Blu-Ray review: Witness for the prosecution by Billy Wilder

Based on the hit play by Agatha Christie, Billy Wilder’s Witness for the Prosecution was nominated for six Academy Awards and was reportedly praised by Christie herself as the best adaptation of her work she had seen. Billy Wilder’s engrossingly theatrical courtroom drama stars three Hollywood icons: Tyrone Power, Marlene Dietrich & Charles Laughton. If you have never seen it, now it’s your chance because Eureka Entertainment has just released it in a restored version for Blu-ray for the first time in the UK as a part of The Masters of Cinemas Series. 

The story

When a wealthy widow is found murdered, her married suitor, Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power), is accused of the crime. Vole’s only hope for acquittal is the testimony of his wife (Marlene Dietrich)… but his airtight alibi shatters when she reveals some shocking secrets of her own. 

Also starring the incredible Charles Laughton in an Oscar nominated role, Witness for theProsecution left audiences reeling from its surprise twists and shocking climax, and The Masters of Cinema Series presents another Billy Wilder masterpiece on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK.


New & Exclusive Trailer

The verdict 

As a huge fan of all Billy Wilder’s work, I have seen Witness for the prosecution many times before but this Blu-Ray edition by Eureka! includes such a great new restored version the film and lots of exclusive behind the scenes material. It is a pleasure to watch this masterpiece all over again as if it was the first time. The crispness of the restored Black and White photography makes it look like a modern-day movie. The beauty of this movie is the fact that the viewers experience a theatrical mise en scène, i.e. a live theatre performance. The pace is just perfect and before you know the story comes to the end with a series of climax points. 

It’s no surprise that Witness for the prosecution was nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director. After all Billy Wilder is one of the most remarkable film directors who won 6 Oscars including for Sunset Boulevard, The Apartment, Some Like It Hot. This is not a typical Billy Wilder’s film. He was the master of comedies and regarded Witness for the Prosecution his Hitchcock Picture. 

Although there’s not much of the typical Hitch suspense as we know it but it has like Hitchcock’s The Paradine Case (1948) Charles Laughton playing a British legal eminence. He is absolutely outstanding in his role as the defending barrister with his inquisitive monocle and his lust for cigars and brandy. 

Agatha Christie originally wrote Witness for the Prosecution under the title Traitor’s Hands not as a novel but as a short story published in a weekly magazine in 1925 and later in book form in 1933. Billy Wilder took Christie’s story and adapted it to his own taste adding some comedic and witty elements to the character’s lines. This makes the double twist at the end even more shocking. I won’t reveal any details of the ending because it would totally spoil it for those who haven’t seen the movie yet. But even knowing it, I still enjoyed watching the movie again and again because the characters are so interesting to watch while they reveal all the most obscure parts of their souls. 

Marlene Dietrich gives one of her finest screen performances since her glory years in the 1930s. Her cat and mouse chase develops into a duel between her character and the barrister; his increasing mistrust of her gives rise to one of the film’s best lines when he describes Leonard’s reliance on his wife as being “like a drowning man clutching at a razor-blade”. 

Witness was Tyrone Power’s last movie. A year later, playing Solomon in King Vidor’s biblical epic Solomon and Sheba, he unfortunately suffered a fatal heart attack in Spain during a duelling scene with George Sanders, and died aged only 44. It was also the final film for Una O’Connor, who played Janet MacKenzie, the sharp-tongued Scots housekeeper who so furiously resents the intrusion of Leonard Vole into Mrs French’s household. She died three months after Power, aged 78.

This Blu-Ray edition of Witness for the prosecution is part of a Masters of Cinema Series established by Eureka! in 2004. It is a specially curated Blu-ray and DVD collection of classic and world cinema using the finest available materials for home viewing.  Films are presented in their original aspect ratio, in meticulous transfers created from recent restorations and / or the most pristine film elements available.  The feature presentations are frequently supplemented by short films, documentaries, commentary tracks, deleted scenes, trailers, plus new and vintage footage. Each release also includes an accompanying booklet featuring rare imagery, newly commissioned essays and / or classic writings that take the reader further into the process of the films and the personalities of the filmmakers.  Titles that have been showcased within the series include Metropolis (1927, Lang), Touch of Evil (1958, Welles), Paths of Glory (1957, Kubrick), Kes (1969, Loach), A Touch of Zen (1971, Hu) and Shoah (1985, Lanzmann).

Witness for the prosecution is available to order from:

London Mums’ rating: 10/10 

Blu-Ray details:

Blu-ray Cat. No.| EKA70308
Blu-ray Barcode| 5060000703085
Blu-ray RRP| £17.99
Certificate| U
Run Time| 116 minutes
OAR| 1.66:1
Picture| B&W
Genre| Crime / Drama / Mystery
Year| 1957
Country| USA
Language| ENGLISH
Subtitles| ENGLISH SDH (Optional)


1080p presentation of the film on Blu-ray
• Uncompressed LPCM mono soundtrack
• Optional English SDH subtitles
• New and exclusive feature length audio commentary by critic Kat Ellinger
Monocle and Cigars: Simon Callow on Charles Laughton in Billy Wilder’s Witness for theProsecution
• A new video interview with film scholar Neil Sinyard
• Archival footage of Billy Wilder discussing Witness for the Prosecution with director Volker Schlöndorff
• A collector’s booklet featuring new essays by film scholar Henry Miller and critic Philip Kemp; a letter from Agatha Christie to Billy Wilder; and rare archival imagery
• Reversible Sleeve.

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