Insolent Enigma/Arrogant Auteur: Marlene Dietrich & Josef von Sternberg

Witness for the Prosecution

Billy Wilder

As grandly entertaining as any film in Billy Wilder's career, this adaptation of an Agatha Christie play centres on a murder trial in London's Old Bailey. In his final role, Tyrone Power plays a man charged with the murder of an older widow he has romanced, and who left the accused a great deal in her will; Dietrich plays his coolly assured German wife, who gives him an alibi but may be duplicitous herself. (A delicious flashback reveals the first encounter of Dietrich and Power in a German nightclub, where a patron sets off a brawl by ripping her pants.) Nominated for Best Picture, Director, Actor (Charles Laughton, who as the defence attorney treats the scenery like a mound of heavily gravied Yorkshire pudding), and Supporting Actress (Elsa Lanchester), Witness for the Prosecution also gave Dietrich what James Monaco considers one of her finest parts, "a woman who throws away everything — her homeland, her reputation, and her life — for the man she loves."


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