Tuesday, February 15, 2011

'Witness for the Prosecution' Open Thread

What did you think?


  1. I do remember this now. Charles Laughton... he was a pleasure to watch in this. I saw him in Hobson's Choice, which was quite good. I have a hankering to see him in Mutiny On The Bounty and perhaps Henry the VIII, but first let me see him afresh in Witness For The Prosecution. This should be a good one!

  2. Let's see... What can I say that won't be SPOILER-ish?

    I love this for the story, much more than the cast.

    I first came across this as an Agatha Christie short story that was a great departure from her tried-and-true formulas i was familiar with at the time. The stage play added material to the short story, and the movie added even more -- the "meet cute" for Christine and Leonard, for one thing, but more importantly, the side-story of Sir Wilfred's personal life, and the on-going comic interplay between him and his nurse. (Oh, I adore Elsa Lanchester. Laughton was pretty good, too. ;) I loved the bit with the lift on the stairs, and Sir Wilfred's moments of pure fun, up and down, up and down -- enhanced, of course, by the knowledge that he was driving the scrupulous Miss Plimsoll to distraction. )

    Marlene Dietrich and Tyrone Power -- not much I can say 'til everyone's seen the show...

  3. That Marlene Dietrich looks like trouble.

  4. This was a great movie. Most of the story was confined to a English courtroom, and I loved the fact that just dialogue could propell the story forward as it did. The mystery of the murder and the question of who would help and for what reason kept one guessing. Dietrich was perfect as the cold and calculating Mrs. Vole, and Tryone Power ... well, what can you say... the handsome dog. But it was Laughhton that I enjoyed immensley. He was a very compelling actor. Great show.

  5. I just loved the idea of Christine creating a reason for no one to believe her when she tells the truth, since she can't count on anyone believing her if she lies. And then manufacturing a lover and conjuring up the woman scorned -- I love it.

    The first time I saw this movie, I came in about half-way through, and I couldn't believe this was the great Marlene Dietrich -- and she was awful! And Tyrone Power was maybe even worse! But then we got to the last scene, and it turns out that all that courtroom scenery-chewing was Christine and Leonard, not Marlene and Tyrone. Vole is safe, and we see the arrogance, the insolence, and the brutality, that was hidden behind both his charm and his show of distress. And the "real" Christine, no longer cold and steely, but a pathetic older woman willing to give anything for the not-quite-husband she's clinging to. (Until she discovers what a poor bargain she's made...) I've still never been quite sold on Dietrich, but Power's ruthless indifference gives me a chill.

    It's too bad that Dietrich's distinctive way of speaking comes through her Cockney (?) accent (and maybe it's not noticeable if you don't already know the story), but don't you love the make-over for the scene where she sells the letters to Sir Wilfred!

    I'm always intrigued by Sir Wilfred's arranging his pills on the table in front of him, as he listens to the testimony through the trial. I don't know whether it was intended as anything more than an indication of the time passing, but I've wondered whether his completing one arrangement with the pills, then moving them to create a new pattern, was supposed to reflect the lawyer's constantly arranging and rearranging what he was learning, trying to figure out the "correct" pattern for the facts of the case.

  6. Yes, they were acting at acting, and as the prosecutor says "That's all very moving, but it makes little difference to the facts of the case." The motivations of the characters and some of the compromises they made are a little hard to embrace, certainly, but it was still a very well done movie.

    "I've wondered whether his completing one arrangement with the pills, then moving them to create a new pattern, was supposed to reflect the lawyer's constantly arranging and rearranging what he was learning, trying to figure out the "correct" pattern for the facts of the case."

    Oh, its a deep one, you are.

  7. :)
    (My grandmother would call in an over-active imagination.)

  8. I've got to say I loved the scene that the picture is taken from. Christine Vole has just been roughed up by a very angry group of on lookers, outraged at learning of her heartless betrayal of her husband, and she is calmly re-applying her lipstick, not in the least bit distressed. Not even distressed at the prospect of going to prison for perjury. There was a grounding to her character that I had not anticipated, a certain willingness to do what was necessary. Very nicely done.

  9. Yes -- that is the Christine we see when Sir Wilfred meets her the first time, when she assures him that she will provide the alibi in just the right tone. Unfazed, completely pragmatic if apparently unfeeling.

    And then that insouciance vanishes when Vole come into the room.

  10. "I suspected something but not that!"

    Love this, and relished the chance to see it again. Brilliant plot, script and atmosphere.
    The only real fault I have with it as a piece of writing, I suppose, is that the flashbacks go on a bit too long, and serve mainly to pad out the plot and give Power and Dietrich more screen time. That said, I too am fascinated by that whisk that beats and separates at the same time.
    I like Dietrich very much, but I'm not sure she was right here, though through no fault of her own, admittedly. Her face and voice are simply too well known to sustain the illusion, though she does amazingly well, considering, at almost pulling the wool over our eyes. I've watched it in the past with people who aren't familiar with her at all, and even then she's just so distinctive, even on first acquaintance, that they don't quite fall for the trick.

    I find I enjoy it more every time I see it, now I'm not trying to second guess it, or feeling let down by the fact that I can. Better able to concentrate on the many wonderful touches of characterisation.
    Even without a murder mystery, I could happily watch 90 minutes of Charles and Elsa bickering and not feel shortchanged. Officially my favourite actor ever, and Elsa is just adorable always.

    What do you think drew Billy Wilder to it? It’s not his usual sort of thing, and he doesn’t add any of his own particular style to it. Just films it straight and lets it stand on its own merits.

    Am I allowed to suggest one, inspired by this, for some time in the future? My favourite Agatha Christie of all: And Then There Were None. Wonderfully clever plot, and the cast and style of the 1945 Rene Clair version are just wonderful. All the other versions are pretty cheap and awful, but this one is an absolute treat. Do you know it?

  11. Hi Matthew! I'm so glad to know I don't just have some random anti-Marlene-Dietrich prejudice. :)

    Speaking of the Laughton-Lanchester element -- I dearly love the little moment at the end, with Miss Plimsoll quite calmly indicating that Sir Wilfred would NOT be traveling after all, then reminding him to bring his brandy, and we see the genuine fondness between them. All of thirty (?) seconds, and it added so much.

    I love Agatha Christie's books, but after seeing a movie version of Murder on the Orient Express, I've tended to avoid others, unless someone was willing to vouch for them. (Hmm. I didn't mean that to sound quite so snotty.)

    So I would absolutely be up for seeing a good production of And Then There Were None. Especially if someone who hasn't read the book would play along!

  12. Yes, that was a nice touch. So they understood each other and cared for each other better than what one might have thought at first glance. Very nice.

    As to And Then There Were None, it sounds vaguely familiar. Let's give it a go!

    It should be up in a couple of days.

  13. Excellent!
    Cathy - you'll notice one major deviation from the novel, though it is consistent with Christie's own stage adaptation. When I first saw it, not knowing that it was an adaptation of the book rather than the play, I was disappointed. But now i think it was right, because we react differently to films than we do to books. You'll see what I mean.
    Apart from that, though, it's a very faithful adaptation.

  14. Sorry, that should of course have read "not knowing it was an adaptation of the play rather than the book".