Monday, November 24, 2008

The producers kindly ask that you not spoil the ending

This week sees the last night of Charles Laughton's time as TCM's Star of the Month. Laughton made many great movies, and one of those near the top of the list would have to be Witness for the Prosecution, airing at 10:15 PM ET tonight.

Laughton plays a prominent London barrister who's had a heart attack, and is about to go off to Bermuda for a well-deserved retirement. However, fate intervenes in the form of Tyrone Power, who's been charged with murdering a rich old lady. There are a lot of discrpeancies in the case, and in many ways it doesn't look so good for Power, but Laughton agrees to take the case.

What follows is a stand-out legal drama, even if it does contain some of the clichés of Hollywood movie-making. Laughton's man who's fighting against time goes back to at least the Warner Baxter producer of 42nd Street a quarter-century earlier. The vacillation between whether we should think Power is guilty or innocent is also a staple of lawyer movies, as is the dark humor.

The cast includes Elsa Lanchester as Laughton's nurse, and Marlene Dietrich as Power's wife, and the movie was directed by the great Billy Wilder, based on a play by the equally talented Agatha Christie. If seeing all those famous names in the cast and crew makes you think this is going to be a good movie, well, you'd be right.

You'll note that I haven't gone into that much of a description of the plot. That's because when the movie was made, it was well-known that the ending was going to be something to watch out for. Indeed, in the trailers for the movie, the producers deliberately asked people not to reveal the ending to their friends, as that would spoil the movie for them. And so I too won't spoil that ending, if you haven't seen it before.

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