Witness for the Prosecution (1957)

Genres - Mystery  |   Sub-Genres - Whodunit, Courtroom Drama  |   Release Date - Dec 17, 1957 (USA)  |   Run Time - 120 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Dan Jardine

Witness for the Prosecution is multi-faceted director Billy Wilder's stab at the courtroom genre, and he handles it with aplomb. Reworking Agatha Christie's stage play, based on Christie's own short story, Wilder retools the play in order to develop a humorous subtext in the interplay between the physically fragile defense attorney (Charles Laughton) and his overbearing but well-meaning nurse (real-life wife Elsa Lanchester). Laughton and Lanchaster have great chemistry and give fully realized performances that transcend the limitations of the genre. Wilder also jiggers Marlene Dietrich's role, wife of the accused, to make use of moments from her personal life, particularly the wonderful "Berlin cabaret" flashback sequence. The twists and turns of the plot are allowed to emerge unobtrusively in this methodically paced drama, and while the finale stretches credulity in order to circumvent the inevitable Production Code restrictions, Wilder's film is a completely satisfying experience anchored by a handful of memorable performances, including the last in Tyrone Power's illustrious career. Witness for the Prosecution was nominated for six Academy Awards, but ran up against David Lean's The Bridge on the River Kwai juggernaut, and was shut out.