08/05/2010

Witness For The Prosecution (1957)


"If you were a woman, Miss Plimsoll, I would strike you!" A Churchillian Charles Laughton threatening former Bride of Frankenstein Elsa Lanchester, his real-life lady wife, in Billy Wilder's adaptation of Agatha Christie's hit 1953 courtroom drama. The bullish barrister is busily defending Tyrone Power's American expat against a murder charge at the Old Bailey but hasn't reckoned on the machinations of the boy's femme fatale German spouse, Marlene Dietrich. The lisping vamp gets her contractual cabaret scene in flashback and shows off a pair of still-knockout legs, quite something given that she was pushing 55 by this point.


Dietrich is actually on ripe old form here and does a nice bit of business meeting Laughton's Sir Wilfred Robarts at Euston station where she is completely unrecognisable in disguise and puts on the dodgiest Cockney accent this side of Dick Van Dyke. Power is also excellent, as are John Williams and Henry Daniell in support - all overcoming Christie's wafer-thin characterisation magnificently - but it's Laughton's film from the start. He holds the floor with cantankerous good humour and the very idea of the big man's tailor having to fit him for a new pair of Bermuda shorts is just too sweet. His comic sparring with Lanchester as a pathologically-chirpy nurse is amusing and both husband and wife were duly rewarded with Oscar nominations for their trouble, as was Wilder.

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