The third movie in our new, free series of great courtroom dramas is Billy Wilder's 1957 film, Witness for the Prosecution. It will be shown at 6:00 p.m. on Wednesday, November 19 in Memorial Hall.
Witness began its life as an Agatha Christie short story, Traitor Hands, which was originally published in 1925. Dame Agatha later turned her story into a play in 1953, and its multiple trick endings made it a very popular production in both London and on Broadway, where it ran for nearly two years.
Co-screenwriters Wilder and Harry Kurnitz decided to add some humor to what was originally played as straight drama on the stage. Most of the humor results from the interaction of Charles Laughton's Sir Wilfrid, the be-wigged barrister who's just returned to work after a heart attack, and a new character, his nurse Miss Plimsoll, played by Laughton's wife, Elsa Lanchester. Sir Wilfrid is constantly attempting to outfox his nurse, whom he calls his "jailer," and her restrictions, including no cigars, no brandy and, most importantly, no participation in murder trials.
But of course a murder trial is at the heart of Witness, and it involves Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power), a sincere young man accused of killing his friend and benefactor, the elderly Mrs. French. Also involved is Vole's wife, Christine, played by the wonderful Marlene Dietrich.
Even though Witness was one of Wilder's lighter films at that point in his career, it still includes several of Wilder's usual touches: verbal wit, hints of corruption, and masquerade.
Join us for this delightful, twist-filled classic courtroom drama, and see if you can figure out how it will end (and enjoy the refreshments and discussion that come with it).
Mark P. Hasskarl