When the determined but bitter and equally as stubborn barrister, Sir Wilfrid Robarts (Charles Laughton), returns to his office in London after recovering from a heart attack, he finds himself defending a new client, Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power), in his much-publicised murder trial that seemingly has twists and turns around almost every corner. To many people this is one of the finest courtroom drama’s to have been released and I’d not argue against that.
Director: Billy Wilder
Writers: Agatha Christie
Starring: Charles Laughton, Tyrone Power, Marlene Dietrich
As touched upon, Witness for the Prosecution is a classic courtroom drama that many people can relate to. The flick dates all the way back to 1957 but still manages to find itself holding up rather well in the year of 2023. There’s plenty of drama, as you’d expect, numerous twists, and snippets of humour injected too – other pictures reviewed on the website from this classic era of film come in the form of; Anastasia (1956), Last Train from Gun Hill (1959), Rio Bravo (1959), The Searchers (1956) and two Alfred Hitchcock directed pictures, Rear Window (1954) and Vertigo (1959).
A strong aspect of the movie and one the filmmakers focused heavily on was the characters put before the viewer. Each of the characters had their own individual charm and impact, with some being more likeable than others. The strong script put forward was also noteworthy, with some memorable lines of dialogue included within the almost two-hour runtime.
One thing I would argue, however, would be that the climax of the flick was somewhat convoluted in nature, with a hectic amount unfolding in those famous final moments. With that being said, those final moments did include one of the most unexpected twists in cinema, with audience members at the movie preview in 1957 being given direct orders to not reveal the ending, along with the cast themselves not finding out about the planned finale until the final day of filming.
In terms of the cast, Charles Laughton starred as Sir Wilfrid Robarts, portraying the ageing and cynical barrister perfectly. Meanwhile, Tyrone Power adopted the role of Leonard Vole, and Marlene Dietrich appeared as Christine Vole. The pair provided the majority of support, but other noteworthy characters were Miss Plimsoll and Janet MacKenzie, depicted by Elsa Lanchester and Una O’Connor, respectively.
There have been rumours that Witness for the Prosecution could be getting a remake in the near future, with Ben Affleck starring in one of the lead roles. If so, there will be some big shoes to fill for all of those undertaking the project. All in all, if you’re sustainable to courtroom dramas, or dialogue heavy driven films in general, this one should be near to the top of your list.
“I am constantly surprised that women’s hats do not provoke more murders.”
Sir Wilfrid Robarts – Witness for the Prosecution