richardson's nurse. Michael Gough gets a few good scenes as the judge. This version is pretty much by the numbers and is slightly entertaining but it's a shame there wasn't more fire and energy like the original. If you've seen the original the you might want to check this one out for comparison sake but if you haven't seen that Wilder film then you'll want to stay away from this and check it out.
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.
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