Witness for the Prosecution Review
Witness for the Prosecution is a 1957 courtroom drama film directed by one and only Billy Wilder and starring Charles Laughton and Marlene Dietrich. It is one of the most underrated films of the decade.
The story follows Laughton’s character who has to defend a man accused of murder. The plot is beautifully constructed and thought out bringing great plot point after point, scene after scene of pure entertainment and excitement. It is also very professional and incredibly sophisticated. The first act is filled with lovely humor from Laughton and his nurse who objects to his misbehavior in the most charming fashion. His demeanor and lines are all fantastic to behold and he once again brought an incredible character to life here. It then introduces you to all the characters with the highlight being of course Christine Vole who is incredibly acted and a very mysterious figure from start to finish. Afterwards come the court sequences and they are all incredibly well executed and filled with superb dialogue throughout the whole trial. And of course there is the finale which has one of the most unexpected and brilliantly executed twists ever. It literally made my jaw drop how shocking and unexpected the story came to an end. Superb stuff, no question about that.
Next, there are naturally the characters with each and every one being fascinating to watch. Wilfrid is undoubtedly well developed and charming, but what makes him a true standout here is his humor because he delivers a hilarious line after line with excellent acting and of course wonderful characterization. His more comic part in the first act is brilliant, but of course his dramatic part later on is superb as well. He is not only funny, but he is also extremely smart and cunning which the filmmakers did not fail to capture. Christine Vole is the second best character in the movie without a doubt. She is fascinating to follow, she has excellent mysterious quality to her in the beginning and her resolution in the end is extremely powerful and striking. Leonard Vole is quite good as well and you totally buy his character from start to finish, but the movie is magnificent not only for those three, but for its plethora of beautiful supporting characters. Miss Plimsoll is the heart and soul of the film being Wilfrid’s warm and charming nurse and bringing a lot of pathos in her sequences. She is wonderfully realized and the most realistic character depicted here. Emily Jane French is also memorable as the victim presented in the flashbacks whereas Janet, her housekeeper is once again hilarious and brings the necessary humor to the picture.
The directing in this movie is absolutely fantastic and once again proves what a great director Billy Wilder is. I would even say that he is underrated as he is in my opinion one of the best directors of all time, if not the very best. All of his films I’ve watched are masterpieces of different genres and here he proved that he can do courtroom drama just as well. And what a treat audiences got in 1957 from this genre as ‘12 Angry Men‘ was also released that year. It is truly an amazing year!
It is technically a brilliant film because everything is executed perfectly. Along with the direction, the screenplay is also top-notch and incredibly well written. The tone is delicately handled and it shifts from drama to comedy almost seamlessly. And editing and pacing are the trickiest parts of every film, but here that is not the case as the movie is polished and deft from start to finish with never a dull or dragged moment to be found. And of course the film is incredibly unpredictable, authentic and memorable with magnificent dialogue which is essential for this genre.
The acting should not be forgotten as it is the most mind-blowing aspect here along with the screenplay. Charles Laughton once again shines and he is simply indelible in the lead role. He gave a performance that was not easy to pull off, but he did it as he was always one of the greats. Marlene Dietrich probably gave one of her finest performances here as she steals every scene she is in. You buy her character who is the most complex one and although the role is difficult and even more so than Laughton’s, she did a fantastic job and should have received some accolades. She was definitely better in her later roles than the earlier ones. Tyrone Power is solid, if forgettable when compared to the aforementioned two, but Elsa Lanchester and of course Una O’Connor are comedic gold and a textbook example how supporting characters should be written and acted. The performances are phenomenal across the board and it is even impossibly good how so many of the actors and actresses did such a terrific job.
With absolutely fantastic character development, an incredibly smart and unpredictable screenplay, simply wonderful humor and greatly executed trial sequences, Witness for the Prosecution is an amazing film from start to finish with a plethora of phenomenal characters wonderfully realized, fascinating finale with a superb twist and a bunch of powerhouse performances, of which Charles Laughton and Marlene Dietrich are the best in two of their finest roles. It is immensely engaging, smart, funny, charming, riveting, incredibly well acted and wonderfully directed by one of the best directors of all time that is of course Billy Wilder. This is one of the very best films of its respectable year and one of the finest courtroom dramas ever made. A pure delight.
My Rating – 5