Witness for the Prosecution  (1957)

PopGap #02: Witness for the Prosecution (1957)

 
By dorrk, February 23rd 2015
Oscar Nominees: #12 of 20

The second of four coutroom dramas and the third of four Billy Wilder movies to make this month's list is not near the best of either group, but it's still worth watching if only for the stunning lead performance by Charles Laughton.

Laughton stars in Witness for the Prosecution as Sir Wilfrid, a renowned barrister whose convalescence from a heart attack is cut short when he agrees to take on the defense of a personable inventor (Tyrone Power) whose arrest on a murder charge is imminent. the case seems simple enough — until the man's wife (Marlene Dietrich), who was expected to provide his alibi, agrees to appear as a witness for the prosecution.

Wilder seems to be coasting through this Agatha Christie adaptation, leaning heavily on his cast to elevate the middling material, but aside from Laughton, the results are tepid. Power is fine, if a bit too slick, but Dietrich is bracingly miscast: utterly unconvincing in all but the courtroom scenes, and in those too melodramatic. There is absolutely no chemistry between her and Power, which adds further insult to the injury done by a ludicrously contrived plot twist.

There's also some shtick between Laughton and Elsa Lanchester, as his nurse, that is uninspired, and one performer delivers the worst cockney accent ever committed to film. It's all a bit of a mess, but Laughton, nearing the end of his career, is so good it almost doesn't matter. Almost.

Trailer for Witness for the Prosecution (1957)



The Top 20 Movies of All-Time

#1: The Godfather Part II (1974)

#1: The Godfather Part II (1974)

Dir: Francis Ford Coppola
#2: The Godfather (1972)

#2: The Godfather (1972)

Dir: Francis Ford Coppola
#3: West Side Story (1961)

#3: West Side Story (1961)

Dir: Jerome Robbins, Robert Wise
#4: Manhattan (1979)

#4: Manhattan (1979)

Dir: Woody Allen
#5: The Graduate (1967)

#5: The Graduate (1967)

Dir: Mike Nichols
#6: Tootsie (1982)

#6: Tootsie (1982)

Dir: Sydney Pollack
#7: Apocalypse Now (1979)

#7: Apocalypse Now (1979)

Dir: Francis Ford Coppola
#8: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

#8: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Dir: Irvin Kershner
#9: Star Wars (1977)

#9: Star Wars (1977)

Dir: George Lucas
#10: The Exorcist (1973)

#10: The Exorcist (1973)

Dir: William Friedkin
#11: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

#11: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

Dir: Peter Jackson
#12: Taxi Driver (1976)

#12: Taxi Driver (1976)

Dir: Martin Scorsese
#13: Annie Hall (1977)

#13: Annie Hall (1977)

Dir: Woody Allen
#14: Vertigo (1958)

#14: Vertigo (1958)

Dir: Alfred Hitchcock
#15: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

#15: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Dir: Steven Spielberg
#16: Boogie Nights (1997)

#16: Boogie Nights (1997)

Dir: Paul Thomas Anderson
#17: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

#17: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

Dir: Tobe Hooper
#18: It's a Wonderful Life (1944)

#18: It's a Wonderful Life (1944)

Dir: Frank Capra
#19: Singin' in the Rain (1952)

#19: Singin' in the Rain (1952)

Dir: Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly
#20: Zodiac (2007)

#20: Zodiac (2007)

Dir: David Fincher