The Paradine Case

THE PARADINE CASE was a losing proposition for director Alfred Hitchcock, thanks to the control factor of David O. Selznick, who produced and wrote the screenplay. The plot was taken from a 1933 book by Robert Hitchens, a prolific British writer whose “The Garden Of Allah” had been luxuriously filmed by Selznick. The ever-meddling producer took over the scripting after initial drafts by James Birdie, Ben Hecht and Hitch’s wife Alma Reville failed to please him. Having scored with the director and star Gregory Peck on Spellbound, Selznick insisted on casting the American as an English barrister who becomes besotted with his client, on trial for murder, and in doing so threatens his marriage and reputation. By the time production wrapped, cast and director were fed up, and Selznick had expended $4,258,000—nearly as much as he’d spent on Gone With The Wind—for a talky, set-bound courtroom melodrama. Released in the last week of 1947, the ’48 receipts of just $5,900,000, 54th for the year, tabulated as a money bomb.

Men who’ve been good too long get a longing for the mire and want to wallow in it.”

Postwar London. ‘Maddalena Anna Paradine’ (Alida Valli) is Italian, striking and hard-to-read. She’s also accused of the poisoning murder of her blind—and wealthy—British husband. Lauded barrister ‘Anthony Keane’ (Peck) takes her case, and before you can say “beware those seductive enigmatic glances” he falls for the elegant but icy lady, even though he’s ostensibly happily married (cool-visaged Ann Todd plays the loyal but suspicious wife). Complicating a successful defense is the publicly sarcastic, privately sadistic judge ‘Lord Horfield’ (Charles Laughton) and the mystery role of ‘André Latour’ (Louis Jourdan), the dead husband’s tightly-wound manservant.

The weak aspects are balanced by the positives (or the other way around, depending on your take). Selznick’s lopsided script and the editing leave emotional motivations cloudy and investigative procedures (namely the lack of them) missing. Franz Waxman’s overly lush score is on the sappy side.

It looks good, thanks to Lee Garmes cinematography, and the actors strive to bring some color to the profuse palaver. Peck’s attempt at a British accent doesn’t fool anyone (still, it’s better than the one he deployed many years later for The Sea Wolves) but he does fine conveying his character’s dilemmas, especially in the trial section. His hair was greyed to make him appear older, ‘more mature’ than his 31 years. The film served to internationally introduce Valli (26, a big star in Italy) and Jourdan (26, formerly of the French Resistance): she’s interesting rather than exciting; Jourdan brims with coiled anxiety. Ann Todd brings conviction to her alarmed spouse, and Laughton keeps himself in check as the unsympathetic judge.

The premiere ran 132 minutes, with subsequent cuts bringing it down to 116. Ethel Barrymore is touching as Laughton’s ignored wife but her three minutes of screen time wasn’t enough to warrant drawing the movie’s sole Oscar nomination, Supporting Actress. With Charles Coburn (good as always), Leo G. Carroll, Joan Tetzel, Isobel Elsom and John Williams.

* Hitchcock, besides being beleaguered by the harrying demands of the producer, objected to the casting of Peck, Valli and Jourdan. Peck’s verdict: “David was not a good writer. If there was anything subtle, he would manage to take it out and spell it out in an obvious way.” He later remarked that The Paradine Case was one picture he’d like to burn. It’s not all that bad; even the weaker Hitchcock movies are worth catching.

                                               click to enlarge and read






Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s