Filmsite Movie Review
Witness for the Prosecution (1957)
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Plot Synopsis (continued)

Details About Leonard Vole's Background and Relationship With the Victim:

As the group awaited Brogan-Moore's arrival, Vole admitted that he had turned out to be a poor and unemployed "provider" who was broke and hadn't worked for four months. With many lawyers now in his employ, he insisted he couldn't pay any of their fees. His previous employment experience was unremarkable and spotty - work as a mechanic until he quit, a seasonal Christmas job in the toy section of a department store, and employment as an electric blanket tester.

The American expatriate war veteran described his background during the war years, when he met his present wife Christine while serving in the Royal Air Force (RAF) as part of the occupation forces in Germany during WWII at the time. She was an East German beer hall performer, and he praised her acting ability: ("She was an actress, and a good one"). He also mentioned his passion as a struggling inventor "of little household things," including pocket pencil sharpeners, key chain flashlights, and a revolutionary new eggbeater that separated the yolk from the white. He had promoted his egg-beater invention to the now-deceased Mrs. French in hopes of having her provide him with "money for manufacturing and promotion."

During a flashback, he candidly described his acquaintance with the victim, Emily French, after two accidental encounters in the previous month. He first noticed her while glancing through a hat-store window on Oxford Street. He wordlessly nodded agreement on a selection that he recommended she purchase for herself. He spoke to her out on the street for a few moments about her "daring" hat choice that would attract attention: ("You buy that hat - I insist!") before he left on a bus. (He admitted to Wilfrid and Mayhew that he was only flattering her to be nice and make her "feel good.")

A few weeks later, he again met her in a cinema-theater when she sat down in front of him and blocked his view (with her new hat) during a Jesse James western movie. [Note: It was an obvious nod to Tyrone Power's starring title role in Jesse James (1939).] When she realized who he was, she happily moved to sit next to him. He learned that she was "restless" and "very lonely and had no friends whatsoever" after the heart-attack death of her husband Hubert in 1945 when they lived abroad in British Nigeria and he was in the "colonial service."

After the movie, she invited him to her house, where he met her elderly, wary, and snippy Scottish housekeeper Janet MacKenzie (Una O'Connor) in the kitchen. There, he demonstrated (or "peddled") his inventive egg-beater, and provided her with a free sample - "compliments of the inventor, manufacturer and sole distributor." The two were served tea by the housekeeper (who continually gave Leonard disapproving looks) in the living room (decorated with mementos and wall hangings of African masks collected by her late husband), with a cozy fire. They continued to meet a few times a week, to drink sherry and talk, play canasta, and listen to her old gramophone records (Gilbert and Sullivan).

On the evening of her murder, Vole admitted to visiting with her from 8-9 pm, for a sandwich and to listen to The Mikado, before walking home by himself and arriving at "half past." In response to a crucial question by Wilfrid, Vole vowed that he had never received money from her, although Wilfrid surmised that Mrs. French had fallen in love with Leonard and would do anything he asked. Leonard confessed that he had told her about his wife Christine, but had given her the impression that they "didn't get along too well." To keep Mrs. French interested in him (because of her wealth), Leonard never tried to change her opinion about his true marital state: "She just seemed to want to believe it that way...I was afraid she'd lose interest in me." He openly and responsively admitted that he was interested in her money:

"I was hoping for a loan for my new invention. Just a couple of hundred pounds. An honest business proposition, that's all it would have been. Is that so wicked?"

As he often did using his own customary method of cross-examination, Wilfrid reflected blinding sunlight from his monocle (doubling as an interrogator's lamp) into Vole's eyes to extract the truth and test his veracity. Vole had known that it was the housekeeper's day-off, when Emily might be home alone and "lonely." He challenged Leonard with an hypothesis: "You and the rich lonely widow all alone in that lonely house with a gramophone blaring The Mikado. Perhaps you turned up the volume to drown out her cries." Vole again vowed his criminal innocence, although Janet had returned only shortly later and found Mrs. French dead. Leonard proposed the murder might have been committed by a burglar who ransacked the house, as reported in the news:

"I didn't do it. No matter how bad things look, I didn't do it! You must believe me. You do believe me, don't you?"

Sir Wilfrid was gradually becoming convinced of Leonard's innocence, although he agreed that things looked bad for him: "As for things looking bad, they don't look bad, Mr. Vole, they look terrible. Apparently you've no alibi at all." Vole mentioned that he arrived home on his own at 9:26 pm and Christine could provide an alibi: "My wife will tell you that." But Sir Wilfrid reminded him that "the testimony of a devoted wife does not carry much weight" - she could not, as the defendant's wife, be considered a very credible witness: ("It has been known, Mr. Vole. Blood is thicker than evidence").

Sir Wilfrid's Decision to Take the Case or Not:

Attorney Mr. Brogan-Moore (John Williams) arrived in the office to meet with Mayhew, Robarts, and Leonard regarding the "Emily French Murder." Sir Wilfrid mentioned how he was on "parole" from the hospital. He offered to refer the case to Brogan-Moore:

"There's a mass of circumstantial evidence. No alibi whatsoever. It's a hot potato. Tossing it right into your lap."

A discussion of defense strategies, motives and accusations commenced as Sir Wilfrid spoke about how the case would be easy to defend. Leonard's complete lack of motive (such as "murder for profit") and the absence of a "crime of passion" would make his innocence easier to prove. Sir Wilfrid considered how he viewed the case: "If Mr. Vole had been sponging off Mrs. French, why cut off the source of supply? Or, if he'd been hoping for a golden egg, why kill the goose before it was laid?" When it was mentioned that the broke Leonard was unable to pay any legal fees, Brogan-Moore suggested that a lean could be put on Mr. Vole's £80,000 he had been bequeathed by Mrs. French's will that had been recently discovered in her bank's vault.

Leonard reacted positively to the news of the legacy, but now everyone realized that he had a "handsome" motive for murder, as he asked about how he was implicated: "This inheritance doesn't make things look any better for me, does it?" It was now very likely that he would soon be arrested, according to Wilfrid. As Scotland Yard officers in a police car, led by newly-appointed Chief Inspector Hearne (Philip Tonge), pulled up outside and entered to present Leonard with an arrest warrant for Mrs. French's murder, he protested his innocence:

"I knew nothing about that will. I had no idea that Mrs. French had any intention of leaving me her money. And if I didn't know about it, how can it be a motive?"

Sir Wilfrid joked with Hearne: "You'd better search him, he may be armed with an eggbeater." As Leonard was led away without handcuffs, he mentioned how he had never been arrested before. After the group departed, Sir Wilfrid brought up with Brogan-Moore how Leonard had passed his 'monocle test': "Makes a very nice impression, doesn't he?...Passed with flying colours." However, Sir Wilfrid was doubtful of Vole's innocence, with only his wife Christine as an alibi:

"The prosecution will blast him with their heaviest artillery. All you'll have is one little popgun, an alibi furnished by his wife."

Although there was only circumstantial evidence, it clearly implicated Vole and pointed to him as the killer. Sir Wilfrid contemplated taking on the "intriguing challenging" case to defend accused murderer Leonard Vole: "I think I'd like it more if it was less of a challenge and less intriguing." Then, Sir Wilfrid was urged to submit to an ultimatum by both Carter and Miss Plimsoll to take his afternoon nap, or otherwise they would resign. As Wilfrid sat in the stair-lift with frustrated Miss Plimsoll standing above him on the flight of stairs with her arms crossed, he surrendered himself:

"Miss Plimsoll, how alluring you look, waiting like a hangman on the scaffold. Take me, I'm yours."

Sir Wilfrid's and Brogan-Moore's Meeting with Mrs. Christine Vole - Murder Suspect Leonard's Only Alibi:

As he was about to ascend the stairs, Sir Wilfrid advised Brogan-Moore about how to handle Leonard's wife Mrs. Christine Vole (Marlene Dietrich): "About Mrs. Vole. Handle her gently, especially when you break the news of the arrest. Bear in mind she's a foreigner, so prepare for hysterics, even a fainting spell. Better have smelling salts ready, box of tissues and a nip of brandy."

Suddenly, the dignified and sophisticated Mrs. Christine Vole/Helm (Marlene Dietrich) made a dramatic, striking entrance into Sir Wilfrid's doorway and introduced herself. The strong-willed, cool-headed, and self-possessed wife disagreed with Sir Wilfrid's assessment of her - exhibiting an extreme calmness:

"I do not think that will be necessary. I never faint, because I'm not sure that I will fall gracefully, and I never use smelling salts because they puff up the eyes. I'm Christine Vole."

The "disciplined" Christine already expected the news about her husband being arrested for murder: ("I knew he would be, I told him so"). She was told Leonard would have to stand trial and Brogan-Moore would be conducting Leonard's defence in his place, due to his bad health. She considered Wilfrid's predicament as "regrettable" - because Mayhew had described Sir Wilfrid as "the champion of the hopeless cause."

Wilfrid ascended in the stair-lift to rest. Upstairs, Miss Plimsoll regretted having him brought home too early, and suggested he should have been taken to a restful resort first: "Some place quiet, far off, like Bermuda." As she made his upstairs bed and he was instructed to put on his pajamas, he listened as she jabbered on about the German wife of the very "nice Mr. Vole" who had crossed the Channel during his service, went "crazy" and ended up marrying her. She proposed an "embargo" on foreign wives: "The government should do something about those foreign wives, something like an embargo. How else can we take care of our own surplus?" She turned around and realized that Wilfrid had slipped out and returned to his downstairs office to speak about the case with Christine and Brogan-Moore.

She revealed to them that Leonard had been seeing Mrs. French during frequent visits. He had "endeared" himself so much to her that she had knitted a pair of green socks for him. Although they were two sizes too large and he hated the shade of green, he still wore them for her: "Leonard has a way with women." She also knew that Leonard had been bequeathed a large sum of money by the victim, but assented to the idea that she had no previous knowledge of it. Brogan-Moore speculated that Mrs. French unnaturally looked upon Leonard as a "son or perhaps a favorite nephew." As Wilfrid directed the bright light of his monocle onto Christine's eyes, he emphatically stated that the jury would be quite skeptical "of the word of a man accused of murder when supported only by the word of his wife." She immediately realized his tactical strategy and drew one of the blinds to remove the light. Although she vowed to help defend Vole regarding his whereabouts at the time of the murder - she could not, as the defendant's wife, be considered a credible witness.

The enigmatic and glamorous Christine confirmed Leonard's alibi about arriving home before 9:30 pm, but implied that she had been asked to lie: "Isn't that what he wants me to say?" She responded affirmatively to Brogan-Moore's question: "Isn't it the truth?" She also asserted that she would tell the truth in the witness box during the trial after being sworn in. She restated her answer - that Leonard had come home at precisely 9:26 pm, and didn't go out again. When Wilfrid approached and asked if she loved her 'husband' - she ignored his question and didn't answer directly except to say: "Leonard thinks I do." And then, Wilfrid offered Christine advice - but didn't realize that she would later use it as a strategic ploy:

"Whatever your gambit may be, do you know that, under British law, you cannot be called to give testimony damaging to your husband?"

Then she announced another major revelation - "He is NOT my husband" - her statement implied that she could testify against Leonard because he wasn't actually her legal husband - she had never officially divorced her East Germany husband (named Helm) in the Russian zone (whom she had married in 1942). She would not have been able to escape from Germany and marry Leonard in 1945 if he had known: "He would not have married me and I would have been left behind to starve in the rubble." She was forever "grateful" to Leonard, but in comparison, she alleged that Leonard's love for her was much greater: "He worships the ground I walk on."

As she was leaving, Christine reassured Sir Wilfrid that she would be a very convincing and credible witness (with tears if appropriate), even if it required some acting on her part: "I will give him an alibi and I shall be very convincing." Sir Wilfrid's last words to her were complimentary: "You're a very remarkable woman, Mrs. Vole." As she closed the door behind her, she asked: "And you're satisfied, I hope?"

Afterwards, both Wilfrid and Brogan-Moore were suspicious of Christine's truthfulness: "That woman's up to something. But what?" Brogan-Moore concluded that the case was hopeless and unwinnable:

"The prosecution will break her down in no time when I put her in the witness box. You know, defending this case is going to be rather like the charge of the Light Brigade or one of those Japanese suicide pilots. Quite one-sided. With the odds all on the other side. I haven't got much to go on, have I? The fact is, I've got nothing."

Although ambivalent about Leonard's innocence, Wilfrid was very concerned about Brogan-Moore's doubts - and intrigued by the cold and calculating Christine. He decided he would take over the case ("I'll take it from here"). The testimony - and true identity - of the mysterious, beautiful German-born 'wife' of the accused, Christine "Helm" Vole, held the key to solving the case involving marital deceit.

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