Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Monday, July 14, 2008


WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION (1957) Director: Billy Wilder.

Just out of the hospital, defense lawyer Sir Wilfred Robarts (Charles Laughton) is told to take it easy, but he can't resist taking on the almost hopeless case of Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power), who has been charged with murdering the wealthy and lonely old woman Emily French (Norma Varden) who has fallen for him. Robarts isn't certain if Vole's supposed wife Christine (Marlene Dietrich) will be a help or a hindrance, but she has a few surprises up her sleeves. This movie is perfect on virtually every level, from Wilder's adroit direction to the canny, suspenseful script with its flavorful characters, and the performances of a large and splendid cast. Laughton may not have been an especially photogenic person, but his acting is so splendid that you just can't take your eyes off of him. In their scenes together, Dietrich is nearly his match. Elsa Lanchester and Una O'Connor are excellent and amusing as, respectively, Robart's scolding nurse and the murder victim's housekeeper/companion. Torin Thatcher, the villain from 7th Voyage of Sinbad and Jack the Giant Killer is riveting as the prosecutor, and Ruta Lee has a nice bit as a girl caught up in the proceedings. Tyrone Power was only 43 when he made the film -- he died the following year -- but he looks in his fifties or sixties even with the make up on. While Power may not have been in Laughton's league as an actor, he's actually a perfect choice for Vole. Henry Daniell and John Williams also score as associates of Robarts'. Norma Varden makes the most of her flashback scenes as the kind and likable Emily. Darkly amusing and absorbing, Witness for the Prosecution is a winner all the way!

Verdict: Superb! ****.

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