Billy Wilder's 1957 version of Agatha Christie's WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION gets a dual format release from Eureka. As opposed to the 1982 Alan Gibson remake, the 1949 BBC one, or the recent (2016) mini-series.
Dashing, penniless Leonard Vole (dashing Tyrone Power) is accused of killing a rich widow he has befriended. Elderly, infirm, brandy-swigging barrister Sir Wilfred Roberts (a wonderfully endearing Charles Laughton) may be his only hope of defence. Vole's wife Christine (Marlene Dietrich) provides him with an alibi, but when her story changes in court it's just the beginning of a series of revelations culminating in an ending I'm not going to tell you, and not just because the voiceover at the end begged me not to.
The last time I was witness to such a plea was at a performance of Christie's The Mousetrap which, unlike WITNESS, has yet to make an entirely successful transition to the cinema screen. Stage plays do come with the inherent problem that they are intended to be, well, stagey. Here Billy Wilder opens the action out as much as he can, but sensibly lets the actors carry the drama for the most part, especially in the courtroom scenes.
Best of the performances is Oscar-nominated Laughton, ably assisted by wife Elsa Lanchester who plays Sir Wilfred's nurse. In a story that's about deception and infidelity their relationship is played as a pleasant counterpoint to the rest of what we learn.
Fans of horror and fantasy will enjoy spotting THE BODY SNATCHER's Henry Daniell, BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN's Una O'Connor (still playing the same role thirty years on!) and Torin Thatcher managing to play chief prosecutor Myers without resorting to using a Ray Harryhausen dragon or Jim Danforth ogre.
Eureka's disc comes with a Kat Ellinger audio commentary, a video interview with Neil Sinyard, archival footage of Wilder discussing the film with Volker Schlondorff, and Simon Callow discussing Charles Laughton's performance in the film. You also get a booklet that includes essays from Henry Miller and Philip Kemp.
Billy Wilder's WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION is
out on dual format from Eureka from
Monday 10th September 2018