Seriously one of the great courtroom dramas of all time. A taut, unpredictable mystery...one of Agatha Christie's finest twists, and she was the master of the unguessable ending. Accompanied by terrific characters (all colorful and over the top, but highly entertaining) played to the hilt by some truly fine actors, many of whom were reaching the ends of their serious careers (Charles Laughton, Marlene Dietrich, Tyrone Power) but were also at the very top of their games.
I won't trouble you with all the details of the plot. It's a seemingly simple murder mystery / courtroom drama that just gets more and more complex as the layers of the plot are peeled away. If you want a movie with deep, realistic characterizations...this is not it. If you want vivid, larger-than-life people engaged in a series of high-stakes cat-and-mouse games, you'll be very satisfied.
Yes, the movie is nearly 50 years old, but it has aged unbelievably well. The direction is spot-on from the peerless Billy Wilder. His filmmaking is so clean and unpretentious, and yet powerfully effective. He knows when to use the closeup, when to pan back. They are technically unremarkable...except it is so difficult to make a movie this unobtrusive in its artistry, that I admire Wilder for that ability.
Charles Laughton, as the attorney hired to represent murder suspect Tyrone Power, has NEVER been better. He might have gained more awards for his HENRY VIII and more lasting fame for HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME...but this character has it all. Bombast, cynicism, a real heart, great intelligence and a desert-dry wit. If his were the only memorable turn in the film, it would be enough to recommend it.
But you've got to see the legendary Marlene Dietrich. She's past her height as a sex-symbol, but instead we get a rich performance that musters all her hard-won lessons over the decades. If anyone ever thought she was just a charismatic figure...they need to see this. She has charisma to burn, true, but skill as well. Tyrone Power is a dashing scoundrel, who may or may not be a murderer, and he is well-suited to the role...he's a mix of tough guy and romantic lead. Elsa Lancaster has a small role as Laughton's assistant, and she's simply a hoot. Throughout the film are many other recognizable British character actors of the `40s and `50s. It's a top-notch production from beginning to end.
And the ending is a doozy as well. When the final twist is revealed, we're left to marvel at Agatha Christie's skills. As a youth, I read all her books (literally all) and I can say this: Agatha Christie may not have had the best writing skills (serviceable but not exactly Nobel Prize material) but her ability to craft an amazing and yet credible plot twist was and is unsurpassed. Much of her work has been imitated over the decades. Many of her twists still show up on everything from Murder She Wrote to CSI. But she consistently came up with great ending after great ending. For nearly 90 novels, and countless short stories. And WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION (based very closely on her stage play, which she based on a short story of hers) has one of her better twists.
I can't recommend this movie highly enough!
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I've got my own site, www.afilmcritic.com, on which I'm posting my reviews. I am 46 years old, married 25 years, two kids (23 & 18) and currently work in accounting/finance. I spent 15 years … more
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Billy Wilder cowrote and directed this brilliant 1957 mystery based on Agatha Christie's celebrated play about an aging London barrister (Charles Laughton) who's preparing to retire when he takes the defense in the most vexing murder case of his distinguished career. In his final completed film (he died of a heart attack less than a year later), Tyrone Power plays the prime suspect in the murder of a wealthy widow, and Marlene Dietrich plays the wife of the accused, whose testimony--and true identity--holds the key to solving the case. A classic of courtroom suspense,Witness for the Prosecutionis one of those movies with enough double-crossing twists to keep the viewer guessing right up to the very end, when yet another surprise is deftly revealed. This being a Billy Wilder film, the dialogue is first-rate and the acting superb, with both Laughton and his offscreen wife Elsa Lanchester (playing the barrister's pesty nurse) winning Academy Awards for their performances. Although later films would concoct even more complicated courtroom scenarios, this remains one of the best films of its kind and a model for all those films that followed its lead.--Jeff Shannon