© 1957 Edward Small Productions

Witness for the Prosecution (1957)

The courtroom drama has to be one of the most challenging genres for directors, given the basic necessity of creating a dramatic situations that stay in one location, and having to create a narrative structure that sticks to the basic manner of legal proceedings. Hitchcock tried and later admitted he had failed in the Paradine Case (1947), which coincidentally also starred Charles Laughton. Many other directors have foundered in Hitchcock’s wake.

Billy Wilder succeeds, indeed triumphs, with the genre in Witness for the Prosecution, thanks in no small part to a bravura performance by Charles Laughton, as Sir Wilfred Robarts, a master barrister who is suffering from heart problems and takes a difficult case against the orders of his nurse (Laughton’s real-life wife Elsa Lanchester). Sir Wilfred’s antagonist is not a brilliant prosecuting attorney and not even the surprise witness they call to the stand, but the importance of him remaining calm for the sake of his heart during a trial that has him genuinely intrigued.

In the trailer Laughton filmed in 1957, he asks that no one give away the ending of the film, and so I’m not about to.

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“Damn it, you act as if you're in kindergarten! This is the big bad world, full of mean people, where nasty things happen!”
-Mike Talman (Richard Crenna)
from Wait Until Dark