Saturday, May 10, 2008

Why does this remind me of agency life? And almost all else?

Just over 50 years ago, the great Billy Wilder collaborated on the screenplay for and directed Charles Laughton, Marlene Dietrich and Tyrone Power in "Witness for the Prosecution." My guess is you'd be better served watching it than "Speed Racer," "What Happens in Vegas," or nearly any other of the current blights on our already blighted "culture."

Here are one minute and four seconds of dialogue that is perfectly fresh yet shockingly quotidian.
If you prefer, here is a link to the clip, pay special attention of Laughton's eyes at the very end of the clip. You will not see a better performance anywhere:

Sir Wilfrid (LAUGHTON): Mrs Vole. Or Mrs Helm; which do you prefer to be called?

Helm (DIETRICH): It does not matter.

Sir Wilfrid: Does it not? In this country, we are inclined to take a rather more serious view of marriage. However, frau Helm, it would appear that when you first met the prisoner in Hamburg, you lied to him about your marital status?

Helm: I wanted to get out of Germany, so—

Sir Wilfrid: You lied, did you not? Just yes or no, please.

Helm: Yes.

Sir Wilfrid: Thank you. And subsequently, in arranging the marriage, you lied to the authorities?

Helm: I, um, did not tell the truth to the authorities.

Sir Wilfrid: You lied to them?

Helm: Yes.

Sir Wilfrid: And in the ceremony of marriage itself, when you swore to love and to honor and to cherish your husband, that, too, was a lie?

Helm: Yes.

Sir Wilfrid: And when the police questioned you about this wretched man who believed himself married and loved, you told them—

Helm: I told them what Leonard wanted me to say.

Sir Wilfrid: You told them that he was at home with you at 25 minutes past 9, and now you say that that was a lie? [beginning to chuckle now]

Helm: Yes, a lie!

Sir Wilfrid: And when you said that he had accidentally cut his wrist, again, you lied? [chuckling again]

Helm: Yes!

Sir Wilfrid: [chuckling further] And now today you've told us a new story entirely! [serious now] The question is, frau Helm, were you lying then, are you lying now, or are you not in fact a chronic and habitual LIAR?!


Gloria said...

What a grand scene: and Laughton's delivery is incredible! it is not only what he does with his eyes, body or face, it's that his voice accompanies his physical expressiveness to the greatest effect. how magnificently Sir Wilfrid goes from the polite but snarky whisper to the enraged roar!

That used to be called good acting: unfortunately, most performers nowadays seem too scared to even try to act (Laughton had guts enough not to care about what the critics would say)

Have you seen "The Epic That Never Was"? It contains the remains of the unfinished "I, Claudius" (1937): Laughton is seen suffering there to get the character (the director, Von Sternberg, wasn't keen on helping the actor), but we also see the scenes where he, in spite of the pain and insecurities, becomes Claudius: it is something worth watching! (but well, I'm Biased ;D)

Tore Claesson said...

The people involved in film today are no longer passionate about anything other than getting it past the focus groups and make a billion bucks.
Nobody is fucking serious about anything any longer.

Laura said...

Agree with Tore, and all they seem to be able to think about is blatant sex, violence, speed and special effects. (I guess that's what they know sells) The intellect and pure drama in this movie is unmatched by what is shown today.

george tannenbaum said...

There is a small, small scene from a lesser Ernst Lubitsch movie called Angel. It stars Marlene Dietrich and Herbert Marshall. This scene in a few seconds tells you more about marriage, life, compromise than nearly anything I have ever seen.

Marlene is getting dressed for the opera. She is attended by a maid and looks ravishing. Herbert Marshall comes in to her dressing room. Marlene says somewhat incredulously, "You're not dwessing?We have the op'wa.

Marshall says, "Ah, the opera. You love the opera; I hate the opera...So, we go to the opera."


Gloria said...

Hey, even a lesser Lubistch beats any average comedy (of any eras).