Title: Witness For The Prosecution
Language: English, German
Genre: Crime, Drama, Film-Noir
Director: Billy Wilder
Music: Matty Malneck
Cinematography: Russell Harlan
It’s never too late to be an admirer for Billy Wilder, after SABRINA (1954), THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH (1955), LOVE IN THE AFTERNOON (1957), SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959), THE APARTMENT (1960), my preference is interestingly ballooning chronically, now here comes the Wilder-cum-Agatha Christie, an immaculate court film with a crack cast.
The film adroitly transforms a typical whodunit plot to a more direct and pungent question, did he do it or not, and thanks to Wilder’s erudite writing and directing skills (a noteworthy excellence, apart from the solemn and fierce verbal battle inside the courtroom, is the incessant humorous squabbles between Charles Laughton and Elisa Lanchester, his nurse in the film and wife in the real life), plus Christie’s elaborate effort as the original playwright, the film per se is a quintessential testimony that films could be so deadly enticing and mind-blowing.
The cast is simply sterling, with Charles Laughton painstakingly tackles with the cutthroat murder case and his ailing health hurdle, never be fools by his paunchy image, his astute faculty of playing to the score in court and sublime articulacy is the ace in the hole. A more glamorous pair, Tyrone Power and Marlene Dietrich, both is their latter days (for Dietrich, it stands for her acting career, however for Mr. Power, tragically, it showcases his last flair on screen, he would die one year after in a heart attack during shooting SOLOMON AND SHEBA 1959).
Thanks to the magic of B&W texture, it is so shocking to know Ms. Dietrich was in her 50s while shooting this film, I hate to admit this is only her second film I’ve watched after STAGE FRIGHT (1950), her queenly demeanor dominates each frame she is in with an one-of-a-kind vibe which could easily conquer each and every audience. And Mr. Power, rarely being hailed or honored for his acting capacity other than his gorgeous mien, finally leaves a memorable performance to end his untimely life.
The only hiccup of the film, for me at least, is the ending, which seems too rash to culminate in the climax, Wilder is not rational enough to throw the curtain call in such a rush, nevertheless it is riveting still.
The film secured 6 Oscar nominations without winning (including BEST PICTURE, BEST DIRECTOR, BEST ACTOR and BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS), gratifyingly, it lost to THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI (1957), which reminds me there is another candidate on my must-see list and with fellow nominees like 12 ANGRY MEN (1957), one have to admit, 1957 is a vintage year for Hollywood film industry!