On a cold night in January, I picked Witness for the Prosecution because it appears on 7 lists on icheckmovies (I’m now only 1 movie away from getting a bronze award for 1950s, yay!). It’s a well known classic shot in black and white, a courtroom drama featuring a strong female character… hallmarks of a movie I’d normally love. Yet, it took me three three tries to get through this movie. Why? Was it boring? Nope. Was I extremely busy? Nuh-uh. Did Marlene Dietrich remind me so much of my wicked stepmother that I could only stomach her for minutes at a time? Ding ding ding!
This was actually the first movie I’d seen Marlene Dietrich in, though I’ve seen her image countless times and am familiar with her genderbending cabaret schtick. I was waiting for her to sweep into the scene and wow me. And she did, for a moment, until she opened her mouth. Then I got the heebie jeebies and gazed at the screen in horror. The bleached blonde hair, slim hips and square build, that gravelly voice and dreadful accent (pronouncing “married” like “may-weed”). It was too much! I compulsively checked IMDB see if it was possible that Marlene Dietrich was alive and hiding out in Florida, making some pensioner miserable. I was able to verify that she did in fact die in Paris in 1992, and I also realized that when Witness for the Prosecution was filmed, Marlene Dietrich was 56 years old and looking freakishly good for her age (magical blend of soft focus, caked-on make up, and superior genetics?)
If you’ve ever heard me mention my father’s wife, you probably have an idea of why seeing visage on screen was such an unwelcome surprise. If you’ve never had the pleasure of hearing about that chainsmoking, lifeforce-sucking Berliner with sloppy eyeliner, allow me to catch you up to speed: drunken and verbally abusive voicemails (if you knew her, you wouldn’t answer her calls either), barbs directed at my mother/father/me, outright lies, and clumsy, relentless attempts to prevent my father from seeing me or spending any money on me. And by “spending any money,” I do mean spending ANY money. For my 21st birthday, they gave me a used fannypack that looked like it had been picked out of someone’s trash. I looked through it to see if there was somehow something more to it and, joy of all joys, found a dollar bill crumpled up in an inside pocket. If they’d found it before me, I’m sure they would have kept it, but as it was, I pocketed the dollar and threw away the fannypack. Happy birthday to me.
Anyways, back to the movie… the movie… this movie is… and… nevermind, I can’t do it. I can’t separate this movie from awful associations with my stepmother. Watch the movie if you find black and white courtroom dramas appealing. Also, you lovers of camp will want to check out one of the hammiest scenes I’ve ever had the pleasure of guffawing at. Click it, I beg you, it’s 19 seconds well spent and don’t worry, no spoilers except that Marlene Dietrich’s character appears on the stand as a witness for… you guessed it, the prosecution.