Saturday, 2 July 2011

Best Actor 1957: Charles Laughton in Witness for the Prosecution

Charles Laughton received his third and final Oscar nomination for portraying Sir Wilfrid Robarts in Witness for the Prosecution.

Witness for the Prosecution tells of a trial about a man who is being prosecuted for a murder Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power), many twists and turns ensue.

Charles Laughton portrays the barrister for the charged man Leonard Vole. Sir Wilfirid is a witty barrister with a heart condition, leaving him with a nurse Miss Plimsoll (Elsa Lancaster) with whom he constantly bickers with over his health choices. This is an interesting role in the film, in that he most certianly is part of the story, but never becomes more involved with it than a defense attorney must do.

Laughton's performance is the type I really like to see , and commonly pop up with trial films, which are performances of character who are only by their job related to the overall dramatic story of the film, therefore it really is up the actor to make his character great well moving through the plot, Laughton like James Stewart in Anatomy of a Murder manages to do this with ease.

He portrays Sir Wilfrid in a delightfully entertaining way. As an incredibly intelligent and astute performance, that does not mind showing his distaste for someone or something in a rather witty fashion. Laughton has perfect timing in this film, with his witty remarks always putting the right sardonic amusement behind them to make his performance very enjoyable to watch.

Laughton is always believable in this part, and his almost always slightly at ease approach works marvelously for the film. He makes Sir Wilfrid simply a fun, and enjoyable character to follow through the film, and his whole character acts as a terrific foil to the more dramatic rest of the film. 

His back and fourths with Lancaster are great as he gets annoyed by her, or by her demands for his health, as well as he tries to trick her in the way he still drinks and smoke. They simply work wonderfully together, and have the pitch perfect squabbles with one another, that are properly amusing, as well as not over doing it in order to keep it in line with the rest of the film.

Laughton as well excels in the court room scenes. He holds the right charisma, and undeniable presence in these moments. His cross examinations of witnesses, and his objections are always entertaining to watch, and very effective. He shows an exceptional sway, and certain way in these moments that shows the great abilities in the courtroom of Sir Wilfrid perfectly.

His last moments are utterly terrific as well, when Sir Wilfrid finally becomes a loss for words. He frustrations, and disbelief, are brilliantly played by Laughton, showing a different side of Wilfrid, one who does not have all of the answers for once. It just shows that if Wilfrid needed to do even more, Laughton would have been more than up for the job.

This is not an overly complex or complicated performance but it does not need to be, and Laughton knew exactly how to play a part like this. He makes his part entertaining throughout, and always brings out just about everything that could be brought out of the part. He brings every witty moment the character could have brilliantly. Laughton just gives a great example of what an old pro can do, even with a technically not all that complicated of a part.


dinasztie said...

I would vote for him. :) He's brilliant. If Henry Fonda had been nominated, I would have voted for him, probably.

I'm glad you liked him and this was a really interesting review! :)

RatedRStar said...

Great actor, great film, great performance =).

dshultz said...

Still vying for Guinness, my main man.

Michael Patison said...

What'd you think of the film?

Louis Morgan said...

Quite liked it.

Michael Patison said...

I completely agree. I enjoyed the entire thing. I thought the performances were quite good all around, including Dietrich, who effectively acted instead of sticking to her iconic sort of role, and even Tyrone Power, who I felt was thoroughly less wooden than he is in pretty much every other role. I've only seen it once, but I don't think that I will like it any less even knowing the ending.