Witness For The Prosecution was adapted from Agatha Christie’s hit play, Billy Wilder’s film proved equally successful, garnering Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor (Charles Laughton), Best Supporting Actress (Elsa Lanchester), Best Director (Billy Wilder), Best Editing (Daniel Mandell) and Best Sound (Gordon Sawyer).
The film is full of the usual Christie twists and turns. Laughton is a top-flight barrister, Sir Wilfrid Robarts, recuperating from a heart attack under the pestering ministrations of nurse Miss Plimsoll (Lanchester). He has been ordered not to undertake any more criminal defence work in case he becomes overexcited, but can’t resist when solicitor Mayhew (Henry Daniell) introduces him to his latest client, Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power). Vole has been accused of murdering a wealthy widow who doted on him. The motive for the murder appears to have been the fortune she then left to him.
Vole’s alibi, provided for him by his wife Christine (Marlene Dietrich), falls down when it is revealed their marriage is not fully legal and she can be used as a witness for the prosecution. Robarts, convinced of Vole’s innocence, sets out to prove it. Using information on Christine’s past (when she was a cabaret singer in wartime Germany), he sets out to disprove any testimony she can give against Vole. It is only when Robarts is flushed with success that he fully grapples with the question: if Vole didn’t kill the widow, who else could?
UK / 1957 made in black and white
Director: Billy Wilder
Writers: Harry Kurnitz, Larry Marcus, Billy Wilder, based on the book by Agatha Christie
Cast: Tyrone Power, Marlene Dietrich, Charles Laughton, Elsa Lanchester, John Williams, Henry Daniell, Ian Wolfe, Una O’Connor, Torin Thatcher, Francis Compton, Norma Varsden