Thursday, June 24, 2010

Witness for the Prosecution. C

There has been no bigger disappointment this year than Witness for a Prosecution. This is a movie I've known about for several years and there have been several instances where I have meant to see it during that span. But you know, with so much going on, I can't fit everything in. So I had this one on hold, so to speak, until I found a good time to watch it. Last night I finally did and, to my great distress, it was like sitting through one cringe session after another. It's not that the movie has big problems, it's simply that it wasn't handled in the way I had hoped. Billy Wilder, who co-wrote and directed the film, is at his best when he's making dark dramas about the bad side of man. Just take his two best films, Sunset Blvd, and Double Indemnity, and you'll see what I mean. But Wilder of course is also known for his comedies, and his light touch is definitely present in this film. It's not that the movie's a comedy, rather it just has a light tone and doesn't seem to take itself very seriously. I think nearly every scene has some sort of comic element, usually involving an esteemed, aging lawyer named Sir Wilfred. In the movie he's asked to defend a man accused of murdering a wealthy widow. The man's one alibi is that he was with his wife at the time of the murder. Yet his wife, who has several secrets of her own, decides to side with the prosecution and show her husband is guilty. It sounds like it might be a dense plot, but the story is actually pretty simple. The movie specifically makes everything very clear and in the end the details are surprisingly few (though there is a finely played twist at the end). Witness for a Prosecution is based off a play by Agatha Christie, and that's probably where the humor comes from. But it's all silly slapstick and not funny at all. For example, a side plot involves Wilfred trying to smoke a cigars, despite his poor health. He goes so far as to hide cigars in his cane. It makes the movie feel light, but it doesn't make us laugh. And the problem is it should never have tried to begin with.

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