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Blu-ray Review

DVD cover

Witness for the Prosecution (1957)
(2018 Reissue)


Starring: Tyrone Power, Marlene Dietrich and Charles Laughton
Distributor: Eureka Entertainment
RRP: £17.99


Certificate: U
Release Date: 10 October 2018

Billy Wilder's 1957 movie Witness for the Prosecution is released on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK as part of Eureka Entertainment's Masters of Cinema series. When a wealthy widow is found murdered, her married suitor, Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power), is accused of the crime. Vole’s only hope for acquittal is the testimony of his wife (Marlene Dietrich)… but his airtight alibi shatters when she reveals some shocking secrets of her own...

If you haven't seen this movie before you're in for a treat. And if you've previously viewed it you'll already know what a wonderful movie it is and be keen to add it to your Blu-ray collection.

The film marked a turning point in director Billy Wilder's career. It was his last Film Noir movie, before he went on to deliver some classic comedies - Some Like It Hot (1959) and The Apartment (1960). Wilder has stated that he had always wanted to make a "Hitchcock" style movie. And Witness for the Prosecution game him everything he needed to accomplish that task.

Wilder uses Agatha Christie's 1927 short story, which was turned into a play in 1953, for the movie's bare bones. Charles Laughton plays Sir Wilfrid Robarts Q.C. who is intrigued enough by the plight of a man accused of murder that he agrees to defend him in court. This is against the advice of Miss Plimsoll, the nurse who is looking after Robarts, as he has a serious heart condition and needs to rest. Plimsoll is played by Laughton's wife, Elsa Lanchester and their scenes together show their wonderful working chemistry (this is despite the fact they were living seperate lives as Laughton was in a same sex relationship and Lanchester was seeing another man).

Robarts's role in the play is much less fleshed out and the part of nurse Plimsoll doesn't even exist in Christie's original. Wilder uses this to as both a light comedy vehicle (with Robarts trying to out fox the nurse by sneaking in alchohol and cigars). And, as the movie progressess, their relationship softens somewhat. It's a nice touch and helps to get the audience on Robarts's side.

Tyrone Power plays Leonard Vole, a man accused of killing an elderly, rich spinster who had fallen in love with him. Marlene Dietrich is his wife, Christine Vole, who is Leonard's only witness to the fact that he didn't kill the spinster. But as Robarts agrees to take up the case, event after event get in the way making it more and more likely that his client will be convicted of murder.

Wilder uses both Power and Dietrich's previous roles to left foot the audience as to what is actually going on. And as twist after twist is unravelled the audience is left unsure as to who, if anyone, is guilty of anything. Sadly, this was Power's last movie as he died of a heart attack in 1958 while filming Solomon and Sheba.

For extras we get an audio commentary with author and critic Kat Ellinger, which is informative about Wilder's career as well as the production and the background to the main cast; Monocles and Cigars: Simon Callow on Charles Laughton (16 min, 07 sec feature with the actor, and author of Charles Laughton: A Difficult Actor); Interview With Neil Sinyard (24 min, 35 sec featurette which sees the film scholar talk about the picture and Wilder's career. Like his interview on The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes Blu-ray, Sinyard is both informative and entertaining); Billy Wilder on Witness for the Prosecution (13 min, 40 sec interview conducted in 1992); and the Original Theatrical Trailer. There's also an interesting booklet that covers some of the history of the director and the movie, and includes a copy of the note sent from Agatha Christie to Wilder explaining that she enjoyed the film greatly.

It's a testiment to Wilder's skills as a director, and the main casts ability to entertain that this 2 hour movie feels much shorter than it actually is. The Blu-ray print is crisp and clear (as you'd expect being a Masters of Cinema edition). This is still as engaging, gripping and surprising as it has ever been.


Darren Rea

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