Tag Archives: Witness for the Prosecution

Stream It!: Witness for the Prosecution

[Showcasing the best and highlighting the newest additions to the various streaming services, including but not limited to Netflix Instant, HuluPlus, Amazon Prime, and Warner Archive Instant.]

Stream on Netflix: Witness for the Prosecution

si-witness_for_the_prosecutionI really want to start doing these more often, since a ton of great stuff is dropping onto on demand subscription services all the time. This is one that’s actually been on Netflix Instant for quite a while, but it’s a great movie, I’ve got Billy Wilder on the mind right now, and it has a great double feature combination that’s also on Netflix Instant. Win all around.

Witness for the Prosecution is a late film in three acting careers – Charles Laughton, as experienced but physically ailing barrister Sir Wilfred; Tyrone Power (this is his final credited film), as the murder suspect Leonard Vole whom Laughton defends; and Marlene Dietrich, as Power’s beautiful and devoted wife. It may be late in their careers, but they are all at the top of their game, and so is Wilder, delivering a consistently witty and surprising courtroom drama with a dose of mystery. Laughton’s delightful wife Elsa Lanchester also plays his nurse, who emphatically thinks he is not ready to take on a case after recently suffering a heart attack.

Laughton is always great to watch, from his early villain-type roles like Dr. Moreau in Island of Lost Souls and Captain Bligh in Mutiny on the Bounty to his imposing girth as King Henry VIII a few times to his witty charm in movies like this one. He’s got a reputation as a scenery-chewer, and that’s not entirely wrong, but he’s one of the absolute best scenery-chewers ever in the movies, and comes across more as a scene-stealer here. Dietrich has her share of meaty roles, but this may be one of her absolute best, as her duplicity (or is it?) comes to light. The script will keep you guessing, all the way up to the delicious ending.

Double Feature: Anatomy of a Murder

si-anatomy_of_a_murder_ver2In some ways, Anatomy of a Murder is a more traditional courtroom drama than Witness for the Prosecution, with more courtroom scenes (and American ones, which feel a bit more familiar to us on this side of the pond) and a battle of lawyers front and center as James Stewart defends and George C. Scott prosecutes a man (Ben Gazzara) claiming a temporary insanity defense for killing a man who allegedly raped his wife (Lee Remick). There’s a mystery at the heart of this one, too, as Stewart digs into the evidence to find out what really happened, but it’s not as whimsical or twisty as Witness for the Prosecution.

In 1959, a film touching on the subject of rape was fairly rare and pretty controversial. Director Otto Preminger was no stranger to controversy, having pushed the limits of the Production Code already, notably in 1953 when his film The Moon is Blue included the word “virgin.” Here Remick’s character is known to be something of a flirt or worse, and Gazzara’s is known to be violent and possessive, which brings his plea of temporary insanity into question. The film is also well-remembered for its brilliant Duke Ellington jazz score (also unusual at the time) and the focus on Stewart as a character rather than simply focusing on the plot. That said, his courtroom scenes opposite Scott are electric.

Besides both being courtroom films about a dubious murder case, the films have another connection in terms of the surprising outcomes of each case – which I obviously can’t talk about in any detail without spoiling stuff. I’ve probably said too much already. Both films are streaming on Netflix for the low low price of “included in your $8 a month subscription,” so just watch them. You’ll have a delightful time.

Film on TV: May 4-10

riobravo.jpg
Rio Bravo, playing at 10:30pm on TCM on the 6th

Monday, May 4th

3:00pm – TCM – Roman Holiday
A double-feaure of Audrey Hepburn today. Enjoy!

5:00pm – TCM – My Fair Lady

Tuesday, May 5th

3:45pm – TCM – Witness for the Prosecution
Just when you think you’ve seen all the twists, this film throws another one at you. The last great film for Charles Laughton (as an irascible lawyer), Tyrone Power (as his smarmy client, on trial for murder), and Marlene Dietrich (as Power’s wife).

Wednesday, May 6th

8:00pm – IFC – Clerks
Kevin Smith burst onto the indie scene with Clerks, a low-budget dialogue-heavy film about clerks at a convenience store.
(repeats at 2:45am on the 7th)

9:35pm – IFC – Chasing Amy
I think this was the first Kevin Smith film I saw. Liked it enough to check out the others. :)

10:30pm – TCM – Rio Bravo
Howard Hawks’ response to High Noon, which he didn’t like because Gary Cooper kept asking for help to face the bad guy. In Rio Bravo, lawmen John Wayne, Dean Martin, and Ricky Nelson refuse all help offered, guarding a captured outlaw against rescue by his gang all on their own. And even have time to break into a song once or twice in the middle! (Image above courtesy of Row Three and Mike’s great post on Escapist Cinema for Recessionary Times)
Must See

1:00am (7th) – TCM – High Noon

2:30am (7th) – TCM – The Man From Laramie
James Stewart made several westerns with director Anthony Mann, and they’re all quite good – you can see the beginnings of the darkness and moral ambiguity that would inform the revisionist westerns of the 1960s and 1970s.

Thursday, May 7th

7:50am – IFC – Primer
Today is apparently mindbender day on the cable stations. Primer is a time travel movie that assumes a) time travel is scientifically possible and b) the audience doesn’t need anything explained to them. Watching it is like being thrown into the deep end of a pool before learning to swim…and there’s an undertow.
(repeats at 12:25pm and 5:05pm)

10:00pm – Sundance – INLAND EMPIRE
And then you can jump over to Sundance and watch David Lynch’s latest magnum opus, which pretty much can’t be understood by any use of normal narrative logic. It works thematically and emotionally though. You know those 3D images that you can only see by throwing your eyes out of focus? Do that with your mind in order to “see” INLAND EMPIRE.

Friday, May 8th

6:00pm – IFC – Closely Watched Trains
This Czech film won the Best Foreign Film Oscar back in 1965, at the forefront of a Czech film renaissance. I’m not a huge fan of it as a whole (because it’s basically a coming-of-age story, and that’s not my favorite genre), but it has a number of great moments in it.
(repeats at 6:25am and 1:45pm on the 9th)

8:00pm – TCM – Goldfinger
My pick for best Bond film of all time. “Do you expect me to talk?” “No, Mr. Bond! I expect you to die!”
(repeats at 2:00pm on the 9th)

Saturday, May 9th

12:00N – TCM – Stagecoach
John Ford and John Wayne had worked together before this, but Stagecoach was the film that really solidified how great a team they made. A disparate group of people (outlaw, bank man, town drunk, prostitute, etc.) are thrown together in the closely confined space of a stagecoach – a potent situation even before the Indians start attacking. Thomas Mitchell won an Oscar for his role, and Claire Trevor was equally deserving for hers.
Must See

6:15pm – TCM – The Adventures of the Robin Hood
Must See

10:30pm – TCM – Captain Blood
The first pairing of Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland (they’d eventually make eight films together) is still one of the best – probably only beaten out by The Adventures of Robin Hood. Plus, pirates!

Sunday, May 10th

6:00am – TCM – Bachelor Mother
Slight Ginger Rogers vehicle, but one I always enjoy – she picks up a baby left on the steps of an orphanage just in time for everyone to think it’s hers, including her boss (David Niven) at the department store where she works. So she has to keep it.

11:00am – TCM – Mildred Pierce

Film on TV: 24-30 Nov 2008

Monday, November 24

9:00pm EST / 8:00pm CST – IFC – The Proposition
One of the best reviewed westerns in recent memory hails from Australia; the “proposition” is that outlaw Guy Pearce, in order to save himself and his younger brothers from corrupt lawmen, must find and kill his estranged oldest brother. I honestly didn’t like the movie as much as most critics – a bit too realistically violent for me – but it’s been influential already on newer westerns like 3:10 to Yuma. And director John Hillcoat is currently working on the adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, which should be pretty stark (in a good way), if this film is any indication. (repeats at 1:00am, Tuesday Nov. 24)

10:15pm / 9:15pm – TCM – Witness for the Prosecution
The last great film for three classic Hollywood actors: Charles Laughton (as a brilliant but ailing laywer), Tyrone Power (as the murder suspect Laughton defends), and Marlene Dietrich (as Power’s wife and the titular witness). Billy Wilder writes and directs this twisty-turny courtroom drama, which is beginning to creak a little more than Wilder’s best, but is still worth it for Laughton and Dietrich’s performances.

Tuesday, November 25

1:15pm / 12:15pm – TCM – Arsenic and Old Lace
One of the zaniest comedies you’ll ever see has kindly old ladies poisoning lonely men for their own good. When their nephew Mortimer (Cary Grant) finds out he tries to get them committed, but even more hijinks are in order when another murdering relative turns up (Raymond Massey, with sidekick Peter Lorre in tow). A change of pace for director Frank Capra, and a good one at that.

Wednesday, November 26

12:00pm / 11:00am – TCM – High Noon
An Oscar-winning performance by Gary Cooper and an early role for Grace Kelly in Fred Zinnemann’s classic cowboy showdown drama. Follow it up with Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo, something of a response to High Noon, which Hawks disliked.

8:00pm / 7:00pm – TCM – West Side Story
Stylized musicals based on Shakespeare for the win!

10:45pm / 9:45pm – TCM – The King and I
I still love Oklahoma! the best of all the Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals, but The King and I is a really close second. Having Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr around doesn’t hurt.

1:00am / 12:00am (27th) – TCM – My Fair Lady
You oughta see My Fair Lady at least once, so here it is.

Thursday, November 27

6:30am / 5:30am – TCM – That’s Entertainment!
In 1974, MGM celebrated its glorious musical past by producing this compilation film hosted by Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Debbie Reynolds, Elizabeth Taylor, James Stewart, and others looking back on MGM’s history (specifically musicals) from the advent of sound through the 1950s. It’s a great overview of Hollywood’s golden age, studio-specific as it is, and chock-full of great musical moments. Two years later, That’s Entertainment! Part 2 showed that MGM had more than one feature worth of great moments, and added in some non-musical sections as well.

10:15am / 9:15am – TCM – Guys and Dolls
Damon Runyon’s slice-of-Broadway-life musical comes to film with Marlon Brando as an unlikely musical leading man, but he muscles through, with the help of Frank Sinatra and Vivian Blaine, who steal the show as a fast-talking gambler and his long-suffering fiancee. Some great tunes, including “Luck Be a Lady,” don’t hurt either.

1:00pm / 12:00pm – Sundance – Monsoon Wedding
A good intro to Indian film (though it’s not really an Indian film) from Mira Nair – she’s got a great visual eye and this is easily her best film.

4:45pm / 3:45pm – TCM – Fiddler on the Roof
A Tzarist-era Russian Jewish village doesn’t seem a particularly likely place to set a musical, but Fiddler on the Roof does a good job of it, exploring the clashing cultures as patriarch Tevye tries to marry his daughters off to good Jewish husbands with decreasing success.

3:15am / 2:15am – TCM – You Can’t Take It With You
Frank Capra’s Best Picture Oscar winner from 1938 is still a wacky good time, as Jean Arthur’s unconventional family bumps heads with her new boyfriend Jimmy Stewart’s family of conservative bankers. There’s perhaps more fluff than substance here, but that’s not always bad.

Friday, November 28

10:00am / 9:00am – IFC – Picnic at Hanging Rock
I have a love-hate relationship with Aussie director Peter Weir. His films are almost always slow and methodical, which works for me sometimes and not others. It works in Picnic at Hanging Rock, one of his earlier films, in which a group of schoolgirls goes into the wilderness for a picnic and mysteriously disappear. (Repeats at 4:05pm EST.)

6:00pm / 5:00pm – TCM – Mildred Pierce
I used to roll my eyes at the very idea of melodrama. Mildred Pierce is one of the films that changed my mind, and taught me to see value in the melodrama as a legitimate genre. Joan Crawford, despite her star status, isn’t a terribly versatile actress, but Mildred is possibly her most perfectly fitting role – a working class woman who claws her way to prosperity in any way she can, much as Crawford herself had done working her way into the movies in the 1920s. Oh, and there’s murder and evil children and stuff along the way, too.

11:30pm / 10:30pm – TCM – The Misfits
I swear I have seen this, but I couldn’t tell you much about the plot. *sets own DVR* What I can tell you is that this is the last completed film for both Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable, and they both go out at the top of their game.

Saturday, November 29

6:15am / 5:15am – IFC – Everyone Says I Love You
Nowhere near Woody Allen’s best, but a sunny fun time nonetheless, with a great cast randomly breaking out into song and dance. I will admit a large soft spot for movies in which people randomly break out into song and dance. Just for the record. (Repeats at 2:45pm EST.)

8:00am / 7:00am – IFC – Throne of Blood
Akira Kurosawa does Shakespeare’s Macbeth. I haven’t seen this one myself, but it’s got a good rep, and if it’s anything like as good as Ran (his version of King Lear, which is essentially the only version of King Lear I like, including the original play), it’s pretty darn good.

8:00pm / 7:00pm – TCM – The Postman Always Rings Twice
Sizzling adaptation of James M. Cain’s classic pulp novel has Lana Turner as the unhappy wife of a middle-of-nowhere gas station owner and John Garfield as the drifter who drops in and plots her husband’s demise with her. Skip the 1982 remake, from what I’ve heard, but if you’re feeling adventurous, check out Luchino Visconti’s Ossession, a 1943 Italian adaptation of the novel widely considered to be a forerunner of the Italian Neo-Realist movement.

10:00pm / 9:00pm – TCM – Hannah and Her Sisters
Say what you want about Annie Hall, I throw my vote for best Woody Allen movie ever to Hannah and Her Sisters. It has all the elements Allen is known for – neurotic characters, infidelity, a tendency to philosophize randomly, New York City, dysfunctional family dynamics, acerbic wit – and blends them together much more cogently and evenly than most of his films do.

Sunday, November 30

10:00am / 9:00am – TCM – Twentieth Century
In one of the films that defines “screwball comedy” (along with The Awful Truth and Bringing Up Baby), John Barrymore plays a histrionic theatre producer trying to convince his star Carole Lombard to come back to him – both professionally and personally. Lombard is luminous as usual, and Barrymore can chew scenery with the best of them, which is precisely what his role calls for. Howard Hawks directs, yet more proof that the man can do anything.