Saturday, January 5, 2013

Witness for the Prosecution (1982)

This 1982 version of Witness for the Prosecution is a Hallmark Hall of Fame made-for-television film that is often a scene-for-scene remake of the classic 1957 Billy Wilder film. I am not necessarily opposed to remaking movies, especially movies that are adapted from stage plays. However, I believe there should be a good reason to remake the movie.  In the case of Witness for the Prosecution, the original film was so perfect that a remake seems superfluous and bound to be inferior to the original.

Based on a play by Agatha Christie, Witness for the Prosecution tells he story of sickly barrister Sir Wilfrid Robarts who takes the case of defending Leonard Vole, an American accused of the murder of a wealthy British widow. Sir Wilfrid's case is seemingly derailed when Vole's German wife Christine testifies against him. This gripping and salacious plot would make virtually any straightforward remake watchable.

The best part of this remake is the all-star cast. Ralph Richardson steps into Charles Laughton's shoes to play Sir Wilfred and does as fine a job as anyone could who is not Laughton. Other cast members include Beau Bridges as the defendant Vole, Diana Rigg as Vole's German-born wife, Deborah Kerr as Sir Wilfrid's overbearing nurse, Donald Pleasance as the trial's lead prosecutor, and Wendy Hiller as one of the prosecution's witnesses. I enjoyed the performances of Rigg, Pleasance, and Hiller. Rigg does not have the screen charisma that Marlene Dietrich had in the 1957 original, but her acting is strong. Pleasance was never a favorite actor of mine, but he does a good job as the prosecutor. Hiller is always an excellent character actress.

Deborah Kerr on the other hand, seems somehow miscast. Technically, she does well in her performance but there seems something intangible about Kerr as an actress that makes her ill-suited for the role. Maybe it is because the character she plays here is somewhat flighty and Kerr has always seemed to me to be too glamorous to be flighty. I was also disappointed with Beau Bridges's performance as Leonard Vole. I like Bridges as an actor, but he seemed weak in some of his scenes and he also came across as too modern for a story set in the mid-1950s.

I have never seen a stage version of Witness for the Prosecution, so I don't know how closely the 1957 movie followed the original story. This 1982 version of the story very closely follows the 1957 movie, so much so that it seems almost like a carbon copy. Also, this incarnation which is filmed in color lacks the atmosphere of the black-and-white original.

All in all, this is a solid remake of a good story. The best reason to watch this 1982 version would be because the viewer wants to see the performance of one or more of the cast members. Otherwise there is really no reason to forgo watching the superior 1957 film. Grade: B.

I watched this movie on Netflix streaming on January 4, 2013.

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