Agatha Christie on the Big and Small Screen
Even though Dame Agatha may not have enjoyed adaptations of her mysteries, audiences have been loving them for decades
- By Daniel Eagan
- Smithsonian.com, May 16, 2011
(Mary Evans / Edward Small Productions / Ronald Grant / Everett Collection)
Another all-star production, Witness for the Prosecution (1957) was based on a hit play Christie wrote from a 1925 short story. Director and co-screenwriter (with Harry Kurnitz) Billy Wilder thought that Christie “plotted like a god” but had “cardboard” characters. For this courtroom mystery, Wilder changed the emphasis from murder defendant Leonard Vole (played by Tyrone Power) to Judge Wilfrid Robarts (Charles Laughton), and added an amusing role for Laughton’s wife Elsa Lanchester as a no-nonsense nurse. Wilder also gave Marlene Dietrich, star of his earlier hit A Foreign Affair, a song routine in a flashback sequence. During a trip to Los Angeles, Christie visited the production to look over set designer Alexander Trauner’s meticulous recreation of the Old Bailey Courthouse. She also signed a contract with MGM to write a screenplay from the Charles Dickens novel Bleak House, a project that was never filmed.