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Film: Witness for the Prosecution
aka: Witnessforthe Prosecution

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. Tyrone Power's last film, as he suffered a fatal heart attack on the set of his next production, Solomon And Sheba.

Incidentally, as this film is over 50 years old, nothing below is spoiler-tagged. If you ever plan to see it, don't read anything further.

This film provides examples of:

  • The Adventure Continues: The film ends with Sir Wilfred declaring that he will be acting as the defense for Christine Vole.
  • 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.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: The emotional young woman sitting behind Mrs. Plimsoll in court. She's Leonard's lover.
  • Courtroom Antics: Mild compared to some cases, but Sir Wilfred plays a few tricks during the trial. Leonard also loudly contradicts Christine's testimony from the gallery, for which the judge does threaten to throw him out of court.
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    • Sir Wilfred.
    • The judge gets in a good one when he's asked by a witness if he could expedite her getting a new hearing aid.
    "With all the rubbish being talked about these days you're not missing much."
  • Do Not Spoil This Ending: When the film was released it ended with a voiceover urging audiences not to reveal the twist ending.
  • The Ending Changes Everything: And how it does.
  • Exact Words: Everything Christine says under oath is true, even when it seems to be self-contradictory or misleading. She really did see Leonard come home at the time she said he did; she really doesn't know anyone named Max, and any letters allegedly written by her to him are forgeries; and she really did write a letter to "Max" which seems to clear Leonard of the murder.
  • 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.
  • High-Class Glass: Sir Wilfred sports one of these, and uses it when interviewing clients.
  • 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.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Despite dialogue that uses distinctly British words and turns of phrase, and nothing in the movie suggesting his character is anything but English (he was in the RAF), Tyrone Power speaks with his native American accent.
  • Old Retainer: Mrs. McKenzie was Mrs. French's housekeeper of ten years.
  • Scary Shiny Monocle: Sir Wilfred shines the light from his monocle into Leonard's eyes when he first interviews him as a client and later does it to Christine.
  • She's Got Legs: American servicemen in the shabby Berlin club where Christine is playing demand to see her legs, and get drunk enough to actually rip her pants off. This scene was written into the movie specifically for some Marlene Dietrich Fanservice.
  • Significant Double Casting: Yep, that's Dietrich selling letters.
  • Surprise Witness: Christine twice over, once when she's unexpectedly called by the prosecution, and once when Sir Wilfred recalls her.
  • Time Passes Montage: Marked by the number of Sir Wilfred's pills (taken on the hour) that remain.
  • Title Drop: At the end, when Christine reveals to Sir Wilfred that she wanted to be a witness for the prosecution, because a supportive wife wouldn't have been believed.
  • 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 when he rescued her from postwar Germany. 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: Christine's Cockney disguise.
  • 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.
  • Worthy Opponent: Mr. Meyers has a good deal of professional respect for Sir Wilfred and even makes a wager with him on the outcome of the trial.


The VerdictLaw ProceduralThe Wrong Man
12 Angry MenAcademy AwardGigi
A Few Good MenAFIS 10 Top 10 Anatomy of a Murder
Viking Women and the Sea SerpentFilms of the 1950sThe 7th Voyage of Sinbad

alternative title(s): Witness For The Prosecution
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