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Tuesday, September 9, 2008

WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION (1957)



This Billy Wilder/Harry Kurnitz adaptation of Agatha Christie’s sturdy courtroom suspenser serves up a slew of stale comeback lines, and the expository flashback sequences are carelessly directed, but it’s also a terrific, crowd-pleasing entertainment. As the indifferent wife of a likely murderer, Marlene Dietrich gets one of her few first-rate post-WWII roles while Charles Laughton rises to spectacular form as an aging barrister. His attack from the bench on Marlene Dietrich’s veracity is a pure bit of vocal coup de théâtre. The rest of the cast consistently deliver a level of heightened stage dramatics which perfectly suits the material, including first-billed Tyrone Power, who looks sadly worn in his final completed role. By film’s end, even the shticky horseplay between Laughton & his nurse (played by his wife, Elsa Lancaster) leaves you grinning.

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