I was up late last night due to the combination of a raging case of insomnia and waiting over two hours for LOTRO to download (it’s free to play now, so I figured I’d give it a shot, since Uncharted Waters Online ended up being a colossal disappointment.)
So I decided to watch some free movies on Hulu, so the Boy could continue using the living room television. So that’s how I ended up watching the most bizarre double-feature ever: the animated flick Happily N’ever After and Witness for the Prosecution starring Charles Laughton, Tyrone Power and Marlene Dietrich.
I can really only recommend one of them, and it shouldn’t be too hard to figure out which one.
Regarding Happily N’ever After, I had relatively low expectations for the movie, and it solidly failed to meet them.
When the wicked stepmother is preparing to kill Cinderella, and you’re sort of rooting for her to succeed, it’s probably a bad sign. And honestly, Sigourney Weaver’s stepmother was the closest thing to a sympathetic character for most of the movie, and that was largely by default.
Don’t get me wrong; I love it when a movie starts out with an unlikable hero who eventually redeems himself or herself. I’m just pretty sure we never got to the redemption part.
At most, Cinderella progressed to a character with a marginally functional sense of self-preservation. She was voiced by Buffy’s Sarah Michelle Gellar, who’s capable of playing a likable character, or at least one slightly smarter than a paving brick. Rick (the “hero in disguise” of this mess) didn’t fare much better, as his character progression amounted to taking a break from moping long enough to protest Stepmother toasting his longtime secret crush. As for the prince, oh, Patrick Warburton? Has it really come to this?
So, anyway. I would take a pass on this one. It wasn’t a train wreck on the scale of The Last Airbender, as I’m pretty sure that at least my 6 year old would find it entertaining, but she adores Barbie movies. Let’s leave it at that. (And how damning is that, M.Night? You couldn’t compete with Barbie. Even with a great story someone else wrote.)
Okay, so we’ve dealt with the animated B-movie, let’s move on to the feature presentation, Witness for the Prosecution.
First, I love Hitchcock, and I love it when other directors riff on Hitchcock (which could bring on another M. Night rant, but we’ve already gone there, so never mind). Billy Wilder, by all accounts is an amazing director in his own right. The gist I get is that if you made a Venn diagram of Hitchcock’s style and Wilder’s, the overlap area would be “dark, ironic comedy with a lot of unexpected plot twists.”
Which is, of course, right up my dark ‘n twisty alley.
I’ve seen a couple of Marlene Dietrich films, and I’m going to make an odd comparison to Tom Cruise. The main draw is her own magnetic charisma, and she layers enough raw work ethic on top of that that you can forgive the fact that she’s too-obviously working at it, as long as she picks the right roles. (This is essentially my stance on Cruise, with the addition that Cruise has done a masterful job of exploring the outer edges of his range.) This was probably the perfect role for Dietrich, as her opaque personality and icy determination were exactly what was needed for most of the film, yet when it was time to bring on the melodrama, she genuinely brought it.
I wanted to slap Tyrone Power for most of the movie, but I’m pretty sure that was intentional. You’re just never 100% certain whether he should be slapped for being dumbfoundingly naive, or for being a slimy manipulator. Power does a great job of remaining ambiguous. I read on IMDB later that, like LOST’s season finales, none of the cast knew what the ending of the movie would be until it was time to shoot it. If that’s true, then it served Power well, because he absolutely did not telegraph it. You just got continual glimpses of both possibilities.
But the real star of this movie is unquestionably Charles Laughton, who carries the movie. For those of you who say you don’t like old movies, I would ask if you like the television show House. If so, I bet that you’d like this movie. Laughton’s barrister (British attorney) is equally and irresistibly flawed, fragile and hilarious. Combine an indomitable will to do whatever he pleases no matter how self-destructive, almost no regard for the feelings of others, a brilliantly logical mind, and a razor-sharp wit residing in an infuriatingly damaged body, and you’ve got both Gregory House and Sir Wilfred.
The movie also lacks some of the things that are often off-putting to modern audiences. The dialogue is fast-paced but not so much that it’s difficult to follow, and the language is clear and accessible, with minimal heavy accents (even from Dietrich!), period slang or jarring contemporary references considering it’s half a century old and the characters are all British, German or Scottish.
If you’re looking for something to watch online, and have a couple of hours, I highly recommend Witness for the Prosecution while it’s still available for free on Hulu.