WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Feb. 27, 2015

One of Billy Wilder’s greatest films is based on Agatha Christie’s play “Witness for the Prosecution” (1957, b/w), a murder mystery-courtroom drama with an all-star cast and laced with wicked humor.

The film has just received a Blu-ray upgrade from Kino Lorber and is a classic must-see picture that marked a high point for all concerned.

Tyrone Power, in his last film before his untimely death at age 44, plays a down-and-out American inventor in London who is accused of killing a rich widow that was his benefactor. The only defense is an alibi offered by his German wife (Marlene Dietrich), and she seems to be waffling.

Power approaches a famous but aging barrister with health problems (Charles Laughton), whose medical team — and in particular his ever-nagging nurse (Elsa Lanchester, Laughton’s real-life wife) — urge him not to defend Power as it will bring on too much stress.

      

Charles Laughton, left, John Williams, Marlene Dietrich, 'Witness'

The case takes a few twists and turns, and in the end Laughton feels something just isn’t right, though he’s hard-pressed to figure out what it is.

Much of the film’s humor comes from the relationship between Laughton and Lanchester, as she follows him around, trying to control his drinking and smoking. (Both Laughton and Lanchester earned Oscar nominations.)

And Power and Dietrich are magnificent, playing characters that keep the audience off-balance and guessing.

But it’s Wilder’s witty contributions to the script (he and two co-scriptors added the Laughton-Lanchester patter in adapting Christie’s play) and his sure-handed direction that pull it all together in a way that puts this film right up there with his best work in “Double Indemnity,” “Some Like It Hot,” etc.

Even irascible author Christie considered Wilder’s film right at the top of the 60-some adaptations of her works to cinema.