Director: Billy Wilder | 116 minutes | drama, thriller, crime | Actors: Tyrone Power, Marlene Dietrich, Charles Laughton, Elsa Lanchester, John Williams, Henry Danniell, Ian Wolfe, Torin Thatcher, Norma Varden, Una O’Connor
In these times of language inflation, the Mother of All Court Films can be called the film “Witness for the Prosecution”. Director Billy Wilder is one of the grandmasters of old Hollywood and, like George Stevens and Howard Hawks, a man of many genres. We mainly know John Ford from his westerns, we associate Alfred Hitchcock with thrillers and if we want to pin Wilder down to a genre, it should be comedy. Wilder gave the world films such as ‘Some Like it Hot’ (1959), ‘The Apartment’ (1960) and ‘The Seven Year Itch’ (1955) and showed that he could put his genius at the service of other scripts geniuses like Charles Brackett and IAL Diamond.
Wilder was a refugee Austrian who left for Berlin as a journalist and learned film there. He contributed to one of the masterpieces of the German silent film, ‘Menschen am Sontag’ (1930). He learned the trade from people like Erich Pommer and Ernst Lubitsch and fled like so many to Hollywood when the ghost of Nazism became visible. became. In Hollywood, in addition to the comedies mentioned, Wilder also made interesting films such as’ Sunset Boulevard ‘(1950),’ Five Graves to Cairo ‘(1943),’ Ace in the Hole ‘(1951),’ Double Indemnity ‘(1973),’ The Lost Weekend ‘(1945),’ Stalag 17 ‘(1953),’ Sabrina ‘(1954) and’ Irma la Douce ‘(1963). Within this list it is difficult to express a preference for the best Wilder of all time, but with the re-release of “Witness for the Prosecution” the film lover can count himself lucky.
The film is supported by the performances of two of the greatest in the history of cinema: Charles Laughton and Marlene Dietrich. Laughton is a party in itself as the grumpy lawyer and is constantly chased by a pushy nurse who doesn’t like his unhealthy lifestyle. Actually, actress Elsa Lanchester was Laughton’s wife which makes the acted suspense even more entertaining. La Dietrich as Christine Helm, in a sense, plays herself, a German woman in a suspicious Anglo-Saxon culture. The supporting roles are also strongly filled with Una O’Connor as most notable as the deaf housekeeper.
“Witness for the Prosecution” offers, as befits classic courtroom drama, the necessary unexpected plot twists, sharp dialogues and ingenious defenses. But just like ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ (1962) ‘Twelve Angry Men’ (1957) and ‘A Few Good Men’ (1992), the lawsuit is ultimately just a stepping stone for another development, that of the individual within the system, in which vanity, overestimation, ambition and passion play a major role. Mandatory cost!