Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Witness for the Prosecution


Charles Laughton was one of the best actors ever to appear in motion pictures. (He made a few stinkers, like everyone does, such as Hitchcock’s worst film, Jamaica Inn.) Here he is at the height of his powers, in a tour de force as a curmudgeonly barrister defending a man accused of murdering a rich old widow. Tyrone Power is strong as the accused, even though more and more damning evidence emerges, such as the fact that the old dame left him a lot of money in her will. Marlene Dietrich is his wife, who testifies first for him, then against him as it turns out she was already married and thus her marriage to him was invalid. The verdict, when it comes, is not a big surprise. But there are surprises aplenty in the last few minutes. Further than that, I cannot in good conscience reveal.

Ms. Dietrich reveals acting chops I didn’t know she possessed. Tyrone Power gets top billing, but it is all Laughton’s show. His character is just out of the hospital with orders to avoid excitement. Elsa Lanchester, his real-life wife, plays his long-suffering nurse, charged with keeping him from drinking and smoking. In fact, he takes the case mostly because he spies two cigars in the pocket of another lawyer and takes him into his inner office so he can smoke them! He’s a crafty old bugger. This is based on a stage play by Agatha Christie, so you should be warned. It will not go where you expect it to go.