In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “It’s one thing when a bona fide genius blows you away in a way you knew they were capable of. It’s a whole other thing when they give you something totally unexpected.”
“But this is England, where I thought you never arrest, let alone convict, people for crimes they have not committed.”
One of the greatest things for me that has happened since starting this blog is my discovery of and appreciation for Billy Wilder. Sure, I’d known he was a legend for a long time, and I’d seen a few of his movies. Sometimes on purpose, sometimes inadvertently. But it wasn’t until I started to think about them in such a detailed way that I realised just how brilliant and versatile he was as a director. Something that was just solidified even more by watching Witness for the Prosecution.
Respected barrister Sir Wilfred Roberts (Charles Laughton) comes home after a severe heart attack. Shadowed by his over protective and over talkative nurse, all he wants is a few minutes to sneak a relaxing cigar. A moment he finds when a colleague arrives on his doorstep with Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power). After a wealthy, old, female acquaintance of Vole’s was murdered and left him a substantial inheritance, Vile became suspect number one. Claiming innocence, he went to the police unsolicited and made a statement. Unfortunately, his eagerness to clear his name only incriminated him more.
With a seemingly water tight alibi courtesy of his German wife Christine (Marlene Dietrich), Roberts is happy to take Vole’s case to court. But when Christine’s day on the stand comes, she flip flops, recanting her previous story and Vole’s alibi. Now Roberts’ biggest strength becomes his most threatening weakness and the trial becomes a lot less cut and dry.
Based on the above synopsis, this might come as a surprise, but Witness for the Prosecution is funny. Really funny. Well, at least in its early going. Roberts’ verbal skirmishes and attempted battles of wills and wit with his over protective nurse offer constant laugh out loud moments. And it’s that whacky opening act that makes the life and death stakes of the trial so jarring and anxiety inducing.
When I think of the films of Billy Wilder, I think of comedies like The Seven Year Itch and Some Like it Hot. Or dark emotional pieces like The Apartment and The Lost Weekend. Or lock jawed noir like Double Indemnity and Sunset Blvd. What I don’t expect is a Hitchcock like roller coaster ride. It’s one thing when a bona fide genius blows you away in a way you knew they were capable of. It’s a whole other thing when they give you something totally unexpected, and just as well executed as the genre that made them famous.