Directed by Billy Wilder and based off Agatha Christie’s play, Witness for the Prosecution is an intriguing courtroom drama full of well thought out characters, engaging dialogue and plot that delivers surprise after surprise.
British lawyer, Sir Wilfred Robarts (Charles Laughton), has just been released from the hospital after suffering a heart attack that put him in a coma for two months. He has a nurse (Elsa Lanchester) fussing over him every minute begging him to take it easy for a while, but when a juicy murder case comes up, the wily old man cannot resist.
Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power) is accused of murdering a rich widow, whom he met by chance, befriended and idly hoped for an endorsement on his eggbeater invention. The fact that he did not mention his marriage to her and that she left him a great deal of money looks like he led her on. Leonard swears he is innocent and had no ill intentions. The only person that can back up his alibi is his wife, Christine (Marlene Dietrich).
Christine is a cold, calculating type of person from Germany. It turns out that she was already married when she went through a marriage ceremony with Leonard. This means that she can testify in court on his behalf, but the whole case is turned on end when she instead decides to be a witness for the prosecution, brutally incriminating Leonard.
Charles Laughton earned a nomination for playing Wilfred as such a wonderful, crafty old man. The way he slips away from his nurse, hides his cigars and brandy is just like any stubborn man. He’s genuinely quirky and fun when he discovers his new lift for the staircase and rides it up and down. His monocle test to see if Leonard and Christine are telling the truth is smart, intriguing and shows us that Wilfred has some interesting tricks up his sleeve.
Witness for the Prosecution is one of the best courtroom dramas I have ever seen. The way flashbacks are set up throughout the film makes it feel more like a mystery, giving us pieces of the puzzle along the way. All the characters feel real and intriguing, never flat and they never deliver stale or wooden dialogue. The whole film seems to move like an old train, slow and chugging at first, but then flying at top speed at the very end, where a sudden twist creates a screech of metal on metal, nearly throwing the whole train off the tracks. Sorry for the train metaphor, but the ending is so surprising and great that the voice during the credits politely asked me not to give anything away. My lips are sealed. You need to see this film.
“I am constantly surprised that women’s hats do not provoke more murders.”