First Impressions: Witness for the Prosecution & Love in the Afternoon

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Ken_McAlinden, Jan 16, 2002.

  1. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden Producer
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    I picked up recently released DVDs of two Billy Wilder films from 1957: Witness for the Prosecution and Love in the Afternoon. It would be impressive enough if Wilder had only directed these two films that year, but that was also the same year that his Lindbergh biopic Spirit of St. Louis was released.

    Witness for the Prosecution is an adaptation of the Agatha Christie play famous for its twisty plot, the less talked about the better for first time viewers. Charles Laughton and Elsa Lanchester play off of each other brilliantly as always as an aging Barrister and his nurse and Marlene Dietrich is as iconic as one could hope for. Of Wilder's 1957 output, this is the film that garnered most of the Oscar attention in 1958, and probably would have won a few were it not for the cultural juggernaut that was Bridge on the River Kwai. The DVD is a better than average black and white 1.66:1 non-anamorphic transfer from MGM, with fewer aliasing problems and a cleaner (though not pristine) print source than some of their recent re-releases of Wilder classic such as The Apartment and Irma La Douce. Audio is 2.0 mono that is serviceable but not spectacular. The trailer is the only extra.

    At first glance, Love in the Afternoon sounds like a bit of a Sabrina retread for Wilder considering it casts Audrey Hepburn as a French ingenue who find herself in a May-December romance with a much older Hollywood icon -- Gary Cooper in this case. In some ways, Cooper is like a combination of the Linus and David Larabee characters from the earlier film, but there is new farcical material to be mined by de-emphasizing the usual concept of the heroine having a clearly "right" and "wrong" guy to fall for and knowing that she will eventually choose the "right" one despite two hours of contrivances to keep them apart. It is also historically significant because it marks the first collaboration between Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond. Their subversive wit and comic sensibilities are perfectly in tune right out of the gate. Although Cooper is occasionally unconvincing as a notorious playboy, it is evident from the start that Maurice Chevalier was born to deliver that brilliant Wilder-Diamond dialog. This film, with its carefully assembled soufflé of sharp wit, sentimentality, and romance (not to mention the presence of Chevalier) is a fine example of Wilder tipping his hat to his mentor, Ernst Lubitsch. The black and white anamorphic widescreen transfer of this Warner DVD suffers a bit from print element damage and sporadic variations in contrast. It is on the lower end of WBs recent output, but the movie is certainly worthy, and transfer issues such as compression artifacts and edge enhancement are few, if any. The 1.0 mono audio is good enough, but no more. The trailer is the only extra.

    These films were made when Wilder was at his creative peak, and considering they can be found for less than $15 a piece at retailers who discount, they are both worth a purchase for fans of classic film.

    Regards,
     
  2. Mark Walker

    Mark Walker Producer
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    Ken-
    Thanks for your reviews! They were enough to
    prompt me to go get both of these titles this afternoon.
    I just watched Witness to the Prosecution,
    which is perfect timing, since Turner Classic Movies
    is featuring Marlene every Thursday this month.
    Wow! Great film! Acting seems a bit artificial
    at times, but as to the rest:
    exactly what you said..the less said
    the better.
    Love in the Afternoon will be watched
    tomorrow...afternoon.
    Thanks again, I probably would've waited to buy
    these before reading your post.
    Mark
     
  3. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden Producer
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