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Witness For The Prosecution – Billy Wilder

Submitted by on January 30, 2011 – 11:22 pmNo Comment

Christine’s deceptions underlie the major part of the film’s climax. She bears out Sir Wilfrid’s initial suspicion of her when she appears for the prosecutor Mr. Myers (Torin Thatcher), claiming that she was already married to a man named Helm when she went through a ceremony with Leonard in Hamburg while he was serving with the British occupation forces after World War II. Her testimony proves in fact no deception at all—Leonard did return home late on the night in question with blood on .his clothes, admitting that he had murdered Mrs. French (Norma Varden)—although at the time it seems to be outright betrayal. She sounds convincing enough, particularly after Myers admonishes her in her own language about perjury, Meineid. In spite of Leonard’s artless rebuttal, the jury members, as Brogan-Moore (John Williams) points out later, did not like Christine but believed her, whereas they liked Leonard but did not believe him.

Christine’s tour de force of deception and disguise is her impersonation of a cockney trollop at Euston Station. She readily convinces both Sir Wilfrid and Mayhew (Henry Daniell) that they are interviewing a woman wronged by Christine Vole, who stole her lover and caused him to disfigure her right cheek. “Wanna kiss me, Ducky?” she asks Sir Wilfrid, pulling back her hair to show him her scar. In court the next day she continues her deception as Sir Wilfrid, with one of the bogus letters in hand, meticulously exposes her commitment to Max and her plan to give false testimony against Leonard. She follows through until after Leonard has been acquitted, even though some of the spectators physically abuse her as she tries to reach Leonard and Sir Wilfrid.

Leonard’s masquerade is equally as expert as Christine’s. Like his wife, he must hoodwink Sir Wilfrid at close quarters. In the initial conference Leonard Wins Sir Wilfrid over, presenting himself as a sincere, talented young inventor, the victim of unfortunate circumstances. Sir Wilfrid decides to rescue him when Brogan-Moore as well as Christine show hesitation about his innocence. Already Leonard had convinced Mrs. French, a wealthy, middle-aged, lonely widow, that he would marry her, or convinced her of something that caused her to change her will and leave him eighty thousand pounds. Christine apparently knew little enough about the details of that relationship, and certainly nothing at all about his involvement with Diana, his blonde girl friend.

To give the story pace and to lead up to the action of the trial, Wilder uses flashbacks that fill in Leonard’s relationship with the murdered woman and with his wife. Since the two episodes are narrated by Leonard, they lend credibility to his story. He tells how he happened to see Mrs. French from outside a milliner’s shop, where he volunteered advice on a new hat, then in a cinema, and of their ensuing friendship and the encouragement she gave him for his inventions. He also tells of his first meeting with Christine, in the midst of a brawl, at the Hamburg cabaret where she performed. The fight had broken out when, after she sang a song, some of the patrons began to quarrel over her (presumably the sequence was thus staged in order to give the audience a glimpse of the famous Dietrich legs).

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