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Blu-Ray : Highly Recommended
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Release Date: February 6th, 2024 Movie Release Year: 1957

Witness for the Prosecution - KLSC Blu-ray (Reissue)

Overview -

Blu-ray Review By: David Krauss
KLSC reissues writer-director Billy Wilder's riveting adaptation of Agatha Christie's brilliant courtroom drama at a higher bit rate to improve picture quality, but the enhancements don't necessarily merit an upgrade. The 2024 edition of Witness for the Prosecution, which also boasts a new audio commentary and classier packaging, narrowly bests its 2014 counterpart, but the film itself remains the star and delivers the goods each and every time we see it. Highly Recommended.

Highly Recommended
Rating Breakdown
Tech Specs & Release Details
Technical Specs:
Blu-ray Disc
Video Resolution/Codec:
1080p AVC/MPEG-4
Aspect Ratio(s):
Audio Formats:
English: DTS-HD MA 2.0
English SDH
Release Date:
February 6th, 2024

Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take


With more than four billion volumes in circulation, Agatha Christie has been officially anointed the best-selling novelist of all time by the Guinness Book of World Records. That's quite an achievement for someone never considered to be a great writer. Yet while the grande dame of British mysteries may lack literary panache, she certainly knows how to spin a mesmerizing yarn, crafting intricate, airtight plots filled with ingenious twists that make it impossible to surmise whodunit until the final page. Her universally accessible nuts-and-bolts style also encompasses theatrical stage plays (The Mousetrap has been running continuously in London since 1952!) and has spawned several stellar film versions of her work - And Then There Were None and Murder on the Orient Express chief among them. Witness for the Prosecution, adapted from a 1955 stage hit, also ranks right up there with Christie's best, thanks to a crackerjack story that keeps us on the edge of our seat until the shocking and unforgettable denouement.

Though a thrilling narrative provides a critical hook, it can only take a movie so far. A skilled stylist is often required to punch up dialogue, inject subtle nuances into the material, and animate robotic characters. And few stylists can eclipse the immensely talented, inimitable Billy Wilder, who - with his collaborator Harry Kurnitz - makes Christie's dry words sing. Couple that with his trademark rapier wit, a touch of whimsy, and colorful performances by a first-rate cast led by Tyrone Power, Marlene Dietrich, Charles Laughton, and Elsa Lanchester, and the director of such diverse yet masterful fare as Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard, and Some Like It Hot thus transforms Witness for the Prosecution into one of the most riveting and entertaining courtroom dramas in Hollywood history.

Spoiling Witness for the Prosecution is tantamount to treason, so if you haven't yet seen this immensely satisfying motion picture, rest assured I won't give too much away. Yet keeping mum makes a detailed review and honest assessment of the movie difficult. The one area where the film slightly stumbles concerns a pivotal plot development that I refuse to divulge, so just realize that although I highly revere this classic mystery, I'm well aware it's not perfect. Any minor faults, however, can't diminish my enthusiasm for Witness for the Prosecution, which remains just as engrossing, clever, and thrilling on repeat viewings as it is the first time through.

Nowadays, twist endings are de rigueur and jaded audiences can often predict them a mile away, but back in 1957 such hairpin plot turns were far more rare, often inspiring audible gasps in movie theaters as well as pleadings from exhibitors not to reveal the climax to others. (The trailer for Witness for the Prosecution proudly states - and warns - no one will be admitted to the auditorium during the film's final 10 minutes to preserve and honor its shock value.) Which is not to imply astute viewers won't be able to see through the movie's ruse. But even if you recognize the deception, connecting all the dots is tough to do until Christie, Wilder, and the actors lay it all out for us...and then deliciously surprise us once more.

Sir Wilfrid (Laughton) is one of London's most esteemed and brilliant barristers, yet away from the courtroom he's a cantankerous curmudgeon who punctuates his dour attitude with withering sarcasm and disdain for regimentation and personal restraint. When we first meet him, he's returning home from the hospital in a weakened state after suffering a heart attack, accompanied by an overly attentive flibbertigibbet of a personal nurse, Miss Plimsoll (Lanchester). (The character was invented by Wilder and did not appear in the original Christie play.) Sir Wilfrid is under strict directives to rest and avoid stress, but much to the chagrin of the overprotective and ordered Miss Plimsoll, he can't resist the allure of a juicy murder case. And much to her horror, he forges ahead full throttle.

That case concerns Leonard Vole (Power), a charming, handsome war veteran, part-time inventor, and all-around ne'er-do-well, who's accused of bumping off a rich widow (Norma Varden) after it's revealed she bequeathed him a large sum of money. He ardently professes his innocence - and Sir Wilfrid believes him - but a mountain of circumstantial evidence points to his guilt. His only alibi is his emotionless wife Christine (Dietrich), a German expatriate who Leonard rescued during the waning days of World War II. So imagine everyone's surprise when Christine turns up as a surprise witness for the prosecution and provides damning evidence against Leonard, who can't believe his devoted wife has turned against him. Such a brazen betrayal shocks the courtroom, but it's only the opening salvo in what quickly becomes a highly dramatic and unpredictable case.

Wilder expands the claustrophobic drama nicely, devising a flashback that develops the romance between Leonard and Christine - and allows the 55-year-old Dietrich the opportunity to expose her still sexy gams and sing a rousing bar tune - as well as the relationship between Leonard and the trusting dowager who takes a shine to him. The focus, however, is the courtroom, and Wilder makes sure the intermittent fireworks that pepper the incendiary plot achieve their maximum impact. His direction here may be more static than usual (although it did garner him his sixth Oscar nomination), but it remains true to the story's core elements.

And thanks to a first-rate adaptation and fine performances, Wilder tells that story in a masterful manner. Laughton doesn't just steal the show, he instantly hijacks it, voraciously chewing the scenery with abandon and milking every quip, put-down, grandiose pronouncement, and throwaway line. It's a delectably hammy turn that's impossible to resist despite its obvious and calculated over-the-top nature, and it earned the actor a well-deserved Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. (He lost to Alec Guinness in The Bridge on the River Kwai.) Lanchester, who was Laughton's off-screen wife, received a Best Supporting Actress nod for her delightfully flighty portrayal, and their comfortable chemistry results in plenty of good-natured bickering.

Power's astute, polished, and impassioned performance helped revive his flagging career, but sadly, Witness for the Prosecution would prove to be his final film. The swashbuckling matinee idol would die of a heart attack several months after shooting concluded at the tender age of 44 while working on the sword-and-sandal epic Solomon and Sheba. Dietrich also asserts herself well in arguably her most challenging screen role, acting with an emotional vigor she rarely displayed over the course of her long career. Always cool and aloof, Dietrich wisely employs those qualities early in the movie, casting an air of mystery over her pivotal character that makes it difficult to discern her motives or define her actions. She, too, hoped to nab an Oscar nomination for her work, but was unfortunately overlooked - most likely due to the mispronunciation of a single syllable. (I'd love to elaborate, but doing so would spoil a major plot point.)

In all, Witness for the Prosecution received six Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, but came home empty-handed on Oscar night. Yet the film's failure to be recognized doesn't diminish in the slightest the aura that surrounds this fantastically entertaining movie. Courtroom dramas are a dime a dozen, but the good ones make an indelible impression, and Witness for the Prosecution continues to impress new generations of viewers no matter how old it gets. If you haven't seen it, you're in for a treat. And even if you have, Wilder's film is just as enjoyable the second, third, and fourth times around.

The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
KLSC's reissue of Witness for the Prosecution arrives on Blu-ray packaged in a standard case inside a sleeve. Video codec is 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 and audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono. Once the disc is inserted into the player, the static menu with music immediately pops up; no previews or promos precede it.

Video Review


Though this is the same 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer released by KLSC in 2014, the company has substantially increased the bit rate, resulting in a more vibrant and crisper presentation. The bit rate now hovers around 38 Mbps throughout (the 2014 disc maxed out in the low 20s), but the improvements aren't as marked as one might think. If you've never bought Witness for the Prosecution before, this is definitely the edition to get, but if you already own this classic courtroom drama, an upgrade isn't really necessary. When viewed on an upconverting TV, the two transfers look very similar. This new edition has the edge, but the margin is slim.

As I wrote back in 2014, Witness for the Prosecution "looks pretty spiffy in high definition...The source material is largely clean, exhibiting just a few nicks and marks, while clarity and contrast are fairly consistent, and a natural grain structure maintains the look and feel of celluloid. A varied gray scale captures plenty of detail in Sir Wilfrid's flat and in the courtroom, with solid levels at each end of the spectrum. Blacks are rich and deep (Christine's dress in the flashback sequence is especially striking), whites are stable and well defined, and patterns, such as the tweed weave of Leonard's jacket, nicely resist shimmering. Shadow delineation is quite good, background elements show up well, and close-ups, while not razor sharp, are crisp and vibrant. No noise or pixelation is present, and any digital doctoring escapes notice."

Audio Review


The same audio track from 2014 appears on this disc. Here's what I wrote about it a decade ago:

"No doubt about it, Witness for the Prosecution is a talky film, and the DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track makes sure we don't miss a quip, outburst, or droll witticism. The clean, clear sound is devoid of any age-related imperfections, such as hiss, pops, and crackle, and though dynamic range is rather limited, no distortion creeps into the mix, even during heated courtroom exchanges. Sonic accents, like the judge's gavel, are crisp and distinct, and subtleties, such as the gentle hum of the stair lift in Sir Wilfrid's home, are easily discernible. The forgettable music score is sparingly employed, but sounds fine, and Dietrich's rousing solo number, "I May Never Go Home Anymore," exudes a fair amount of oomph. This is a pretty basic track, but it gets the job done and doesn't call attention to itself, which suits this plot-driven film to a T."

Special Features


KLSC imports all the extras from the 2014 release and adds a new commentary track.

  • NEW Audio Commentary - Film historian and Billy Wilder biographer Joseph McBride sits down for an informative and affable commentary that touches upon many interesting topics. McBride provides background on Agatha Christie's original short story and play, shares anecdotes about Laughton, supplies brief bios of the cast and crew, calls Wilder "a disappointed romantic," and draws parallels to other Wilder films. He also concentrates heavily on Wilder's life, influences, and movies, compares Wilder to Hitchcock, and denotes differences between the short story, play, and film adaptation. McBride is one of the foremost experts on Wilder and his remarks are enlightening and insightful.

  • Interview with Billy Wilder by Volker Schlöndorff (SD, 7 minutes) - In this brief interview, which is most likely culled from a more comprehensive documentary, the legendary director amazes with his linguistic skills (he speaks German, French, and English during the course of the conversation) as he discusses a few differences between the stage version of Witness for the Prosecution and the film adaptation, praises Agatha Christie's plot structure (but criticizes her writing as "flat"), and terms Dietrich's face "one of the greatest in the history of film." Wilder is a magnetic presence and it's a shame more of this interview isn't included on this disc.

  • Theatrical Trailer (SD, 3 minutes) - A jovial Charles Laughton addresses the audience during the latter portion of this preview, which includes a couple of alternate takes, and warns no one will be admitted during the film's final 10 minutes. It also begs viewers not to spoil the twist ending for others. Trailers for 12 other Wilder features are also included on the disc.

Final Thoughts

The higher bit rate adds extra visual luster to Witness for the Prosecution, but not enough to leave the 2014 disc in the dust. Most owners of KLSC's first Blu-ray release of this courtroom classic shouldn't feel compelled to upgrade, but if Billy Wilder's impeccable adaptation of Agatha Christie's stage hit is one of your faves - and the new audio commentary and enhanced packaging pique your interest - you won't be disappointed by this slick and satisfying update. Highly Recommended

Order Your Copy of Witness for the Prosecution on Blu-ray