’s classic 1957
courtroom drama. Wilder adapted it from the play by Agatha Christie
, which she based on her short story, adding humor to Christie’s suspense and making it classic Wilder.
Sir Wilfred Robards (Charles Laughton
) is a renowned barrister
recovering from a heart attack. He is looked after by his fawning and overly-chipper nurse, Miss Plimsoll (Elsa Lanchester
). Lanchester’s role was written in by Wilder for the film to add some wonderfully comic exchanges between the nurse and the barrister, and so Lanchester could keep an eye on her husband, Laughton.
Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power
in his last film role) is the friendly and seemingly dim American
accused of murdering a rich old widow he was spending quite a bit of time with. Everything points to Vole, especially the fact that the widow had recently included him in her will to the tune of £80,000. Vole denies all knowledge of the will and claims he was merely sucking up to her to get her to finance his new invention.
The only alibi he has is his wife, a former German cabaret
singer named Christine (the always fantastic Marlene Dietrich
). But on the stand, after a stunning revelation, Christine changes her story to become a witness for the prosecution. Robards must save Vole from the gallows
with no witnesses and no evidence in his favor.
The last ten minutes are what really make this movie. Up until then, it was a fairly standard (but excellent) procedural with a couple of twists, but now reversal after sudden reversal reveals that no one is what they seem. In fact, the ending was so surprising that the film contains a spoken warning during the credits pleading with the audience not to give away the ending to people who haven’t seen the film yet.
Sure, this stuff may happen every week on The Practice
, but they’re really just reworking this film over and over again and showing how much they owe to Wilder’s work.
The film was nominated for six Academy Award
s, but was shut out by The Bridge on the River Kwai
. Color will get ‘em every time.
And with that, I’m level 10. Activate the cloaking device!