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Witness for the Prosecution(1957)

Agatha Christie only liked two screen adaptations of her work, Murder on the Orient Express (1974) and this courtroom thriller, now celebrating its 60th anniversary. Adapted from her short story “Traitor Hands” and the hit play it inspired, the film version allowed for more action in the story of a murder suspect (Tyrone Power) whose crafty lawyer (Charles Laughton) locks horns with the man’s wife (Marlene Dietrich). Writer-director Billy Wilder and co-writer Harry Kurnitz also added a new character, a nurse (Elsa Lanchester) whose comic scenes with Laughton (her off-screen husband) are a highlight of the film. The centerpiece of the action, however, remains the murder trial shot in a painstaking re-creation of London’s Old Bailey. There Wilder stages a series of spirited duels between Laughton, the prosecution (Torin Thatcher) and the Crown’s witnesses. The film’s producers were adamant about keeping the ending secret. Wilder only gave cast members the final script pages just before they were to be shot, while preview audiences, including the British royal family, had to sign an agreement not to reveal the ending. That secrecy may have cost Dietrich a well-deserved Oscar nomination. (d. Billy Wilder, 116m, 35mm)

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