Posted by: reederwi | June 23, 2010

Elsa Lanchester, Witness for the Prosecution (1957)

Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power) is accused of murdering a wealthy widow in Billy Wilder’s plot-twisting 1957 courtroom drama Witness for the Prosecution. While Vole’s fate hangs in the balance, a physically-fragile defense attorney, Sir Wilfrid Robarts (Charles Laughton) who is recovering from a heart attack, finds himself irresistably attracted to Vole’s seemingly insurmountable case. Robarts believes his client to be innocent and everything hangs on the testimony of Vole’s only alibi, his German wife Christine (Marlene Dietrich). The only hitch is that we find out more about Christine than we assumed and she turns out not be a witness for the defense, but a witness for the prosecution. The film, which is a reworking of an Agatha Christie stage play and is based on Christie’s own short story, is chock full of surprising twists and turns that are allowed to emerge methodically in true Christie style. The drama and action are well-paced and the end result is a satisfyng film that is anchored by several strong performances.

Witness for the Prosecution mananged to score six Academy Award nominations in a year that boasted amazing films such as 12 Angry Men, Sayonara, and Bridge on the River Kwai. Coming away with nominations were Billy Wilder for Best Director, Daniel Mandell for Best Film Editing, Charles Laughton for Best Actor and the film was nominated for the coveted prize of Best Picture. However, the film came away empty-handed as it was shut out in all six categories. The only woman to come away with an Oscar nomination for the film was Elsa Lanchester, nominee, (160), for her role as the overbearing, but well-meaning nurse Miss Pimsoll. Lanchester, who is most well-known as “The Bride” from The Bride of Frankenstein, had great on-screen chemistry as the private nurse to Charles Laughton’s Sir Wilfrid Robarts. Perhaps their argumentative, fully-realized scenes can be attributed to the fact that Lanchester and Laughton were real life husband and wife. This was Lanchester’s second unsuccessful nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Her first came in 1949 for Come to the Stable.  She lost the Oscar this time to Miyoshi Umeki in Sayonara.

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