31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nothing short of a triumph!
Sir Wilfrid Robarts (played by Charles Laughton) is renown as one of the greatest barristers in England, but his failing health has placed him at the mercy of doctors, and in the clutches of an overbearing nurse (Elsa Lancaster). However, when he is introduced to Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power), an innocent man on his way to the gallows, Sir Wilfrid decides to risk his health...
Published on 22 Feb 2005 by Kurt A. Johnson
7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Excellent film .. deserves better treatment on DVD
This has been one of my favourite films for a long time. I was hoping that this new 2013 DVD release would finally do it justice. But I'm afraid that it contains the same old 14:9 version (or 4:3 picture with black borders top and bottom) that has been around for decades.
Save your money and catch it next time it's on Channel 4. Their last transmission was a...
Published 10 months ago by probably57
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31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nothing short of a triumph!,
This movie is based on Agatha Christie's 1933 book with the same title, and is nothing short of a triumph! The three main actors of the movie (Laughton, Power and Dietrich) put on a wonderful performance, making this movie gripping from start to finish. Plus, as a fan of John Mortimer's Rumpole of the Bailey books, I must say that I liked the setting. (I do believe that any Rumpole fan will also adore this movie.)
So, if you are interested in courtroom drama, classic movies and great acting, and want a movie that is all three, then you must get this DVD!
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very entertaining drama,
This review is from: Witness For The Prosecution (DVD) (DVD)Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power), an American living in London, is accused of killing an older woman who befriended him. His defense barrister (Charles Laughton) is convinced of the man's innocence but puzzled over the peculiar behavior of Mrs. Vole (Marlene Dietrich).
This movie's trailer touts the 'shocking' ending and, I have to say, I did find it so surprising that I immediately rewatched it (and enjoyed it) again. Power is slick, handsome, and though he appears too old to be called 'young man' by his lawyer, he's very good. Laughton is the real star of the show and gives an outstanding performance full of wit and passion. He was rightly nominated for a Best Actor Oscar. His scenes with Elsa Lanchester are very funny. Dietrich is mysterious until the very end, the epitome of an icy, cool, and calculating female. This is a very British story, with most of the action set in a courtroom. The dialogue is spirited and the pace is quick.
I had expected the movie to be dated and a bit dull, but I enjoyed it thoroughly.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars twists and turns - excellent suspense with gratifying ending,
By A Customer
This review is from: Witness for the Prosecution [VHS]  (VHS Tape)i envy any agatha christie fan who has not yet had the opportunity to see this brilliant film. the first time is amazing. whoever needs another excuse to watch it will simply adore Marlene Dietrich. just don't tell anyone the ending!
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Murder, anyone?,
By A Customer
This review is from: Witness for the Prosecution [VHS]  (VHS Tape)Based on an Agatha Christie play, it's on to a winner straight away. Tyrone Power, Charles Laughton and the divine Marlene Dietrich are the lead players in this skillfully crafted, classy affair. Not the best film ever made, but wonderful entertainment nonetheless. Worth t for Marlene Dietrich alone!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Classic (spoiler),
This review is from: WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION [DVD] TYRONE POWER/MARLENE DIETRICH/CHARLES LAUGHTON (all region import on the NTSC system) (DVD)Prior to directing the popular rom-coms SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959) and THE APARTMENT (1960), Billy Wilder had gone more serious and did so through adapting Agatha Christie's novel turned Broadway play WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION (1958) into a successful suspense film, that captivates audiences (and ironically like Some Like It Hot) features three strong lead performances, a witty script and many extreme twists and turns that leave us shocked throughout but nonetheless in awe of such an underrated film that is still one of the great courtroom dramas of all time!
In London, veteran barrister Sir Wilfred Robards returns to his office/home having been released from hospital after a couple of months following a heart attack. He is pestered by his fussy but long-suffering nurse Miss Plimsoll (Elsa Lanchester) who wants Sir Wilfred to rest without getting involved in any cases. However solicitor Mayhew (Henry Darnell) approaches him with help with taking on a murder case where an American man named Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power) has been accused of murdering a wealthy middle-aged widow in order to claim £80, 000 from her will. Leonard's insists that although he befriended the woman, he never had intentions of killing her to gain her fortune and pleads his innocence. Upon his arrest, his German wife Christina (Marlene Dietrich) manages to persuade Sir Wilfred to become her husband's barrister but it is clear that there is something suspicious about her support for her husband (the pair met in Germany following the end of World War II). Once the trial gets underway many twists and turns add to the tension of the case where Christina's commitment to her husband proves inaccurate, certain witnesses have their own idea about Leonard's involvement in the murder and Sir Wilfred, despite having to take pills, uses his experience and authority to try and prove Leonard's innocence which leads to an ending which originally seems to give a sentimental feeling to it only to be even more deceitful than can be suggested particularly in the final few minutes but gives great value to how the justice system can be flawed in the best of times.
Witness for the Prosecution is yet another highlight in the great director's history, and it proves that courtroom dramas can be both riveting and a great opportunity for some first rate comedy. Towards the end, Wilder bombards us with twist after twist, each one both making sense and topping the one before it. The film is deliriously entertaining throughout, with some truly great lines of dialogue (most of which are very quotable) and the formula comes from several angles with themes of love, health, sacrifice and most notably, justice, which proves even more important in the film's climax. Laughton's dialog is terrific throughout, bringing a number of laughs to this serious film with a sharp tongue, all bluster and cheeky into the bargain. His interplay with real life wife Elsa Lanchester (Miss Plimsoll) is quality and he is just a joy to watch. Marlene Dietrich's turn as Christine Vole is wonderfully sultry and femme fatalistic, it's a sizzling performance that crowns this delightful film while the other main female lead Lanchester is a scream as Laughton's by the book nurse. Her and Laughton had a marriage of "convenience" for many years and their fondness for each other comes through making their verbal fights even funnier and it's another testament to Wilder's genius for putting her and Laughton together. The courtroom scenes are terrific as Wilder ratchets up the tension on two fronts - the verdict regarding Power's alleged crime, and the uncertainty as to whether Robart's ticker will keep going long enough to hear it.
The flaws to the film do come in part to the acting. Tyrone Power uses his charm skillfully in his early scenes, yet seems to lose focus later on particularly with his overacting in the later scenes where he proclaims his 'innocence' but considering this was his final film before his sudden death, it certainly was one to remember. Dietrich though masterful in the film, does suffer at one point in the film with a dodgy accent as the surprise witness who complicates the proceeding. As for the plot, though interesting, could never happen in real life as things work out just a tiny bit too conveniently as well as being filled with unrealistic interruptions from the accused and surprise witnesses from both sides. But overall, add in Wilder's carefully-conceived adaptation and flawless direction it makes this is a finely made, superbly acted, and very gripping mystery.
23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "It's not the jury's judgment that worries me. It's mine.",
This review is from: Witness For The Prosecution (DVD) (DVD)"No more murder cases," is the doctor's strict prohibition upon reluctantly releasing renowned barrister and recent heart attack survivor Sir Wilfrid Robarts (Charles Laughton) from hospital. (Although even the word "released" seems to be a matter of slight dispute here, because in the words of Sir Wilfrid's nurse Miss Plimsoll [Elsa Lanchester], he was "expelled for conduct unbecoming a cardiac patient." But let's leave that aside for now.) Following the doctor's orders, Sir Wilfrid's staff have lined up an array of civil cases: a divorce, a tax appeal, and a marine insurance claim - surely those will satisfy their hard-to-please employer's demands?
Err ... not likely.
So, try as he might to be a good patient, Sir Wilfrid needs only little encouragement to accept the case of handsome drifter and small-time inventor Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power), accused of murdering his rich benefactress Emily French (Norma Varden). Of course, the very circumstances that most disturb the famous barrister's colleagues Mayhew and Brogan-Moore (Henry Daniell and John Williams) - Mrs. French's infatuation with Vole, his visit to her on the night of the murder, the lack of an alternative suspect and his inheritance under her new will - just make the matter more interesting in Sir Wilfrid's eyes. Most problematic, however, is Vole's alibi, which depends entirely on the testimony of his German wife Christine (Marlene Dietrich), an actress he had met when stationed with the RAF in WWII-ravaged Hamburg. Troubling, insofar, isn't only that Christine is her husband's sole alibi witness and that - Sir Wilfrid explains - a devoted wife's testimony doesn't carry much weight anyway. The real problem is that Christine isn't the loving, desperate wife one might expect to begin with: far from that, she is cool, calculating and surprisingly self-controlled; so much so that, worried because he cannot figure out her game, Sir Wilfrid decides not let her testify at all, rather than risk damaging his case. That, however, seems to have been one of his illustrious career's few major miscalculations - because now he and his client suddenly have to face Christine as a witness for the prosecution. And her testimony on the stand is only one of several surprises she has in store.
"Witness for the Prosecution" is based on a concept Agatha Christie first realized as a four-person short story (published in the 1933 collection "The Hound of Death") and subsequently adapted into what she herself would later call her best play, which opened in London in 1953 and in 1954 on Broadway, where it won the N.Y. Drama Critics' Circle citation as Best Foreign Play. Throughout the adaptations the storyline was fleshed out more and more, the focus shifted from the work of solicitor Mayherne (whose name changed to Mayhew) to that of QC Sir Wilfrid Robarts, and the screenplay ingeniously added Miss Plimsoll's character, utilizing the proven on-screen chemistry of real-life spouses Laughton and Lanchester, for whom this was an astonishing eleventh collaboration, and whose banter bristles with director/co-screenwriter Billy Wilder's dry wit and the fireworks of the couple's pricelessly deadpan delivery, timing and genuine joy in performing together.
Perhaps most importantly, the story's ending changed: not entirely, but enough to give it a different and, albeit very dramatic, less cynical slant than the short story's original conclusion. - To those of us who have grown up with Christie's works, those of her idol Conan Doyle and on a steady diet of Perry Mason, Rumpole of the Bailey and many subsequent other fictional attorneys, the plot twists of "Witness for the Prosecution" (including its ending) may not come as a major surprise. At the moment of the movie's release, however, the ending was a much-guarded secret; viewers were encouraged not to reveal it both in the movie's trailer and at the beginning of the film itself; and even the Royal Family was sworn to silence before a private showing. Similarly, features such as the skillful, methodical unveiling of a seemingly upstanding, disinterested witness's hidden bias in cross-examination have long become standard fare in both real and fictional courtrooms, and any mystery fan worth their salt has heard more than one celluloid attorney yell at a cornered witness: "Were you lying then or are you lying now?" (Not recommended in real-life trial practice, incidentally.) Yet, in these and other respects it was "Witness for the Prosecution" which laid the groundwork for many a courtroom drama to come; and herein lies much of its ongoing importance.
Moreover, this is simply an outstandingly-acted film; not only by Laughton, Lanchester and a perfectly-cast Marlene Dietrich but by every single actor, also including Torin Thatcher (prosecutor Mr. Myers), Francis Compton (the presiding Judge) and, most noteably, Una O'Connor (Mrs. French's disgruntled housekeeper). This is true even if Tyrone Power's emotional outbursts in court may be bewildering to today's viewers - and why, I wonder, was an American-born star acceptable for an Englishman's part without even having to bother trying to put on an English accent anyway, whereas Dietrich and other non-native English speakers of the period, like Greta Garbo and Ingrid Bergman, were routinely cast as foreigners? (Yes, yes, I know. Redford and "Out of Africa" come to mind more recently, too, but that's a can of worms I won't open here.)
"Witness for the Prosecution" won a Golden Globe for Elsa Lanchester, but unfortunately none of its six Academy Award nominations (which undeservedly didn't even include Marlene Dietrich), taking second seat to the year's big winner "Bridge on the River Kwai" in the Best Picture, Best Director (David Lean), Best Actor (Alec Guinness) and Best Editing categories, and to "Sayonara" for Best Supporting Acress (Miyoshi Umeki) and Best Sound. No matter: with the noirish note resulting from its use of multiple levels of ambiguity - in noticeable contrast to Christie's Poirot and Miss Marple mysteries - it fits seamlessly next to such Billy Wilder masterpieces as "Sunset Boulevard" and "Double Indemnity;" and it has long become true courtroom classic.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Star powered Court Drama,
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars “Where is my cocoa?”,
Sir Wilfred promised not to take on any strenuous case. However in exchange for a chance to pilfer a forbidden cigar he soon gets intriguingly involved in a murder case. You can tell that Leonard Stephen Vole is being actively accused of murder based on circumstantial evidence. Sr. Wilfred after giving charismatic Leonard the eye-glass test is sure that he is innocent and knows if he does not take an active part in the trial that Leonard is doomed. To make matters worse Leonard’s wife Christine Helm Vole (Marlene Dietrich), his only alibi, is some sort of cool character and looks suspicious her self.
Will Sir Wilfred take on the case? And if so will he die trying?
This film is well played and will keep you on the edge of your seat. You will be like the jury going vacillating over his innocence and the outcome of the trial. Do not let Leonard’s story distract you from the bantering and budding affair between Sir Wilfred and Nurse Plimsoll.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars one of the best Agatha Christie,
This review is from: Witness For The Prosecution (DVD) (DVD)This dvd is first class,after removal of the Korean sub titles, the quality of sound and picture (black and white )is first rate. The film itself is A1. Charles Laughton, Tyrone Power, and Marlene Dietrich are all superb. The trial is enacted so well and the twist is
great. This is a must for all fans of Agatha Christie
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A highly skilled and professional movie, with four highly skilled and amusing performances,
This review is from: Witness For The Prosecution (DVD) (DVD)"I'll snatch her thermometer," snarls the aging, portly, brilliant, irascible London barrister Sir Wilfred Robarts, just back in his office after spending time in a hospital recovering from a heart attack, "and plunge it between her shoulder blades!"
In Witness for the Prosecution, based on an Agatha Christie story and popular stage play, Sir Wilfred (Charles Laughton) is referring to his personal nurse and attendant, the chirpy and determined Miss Plimsoll (Elsa Lanchester). Sir Wilfred has strict instructions to give up everything he holds dearest, namely brandy, cigars and the excitement of criminal defense cases. Nurse Plimsoll is there to see that he does, as well as to give him his injections, make sure he swallows his pills and tuck him in for his afternoon naps. And in an effort to sneak a cigar that first day back in his office, Sir Wilfred finds himself intrigued by the case of Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power). Vole is a charming, too charming, man whom we don't quite trust. He has been charged with murdering a rich, silly woman...who coincidentally changed her will in Vole's favor a week before her death. Vole stands to become a very wealthy man. There's means, motive and opportunity, and for Sir Wildred, there is a challenge. Vole swears he's innocent but his story is not altogether plausible, His only hope, and a shaky one it is, is the testimony of his German wife, Christine (Marlene Dietrich). She has supplied an alibi, which cannot be verified, but at least she cannot be forced to testify against her husband. Then, when the marriage is found to be invalid, who should decide to become a witness for he prosecution? Sir Wilfred is mortified but even more determined to save his client.
The case, full of startling twists, legal shenanigans, first-rate performances and vivid characters, ends with a typically Agatha Christie surprise. Some argue that Christie perhaps was weak as a writer, but peerless as a storyteller, able to construct mystery plot puzzles that consistently stumped her readers until the last chapter. With Billy Wilder directing and Wilder and Harry Kurnitz, an old pro, providing the screenplay, Christie once again gives a surprise twist that leaves us open-mouthed yet smiling at her cleverness. Thanks to Wilder and Kurnitz, we also have a conclusion that involves Sir Wilfred and Nurse Plimsoll that is immensely satisfying. If only there had been a sequel.
The four leads do marvelous jobs. In away, the movie is about two relationships, not just one. There is the relationship between Vole and his wife. They met when Vole was a sergeant stationed in Germany right after WWII. He met Christine when she was earning money entertaining in a dive for soldiers. We see some of this in flashback. With Vole's opportunistic charm and Christine's cool manner, it's difficult to determine who, if either of them, is using whom, or to what degree love enters the picture. Christine's first etrance is memorable. Says Sir Wilfred to a group of fellows awaiting Mrs. Vole, "Be prepared for hysterics and even a fainting spell. Better have smelling salts handy and a nip of brandy." Then in walks Marlene Dietrich as Cristine Vole, with perfect assurance. "I do not think that will be necessary," she says to Sir Wilfred. "I never faint because I am not sure that I will fall gracefully and I never use smelling salts because they puff up the eyes. I am Christine Vole."
While Sir Wilfred's relationship to Nurse Plimsoll provides the acerbic and mutually bullying comic relief for the movie, the two actors, married in real life, manage to develop a touching dependence. It's not just a smile they give as at the end, but also a modest lump in the throat.
And personally, I was delighted to see Henry Daniell in a substantial secondary role. He plays Mayhew, the solicitor who brings Vole to Sir Wilfred. Daniell could look like he was sneering with disdain even if he was just admiring the view. He played some wonderfully upper-class cads and villains in a lot of so-so movies. He also was a first-rate actor, who, given the chance, could also play serious, concerned men, the kind you wouldn't mind having for a friend. He does a fine job here.
The movie, filmed in black and white, looks very good in the DVD transfer. There are no extras to speak of.
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Witness For The Prosecution (DVD) by Billy Wilder (DVD - 2006)