Agatha Christie stuck mainly to her continuing characters…Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, etc…when writing. But, occasionally she would go off on a limb and write something original, introducing new characters to the audience. With the stage play Witness for the Prosecution, she created an entirely new world of people and situations, which kept the reader on his/her toes throughout. Made into a film in 1957 by talented and well-rounded film director Billy Wilder, the movie keeps us hanging until the last possible second and delivers the same kind of wallop as the play. Set in London, the story revolves around Leonard Vole’s (played by Tyrone Power) guilt or innocence. He is being tried for the murder of a wealthy, older woman he befriended. Unlike a lot of thrillers that are made, this one does have a very satisfying ending, do mostly to the relationship between Vole and his wife…one of Marlene Dietrich’s finest performances. But, the main character of the film is Sir Wilfrid Robarts, the crotchety, ailing barrister Vole gets to represent him. Not really known for light-ish roles, Charles Laughton dives into the barrister with a droll vigor that makes the audience LOVE Wilfrid even though he’s crass, brash, insubordinate, and very pig-headed. Laughton just seems to be having so much fun playing this character; without him, Wilfrid would have just been another forgettable character.

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One man stands alone against 11 others at the beginning of this movie. Henry Fonda plays the only juror who buys the defendant’s version of events and his innocence. Little by little, Fonda convinces the other jurors of the defendant’s lack of guilt and by the end of the movie, the tables have completely changed. This is the type of film that you know going into it how it just has to turn out. But, you watch it anyway…mesmerized by the performances and amount of sheer power coming through on the screen. Fonda was never better as this lone man, plodding his case among his peers, trying everything he can before he is forced to give up and cave in to pressure. Also features some great actors in their early roles, such as Jack Warden and Jack Klugman. Directed by Sidney Lumet, who became synonymous with New York City and crime/legal dramas after this film’s success.

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Hitchcock delves into the genre of legal dramas with this one…with Gregory Peck as a British barrister who defends a woman he is convinced is innocence…mostly because he’s in love with her. Peck is miscast here, not even trying to fake an English accent. We know he can pull off a good “lawyer” act (as he does flawlessly in To Kill a Mockingbird), but he just doesn’t even seem to be trying here. Laughton and Barrymore are hardly used at all…I’m sure they were just cast for big name appeal…their roles are both minute, especially Barrymore’s. The one saving grace to this film is the plot. It’s a strong story that holds up through the years. Not packing as much of a “thriller” punch as most Hitchcock titles, this one is more about the drama and less about the suspense, though there is a crucial piece of plot that is revealed in the end. Compared to titles like Billy Wilder’s legal classic Witness for the Prosecution, the ending is not as intense, but the movie on a whole is a fine legal drama.

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