WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION (Billy Wilder, 1957)

There aren’t many Billy Wilder films I do not like; but what can one do with Agatha Christie? The convoluted plot, with its surprise ending (oh, so that’s what’s been going on!), chugs from contrivance to contrivance. Moreover, and most damning, perhaps, Marlene Dietrich, who had given one of her best performances in Wilder’s A Foreign Affair (1948), here instead gives one of her worst. But what is there for her to play? Christine Vole, the “witness for the prosecution” against husband Leonard (Tyrone Power, as usual dreadful), who is standing trial for murder, is just a cog in the wheel of a contrived theatrical plot.
     Let me save you all wear and tear: Leonard did it; Christine damns him with her testimony so that Leonard’s duped barrister can discredit her, sacrificing her reputation so that the man she loves can go free; once free, Leonard stabs her in the back by taking off with another woman, whereupon Christine stabs Leonard for real—and with the evidentiary knife lying on the courtroom table. What a crock!
     Sir Wilfrid Robarts (Charles Laughton, adequate), who defended Leonard, now will defend Christine.
     Oscar nominations as best film, for Wilder’s direction, and for the acting of Laughton and wife Elsa Lanchester, who is a hoot as Sir Wilfrid’s nagging nurse.

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