Wilder Diversions - Witness for the Prosecution (1982) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
11Nov/120

Wilder Diversions – Witness for the Prosecution (1982)

Efficient, but bitter and stubborn, barrister Sir Wilfrid Robarts returns to his office in London, having recovered from a heart attack. He is subsequently invited to defend Leonard Stephen Vole, who is the prime suspect in a murder case. Leonard is a former soldier that fought in World War II and is married to his beloved German wife Christine Helm Vole. He is unemployed and accused of seducing and murdering the wealthy middle-aged single woman, Emily French, to inherit 80,000 pounds.


While I like Billy Wilder's Witness for the Prosecution and find it very entertaining, it is no where on the level of film as Double Indemnity and that might be why the TV adaptation of Witness did not bother me all that much. This TV version of the book follows Wilder's script very close and it doesn't pale in comparison to the originals as much as the TV version of Double Indemnity did. Maybe it was because the cast was much better and had some big talent involved including Deborah Kerr, Beau Bridges, Donald "I hunt Michael Meyers" Pleasence and the beautiful Diana Rigg or maybe I was in the right mood but this movie I would deem as merely ok, which is a big improvement over last week's film.

One area of the movie I found really appealing was in the casting of Rigg. I found her just as good and possibly even a little bit better than Dietrich. I never found Dietrich to be all that alluring/sexy but with Rigg I could see how she would be so desired and that helps make most of the 2nd half of the movie more believable. The original play and film was very theatrical and big and that again translates into this version of the story and while no one could play Sir Robarts like Laughton, Ralph Richardson isn't half bad in this version.
Another thing I think the TV remake did that helped the film was taking out the flashbacks to Germany. It was probably because they didn't have the money for more sets/locations but by taking these scenes out and having most of the film take place in the courtroom, the movie doesn't have as much room to breathe and makes some of the scenes feel a little bit more tense. The flashbacks didn't really add anything to the original film, and I think was included to give Dietrich more to do, and are not missed in this version. Danny, what are your thoughts on this film? Did I offend you by saying I don't find Dietrich all that attractive? Were you amused that we had both a Bond Girl and a Blofeld in this film?

Danny no longer writes for Can't Stop the Movies, and can be reached at his fantastic site Pre-Code.com

Witness for the ProsecutionRyan, there's this old, bad movie spy flick called Operation Kid Brother (or at least that's one of the names), and it involves not only a Blofeld and a Bond girl, but also an M, a Moneypenny, and Sean Connery's brother as the protagonist to wrap things up. Needless to say, it takes a lot to impress me.

Which is the tack I'm going to have to take with Witness as well. I've only seen Wilder's version once and that was many years ago; this revisiting has certainly piqued my interest in it, though not much for the quality inherent.

My beef with the story is that there are two twists that come at the very end. I will agree that if you aren't looking for it, it's fairly clever. However, once you do know the twist, there's not much else going on. Sir Wilfred's comedic battles with his nurse are in the British tradition of tired, cheeky comedy, and as much as the great Deborah Kerr tries, there's just not much life in it. Ralph Richardson isn't terrible, but he's not horrible charismatic either.

I will say that this looks exceptionally good, and Diana Rigg is excellent here, even if her character is a little nutty. I don't find it even remotely plausible that Beau Bridges has the magnetism to draw one woman, let alone three. His big goofy eyebrows and 'aw shucks' attitude give him an innocent aura, but that makes the truth seem unbelievable rather than unexpected.

The thrust of Witness's story, besides the central murder mystery, is about how desperately men attempt to stay young and relevant. While I won't say that Sir Wilfred and Vole mirror each other, we see both get something they want, and then see as it prove disastrous. Both are victims of their own hubris.

I can luckily say that the filmmakers of this go around didn't go the same way: it's good for one go around. I think two is one too many.

Witness for the Prosecution
I agree that Beau Bridges was never good looking enough to get 3 women to swoon over him, now if they would have gotten King Kong era Jeff Bridges that would have been another story because he was so dreamy.

I also agree with what you say about the twist because the whole movie (both of them) are just there to build up to the twist and not much else. The best films with a twist ending (Sixth Sense, The Third Man) make you invest in the characters so if you watch it again or figure out the twist there is still plenty of meat on the bone to make the film interesting.
Like I said in the beginning of this article I think this Witness for the Prosecution was a decent enough film. I watched it and didn't mind the time spent. I would not go and recommend everyone watch the film but I also didn't shake my head sadly like I did when watching the 70s version of Double Indemnity. You said that the movie is about old men trying to stay young and relevant, the same thing could be said of this movie, and remakes in general.

Instead of letting the movies age gracefully people are always trying to remake, reboot, polish up and make nice and more often than not it fails miserably. The characters in Witness for the Prosecution figure out there is a price for staying relevant and it mostly is not worth that cost. Films being remade often pay the same price in being a former shadow of the original. Witness might have been a ok TV film but give me the original Wilder any day.

The Films of Billy Wilder

Posted by Danny

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