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Wick's Review

Created Jun 12, 2013 10:30AM PST • Edited Dec 10, 2016 11:12AM PST

  1. Quality
  2. Really Great 4.5

    Starched and stilted, Witness for the Prosecution nonetheless packs one hell of a punch at the end, with glorious detail throughout and a powerhouse cast who are the complete masters of their juicy roles. Nevermind that its theatrical roots show. Agatha Christie knew how to write for max viewer satisfaction. Her play in the nonpareil hands of Golden Age director Billy Wilder results in a richly satisfying movie.

    Thus, 21st century American audiences who crave brilliant courtroom drama will find Witness for the Prosecution a stiff British tonic, delivered with a generous helping of Hollywood panache.

    The glorious detail includes the following credit – Miss Dietrich’s costume ….. Edith Head

    Another is a detailed recreation of the Old Bailey, London’s venerable judicial edifice.

    The movie proceeds with not a single young woman featured in it. The two female leads are a middle-aged nurse and a passion-bride of 56, married to a man in his 40s. The fact that it’s written by a middle-aged woman is not coincidental, I think.

  3. Really Great 4.5

    Tyrone Power was the box office draw, but Charles Laughton, Elsa Lanchester and Marlene Dietrich dominate the movie. Power also happened to be a dead man walking, as explained in the Trivia below.

    Laughton creates a brilliant British barrister of Churchillian proportions. Lanchester is tartly funny as his continually flummoxed nurse. Dietrich is exotic and dangerous and cool and mysterious. What a star! Her cabaret rendition of I May never Go Home Anymore is a bawdy classic.

    A taste of each:

    • Charles Laughton’s monumental arrogance includes declaring after the jury acquits his client “It’s not their judgement that’s worrisome, it’s mine.”
    • Marlene Dietrich proves doubly bewitching.
    • Elsa Lancaster’s bubbly nurse foreshadows her Katie Nanna in Mary Poppins.

    Now for some trivia.

    • Tyrone Power never appeared in another movie. He died of a heart attack making his next one.
    • Laughton and Lanchester were married, albeit he was gay, so theirs was an open marriage.
    • Dietrich was in her mid-50s, while Power was only in his early 40s, yet they played a married couple where she’d bewitched him. Today, her part would likely be filled by a twentysomething.

    And who’s that cutie in the gallery? Why it’s a 21 year old Ruta Lee, the starlet who later rescued her Lithuanian grandmother from Nikita Khrushchev’s Gulag. You can look it up.

  4. Male Stars Really Great 4.5
  5. Female Stars Really Great 4.5
  6. Female Costars Really Great 4.5

    A fresh Ruta Lee is the perfect slice of cheesecake this movie needed for dessert.

  7. Male Costars Very Good 3.5
  8. Really Great 4.5

    Billy Wilder’s sharp camera angles look up at the judge in the Old Bailey and down from him to the barristers. Another “Wilder angle” is shown in the nearby pic, of the accusing wife looking up at her husband in the dock.

    The trial starts 50 minutes in, with an hour to go. Defense begins with 35 minutes to go.

  9. Direction Perfect 5.0
  10. Play Great 4.0

    Agatha Christie leaves plenty of clues, like the deviously damning wife vouching for her husband. Or the fact that Mr. Vole has quite a sense of anger.

    “To leave her now would be unfeeling, unlawful, and [what].”

  11. Music Very Good 3.5
  12. Visuals Perfect 5.0
  13. Content
  14. Risqué 1.8
  15. Sex Titillating 1.7
  16. Violence Fierce 2.1
  17. Rudeness Salty 1.7
  18. Glib 1.7

    Circumstantially surreal, though the more interesting reality is the depiction of traditional old England. Two quick observations about that:

    • The Barristers are all Lords, a fraternity of Sirs, constantly addressing each other as “my friend.”
    • Extreme decorum marks the proceedings, making it doubly alien to 21st century Americans. We never had much truck with all that, let alone now.
  19. Circumstantial Surreal 2.5
  20. Biological Glib 1.7
  21. Physical Natural 1.0


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