Agatha Christie (1890–1976)
As a British national treasure, this 1920s short story/play eventually became a Billy Wilder film in 1957. Ben Lawrence’s July 2015 article published in The Telegraph is helpful for those who know little about Agatha Christie‘s sleuths such as the married couple, Tommy and Tuppence Beresford. Why is Dame Christie the most translated, the third most published author–behind Shakespeare and the Bible–and whose 1952 play, The Mouse Trap, still shows in London at ST. MARTINS THEATER? She was able to hit a nerve for supplying intelligent stories, suspenseful plots and comedic characters without offense. She is an icon of the modern detective story. All things that are yummy and cheeky and beautifully expressed by the English language are represented in her stories. In short, her 65 detective novels provided entertainment and influenced multiple generations in the 20th century. For me, her work functions as a perfect insight to 20th century culture, like ethics, gender norms, and how a dominant culture dealt with limited technology.
Is she prosaic and dated today? Oh, I suppose so, if you compare her stories with today’s obsession for shocking realism, technological “advances”, and our androgynous world. Agatha Christie is still classy in my book. Will younger readers and lovers of a good mystery story appreciate her? Shakespeare and the Bible are still read, so why not Agatha Christie? I suggest a modern biopic to boost awareness of this marvelous woman. Has anyone heard anything about director Will Gluck’s action/drama, Agatha?
Witness for the Prosecution (1957)
This post is for my friend Rob at MOVIE ROB who is featuring the theme of courtroom dramas in film. I chose this Billy Wilder drama starring Tyrone Power in his last role, Marlene Dietrich, and Charles Laughton because I hadn’t seen it before. Thanks, Rob, for giving me the excuse to explore this provocative film.
Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power) is accused of murdering an older woman after she bequeaths a large sum of money to him. Sir Wilfrid Robarts (Charles Laughton) is the curmudgeon barrister who agrees to defend him. Enter his wife, Christine, who is the core of the film–is she an ally or foe? The film progresses at a steady pace as the mystery unfolds. It’s the ending where all the shocks and significant twists come into play. If you like surprise endings, the film is worth following. Adapted and written by Billy Wilder and Harry Kurnitz, the sharp dialogue and witticisms highlight Wilder’s talent.
Charles Laughton (Hunchback of Notre Dame) and Elsa Lanchester (The Bride of Frankenstein) as his nagging nurse are the comic relief and show the human side of “the fox” Sir Wilfrid. His antics to smoke and drink while ignoring his doctor’s orders is a charming balance to the austere Christine; one would expect her to help her husband, but she decides to be a witness for the prosecution. She is a callous, manipulating she-cat. Or is she? Marlene is perfect in the role. 9/10
Miss Plimsoll: Is there too much of a draft? Should I roll up the window?
Sir Wilfrid: Just roll up your mouth, you talk too much. If I had known how much you talk I’d never have come out of my coma.
I don’t dare reveal spoilers, so I will share some fun trivia from IMDb:
Did you know that Laughton and Lanchester were real-life husband and wife?
In order to show just one of Marlene Dietrich’s famous legs, an entire scene was written that required 145 extras, 38 stunt men and $90,000.
Orson Welles helped Marlene Dietrich create a fake nose and scar for her Cockney disguise.
Alfred Hitchcock said “Many times, people have told me how much they enjoyed Witness for the Prosecution. They thought it was my film instead of Billy Wilder’s. And Wilder told me people asked him about The Paradine Case (1947), thinking he had done it.”
When the film was released, Agatha Christie said it was the only movie based on one of her stories she had actually liked. Later, after Murder on the Orient Express (1974) was filmed, she said she liked that one, too.
What do you think of Agatha Christie? What do you think about Witness for the Prosecution?