Viewing your Watchlist and recommended content requires Javascript

  • U
  • Crime, Drama
  • 1957
  • 116 mins

Witness For The Prosecution

Witness For The Prosecution

Synopsis

A revered criminal lawyer ignores the advice of his doctors to participate in a sensational murder trial. All-star adaptation of the Agatha Christie play directed by Billy Wilder

About

"You and I have a tendency towards corpulence," says Charles Laughton to Peter Ustinov in Spartacus. "Corpulence makes a man reasonable, pleasant and phlegmatic. Have you noticed the nastiest of tyrants are invariably thin?"

If the rumours are to be believed Charles Laughton was anything but "reasonable, pleasant and phlegmatic". But if his mincing bitchiness almost led to him having his nose bloodied by Ernest Hemmingway, there's no disguising the fact this son of Scarborough was an acting heavyweight in every sense of the world. And if his work on screen never quite lived up to his storied stage career, at his best, he was right up there with Olivier, Richardson and the other English greats who swapped the West End for the West Coast.

As with Spartacus, Witness For The Prosecution saw Laughton surrounded by people capable of shining in his considerable shadow. Tyrone Power stars as Leonard Vole, a cad accused of murdering a rich widow. The story of the age, the lure of defending Vole is too much for Sir Wilfrid Robarts (Laughton), the top defence lawyer who isn't going to let a little thing like a heart attack prevent him from hogging the limelight. If Robarts is confident of proving his man's innocence, he's as surprised as anyone when Vole's wife Christine (Dietrich) sides not with her spouse but with Torin Thatcher's prosecuting attorney.

Christie, Laughton, Dietrich, Power, Wilder - there was no shortage of talent involved in bringing Witness For The Prosectuion to the big screen. The big names aren't just to be found above the title, either. Sir Wilfrid's nurse Miss Plimsoll is played by Charles Laughton's long-suffering wife Elsa Lanchester. And if the woman playing Janet McKenzie looks familiar, that's because it's Una O'Connor, Lanchester's co-star in Bride Of Frankenstein who'd also appeared in the original Broadway version of Witness For The Prosecution.

Even amongst so many other great performances (Dietrich is particularly good as the ice-cold Christine), Laughton still stands out. Devouring the dialogue like a box of chocolates, the hefty one's Sir Wilfrid is right up there with his ripest creations. Indeed many would have rather seen him with his Oscar for this bravura turn than for his effete Henry VIII. For while Robarts is wonderful fun, the gravity and girth Laughton brings to the part means we're never able to forget that, for all the grandstanding, Sir Wilfrid is giving what might well be his last performance.

Larger than life as Laughton might be, he never threatens to wrestle Witness from the capable hands of Billy Wilder. As for what exactly the great writer-director brings to the piece, while a lot of people could have fashioned a sturdy court-room sage from Witness For The Prosecution, only he could transform it into a great comedy-drama.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Charles Laughton, Tyrone Power, John Williams, Elsa Lanchester, Henry Daniell, Marlene Dietrich
  • Director: Billy Wilder
  • Screen Writer: Harry Kurnitz, Billy Wilder, Larry Marcus
  • Writer (Play): Agatha Christie
  • Producer: Arthur Hornblow Jr, Edward Small
  • Photographer: Russell Harlan
  • Composer: Matty Malneck

In a nutshell

Wilder's adaptation is guilty of being absolutely marvelous.

by Richard Luck

Latest from Film4...

  • Film4

    Serena

    Romantic drama set in Depression-era North Carolina starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper.

  • Film4

    Destry

    Audie Murphy stars in this remake of 1939's Destry Rides Again, which is directed by the man who made that previous version, George Marshall.

    On Film4: 28 Sep 4:25PM

  • Film4

    Weird & Wonderful Season on Film4

    Wild fantasy, dark fairytales and spectacular creations to tie-in with the release of Tim Burtons Miss Peregrines Home for Peculiar Children.

  • Film4

    R.I.P.D. on Film4

    Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds star in Film4's first play of R.I.P.D., part of our Weird & Wonderful season.

  • Channel 4 Blog

    TIFF 2016: Top Ten

    Film4.com Editor Michael Leader runs through ten standouts from the Toronto International Film Festival...   The Oath I'd already seen three of the four Film4-backed films screening in Toronto (inc

  • Channel 4 Blog

    Baltasar Kormakur on The Oath

    As his Film4-backed Icelandic thriller The Oath premieres in Toronto, director/writer/actor Baltasar Kormakur speaks with Film4.com editor Michael Leader about making films in Hollywood, returning to

Register with Film4.com

Personalise your Film4 experience

  • Set film reminders
  • Build your watchlist
  • Get film suggestions

or Register

Share