Leonard Vole: But I've done nothing! This is England! You don't get arrested or convicted for something you haven't done!
Sir Wilfred: We try not to make a habit of it.
A short story by Agatha Christie
, made into a 1957 film.
Leonard Stephen Vole, an amiable and good-natured blood donor with an excellent war record, has been charged with murder. The victim: Miss Emily French, a lonely but wealthy widow with whom Leonard had become friendly recently. Unfortunately for Leonard, it is revealed that Miss French had left Leonard eighty thousand pounds, making for quite a motive. Leonard's case rests entirely on circumstantial evidence, and his acquittal relies on the testimony of his cold and calculating German wife, Christine Vole, who is the only person who can provide an alibi. Leonard and his solicitor seek the advice of London's best and most experienced barrister, Sir Wilfred Robarts, who takes Leonard's case himself despite his rapidly deteriorating health.
What follows is a three-day trial, during which time the prosecution makes a convincing case for Leonard's guilt and Sir Wilfred attempts to prove his innocence. After some time, a surprise witness is called, and twist after twist keeps everyone in the courtroom - and the audience - on the edge of their seats.
The film version was directed by Billy Wilder
and starred Tyrone Power as Leonard, Marlene Dietrich
as Christine and Charles Laughton
as Sir Wilfred.
This film provides examples of:
- Amoral Attorney: Averted. Mr. Meyers, the prosecuting attorney, is actually a very polite and civil man. He's just doing his job.
- Annoying Patient: Sir Wilfred, who screams at Mrs. Plimsoll and sabotages her treatment, when all she's trying to do is keep him from going into another coma.
- Batman Gambit: Sir Wilfred tells Christine that while she can't be forced to speak against her husband, the testimony of a loving wife will count for very little in a murder case. So she plays a cold, unfaithful wife who is then discredited by new evidence to "prove" Leonard's innocence.
- Blondes are Evil: Christine. Or is she?
- Chekhov's Gunman: The emotional young woman sitting behind Mrs. Plimsoll in court is Leonard's lover.
- Courtroom Antics: Mild compared to some cases, but Sir Wilfred plays a few tricks during the trial, and Leonard loudly contradicts Christine's testimony from the gallery.
- Deadpan Snarker: Sir Wilfred.
- Do Not Spoil This Ending
- The Ending Changes Everything: And how it does.
- Good Lawyers, Good Clients: Sir Wilfred only decides to defend Leonard Vole after he's convinced of his innocence.
- He's Dead, Jim: Nine seconds of pulse taking were sufficient to declare Leonard dead.
- Hollywood Law: Surely a barrister of Sir Wilfred's experience could have gotten Christine's testimony for the prosecution disallowed by arguing that since Leonard Vole did not know she was already married, that would make her his putative spouse and thus spousal privilege would still apply.
- I Owe You My Life: How Leonard and Christine's relationship started; their marriage allowed her to escape post-war Germany.
- Manipulative Bastard: Leonard twists both Christine and Wilfred around in different ways.
- Master Actor: Christine and Leonard both.
- My God, What Have I Done?:
- Christine claims this as the reason she testifies against Leonard in court when she backed up his alibi to the police: she might owe him, but she can't perjure herself for a murderer.
- Sir Wilfred is incensed when he learns that he's acquitted a thoroughly guilty man.
- Old Retainer: Mrs. McKenzie was Mrs. French's housekeeper of ten years.
- Time Passes Montage: Marked by the number of Sir Wilfred's pills (taken on the hour) that remain.
- Twist Ending: And you thought The Usual Suspects was a Mind Screw.
- Born In The Theater: A voiceover during the end credits encourages viewers not to Spoil the ending in the name of "the management of this theater".
- Ungrateful Bastard: Christine, for testifying against her husband. But really, it's Leonard, who ditches Christine for another woman even as she's perjuring herself for him.
- The Vamp: Christine.
- Wig, Dress, Accent: And it works.
- For the characters, apparently. For the audience... not so much.
- Wham Line: "No, Sir Wilfred, you do not understand at all. I knew [Leonard] was guilty."
- What The Hell Is That Accent: The woman who sells new evidence to Sir Wilfred is making a truly atrocious attempt at a Cockney accent.