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, John Williams, Tyrone Power, Henry Daniell, Marlene Dietrich, Elsa Lanchester
  • Director: Billy Wilder
  • Screen Writer: Larry Marcus, Billy Wilder, Harry Kurnitz
  • Writer (Play): Agatha Christie
  • Producer: Edward Small, Arthur Hornblow Jr
  • 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

    About Elly

    Taraneh Alidoosti stars in a gripping, award-winning mystery-thriller from Oscar-winning Iranian writer-director Asghar Farhadi.

  • Film4

    Odd Thomas

    Anton Yelchin stars in Stephen Sommers' charged adaptation of Dean Koontz's supernatural novel.

  • Film4

    Action Month 2016 on Film4

    A whole month of action favourites every night at 9.00pm throughout June.

  • Film4

    Kick-Ass 2 on Film4

    Jim Carrey, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Chloƫ Grace Moretz star in Film4's first play of the darkly comic sequel to Kick-Ass.

  • Channel 4 Blog

    Five questions for Jim Gillespie

    We grabbed five minutes with Jim Gillespie after his Edinburgh International Film Festival directing masterclass to put five burning questions to the man behind I Know What You Did Last Summer, whose

  • Channel 4 Blog

    Clio Barnard's Dark River starts shooting

    Principal photography has commenced on Dark River, the third feature film from writer/director Clio Barnard (The Arbor, The Selfish Giant), starring Ruth Wilson (The Affair, Saving Mr Banks), Mark Sta

Register with Film4.com

Personalise your Film4 experience

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

or Register

Share