THE PARADINE CASE (1947): “This was, indeed, no ordinary woman.”

THE PARADINE CASE (1947) – Vanguard Films – ★★1/2

B&W – 114 minutes – 1.33:1 aspect ratio

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Principal cast:  Gregory Peck (Anthony Keane), Ann Todd (Gay Keane), Alida Valli (Mrs. Paradine), Louis Jourdan (Andre Latour), Charles Laughton (Judge Horfield), Charles Coburn (Sir Simon Flaquer), Ethel Barrymore (Lady Horfield).

Screenplay by David O. Selznick, adapted by Alma Reville from the novel by Robert Hichens.

Cinematography by Lee Garmes

Edited by Hal C. Kern

Music by Franz Waxman

A troubled ending:  When Hitchcock entered into production on this movie in 1947, he knew it would be the last film on his contract with David O. Selznick.  While Hitchcock was dedicated to the film, his mind was already on his next project, which he planned to make as an independent producer.   The process of making The Paradine Case was in many ways a mirror of the Hitchcock/Selznick relationship.  It began with much promise, and deteriorated over time.  A controlling producer and disinterested director are not an ideal combination for great filmmaking.

The Story:  The story of The Paradine Case is excellent.  Alida Valli plays Mrs. Paradine, a woman accused of murdering her husband.  Gregory Peck is Anthony Keane, the lawyer hired to defend her in court.  Over time, Peck becomes infatuated with Mrs. Paradine, actually confessing to being in love with her at one point.  As Keane develops an obsession with Mrs. Paradine, his work and his marriage begin to suffer.  Keane’s wife, played by Ann Todd, is well aware of his feelings for his client, and yet urges him on in trying the case.  The situation is further complicated by the judge assigned to oversee the case.  Judge Horfield, played to perfection by Charles Laughton, has a strong attraction to Mrs. Keane.  He makes a pass at her, while her husband is standing just feet away, unaware. She rebuffs him.  Will his anger at being turned away affect his judgment in the case at hand?

Charles Laughton making a move for Ann Todd.

As if that is not enough drama, there is another element added by Mr. Paradine’s valet Andre Latour, played by Louis Jourdan.  Anthony Keane wants to imply that Jourdan’s character may be the real murderer, but Mrs. Paradine opposes this line of defense.  Is it possible that she has feelings for the valet?  Ultimately, Keane’s monomania threatens to destroy his client’s case, his career, and his marriage.   He is able to salvage one of these three things.

The first half of the movie deals with the build-up to the trial, and Keane’s growing fascination.  The second (and far superior) portion of the film focuses on the trial.

Conflict on the set:  Much like the character of Anthony Keane obsessing over his client, David O. Selznick obsessed over the movie, involving himself in every aspect of production.   First of all in his casting choices, many of which Hitchcock was not happy with.  Then, in his constant rewriting of the screenplay.  He would watch the dailies every day, write new pages in the evening, and deliver them to the set in the morning.  As a consequence, many days filming did not being until eleven or twelve.   As Gregory Peck said of Selznick’s rewritten pages, Hitchcock would “see those blue pages in the morning and he would just retreat to his bungalow…in all fairness to Hitch, the dialogue was invariably worse not better.”

Then there was conflict over how the film was lit.  Hitchcock wanted to create a movie that was rich in shadows, but Selznick was having none of it.  Lee Garmes, the veteran cinematographer, was caught in a tug of war between Hitchcock and Selznick.  Hitchcock would ask for more shadows, while Selznick wanted glamour shots, particularly for his newly-discovered star Alida Valli.  He wanted close-ups and bright light on her face.

Selznick would dash off memos to his director, critical of the way the film was being shot.  Selznick said:

There is no shading or attempt to photograph Jourdan interestingly as there was in the first few days, and if we’re not careful this will be true of Valli…We can’t go on photographing the walls and windows, making passport photos, without any modeling to the face, any lighting designed to give the woman interest and beauty and mystery, no study of her best angles and how to light and photograph them.

Describing Hitchcock’s work as  filming “passport photos” is a particularly biting comment, which must not have sat well with the director.

A typical Selznick “glamour shot” of Alida Valli.

Hitchcock also had some elaborate tracking shots planned, which Selznick ordered scrapped and shot conventionally.  Finally, Selznick controlled the editing as well.  Hitchcock turned in a nearly three-hour rough cut, from which Selznick trimmed almost an hour, including some of Hitchcock’s more interesting shots.  Selznick settled on a preview version of the movie, but would ultimately cut an additional ten minutes.  It is uncertain whether a print of this preview version is still in existence, but it would certainly be interesting to see some of the footage that Selznick cut out.

The Hitchcock touch?  Despite this film ultimately being more of a Selznick film than a Hitchcock film, there are still several nice Hitchcock touches throughout.   There is a very well-filmed scene between Gregory Peck and Louis Jourdan.   The conversation has a confrontational air.  Peck sees Jourdan not only as his adversary in the trial, but also a sexual adversary in relation to Mrs. Paradine.  As they sit and face each other across a table, a lamp is suspended above their heads, with decorative crystals hanging from it.

As the scene becomes more intense Hitchcock cuts to a close-up, and now we see only the crystals, suspended almost like a jagged row of teeth above the men’s heads.

There is a scene in the courtroom which Hitchcock was particularly proud of, which involved Alida Valli sitting in the defense box while Louis Jourdan entered the courtroom and walked around the box, to the witness stand.  It was done by shooting Jourdan first, walking through a 200-degree arc.  Then Alida Valli was placed in front of a screen showing this footage, and sat on a stool that slowly turned.  As Hitchcock said:  “It was quite complicated, but it was very interesting to work that out.”

A “complicated” Hitchcock shot. Alida Valli senses Louis Jourdan without ever looking at him.

Finally, there is a trademark Hitchcock overhead shot, following Gregory Peck as he slowly leaves the courtroom for the last time, in defeat.

Performance:  Gregory Peck is a great actor, but Hitchcock may have been right when he stated that Peck was not a convincing English lawyer.   Alida Valli plays Mrs. Paradine as cold and distant.  That is how the character was written in the book, and yet she is also supposed to possess an almost immeasurable allure, affecting every man she comes in contact with.  This allure is missing from Valli’s performance, and the character of Mrs. Paradine suffers for it.  Ann Todd, in the role of Mrs. Keane, also plays her part with a certain detachment.  As Hitchcock said of her character:  “She was too coldly written, I’m afraid.”    And Louis Jourdan, with his charm and good looks, was not exactly what this role called for.  These are certainly all good actors, but they were at odds with the material at hand.  The really good performances in this movie are found in the smaller roles.  Charles Laughton is perfectly cast as the lecherous Judge Horfield, and Ethel Barrymore is also wonderful in the role of his wife.   Charles Coburn is solid, as always, in the role of Sir Simon Flaquer, and Joan Tetzel is a revelation in the role of his daughter, Judy.  She has more vibrancy than all the other women in the movie combined.

Source material:  This film is based upon the 1933 novel by Robert Hichens.  The basic premise of the novel is the same as the movie, and it’s a good one.    The novel is a decent read by today’s standards, although the courtroom scenes at the end are the most gripping part of the book.  There are several differences between the novel and film.  In the novel, Mrs. Paradine is found guilty, but she never actually confesses.  Not only that, but the reader is never definitively told that she killed her husband.   It is implied, but not explicitly stated.    Also Mr. Paradine’s valet,  called William Marsh in the book, does not commit suicide.   At the end of the novel we find out in an aside that Keane has retired from the bar, and that Judge Horfield was shot, and has also retired.   We are led to believe, through a fairly subtle clue,  that Keane shot Horifield.  Lady Horfield is also a more significant character in the novel.

Hitchcock themes:  One of Alfred Hitchcock’s most pervasive themes is that of guilt, both real and perceived.  Everyone in this movie is carrying some level of guilt, except perhaps the lecherous Judge Horfield, who feels no guilt for his actions.  Mrs. Paradine doesn’t express any guilt for her husband’s death, but perhaps feels bad for the way Andre Latour is treated.  Keane feels guilty because he is emotionally unfaithful to his wife.   His wife feels guilty because she cannot stand back and let him try the case.  Latour feels guilty because of his indiscretions with Mrs. Paradine.

There is an interesting comparison to be made between this film and Vertigo.  Both films feature a man falling in love with an idealized version of a woman, a woman that does not really exist.  And in both cases, the man in question blindly pursues this idealized woman to a tragic ending.

Academy Awards:  Ethel Barrymore received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress, for her brief but memorable role as Lady Horfield.  She did not win.  Some may be surprised that a role comprising only three minutes of screen time could be nominated for an Oscar.  The print of this movie that was shown to the Academy for voting consideration was longer than the final theatrical cut, and included some more scenes of Barrymore’s character.

Recurring players:  Gregory Peck had earlier starred in Spellbound.  Charles Laughton had appeared in Jamaica Inn.  The stalwart character actor Leo G. Carroll appeared in more Hitchcock films than any other actor.  In addition to this film, he was in Rebecca, Suspicion, Spellbound, Strangers on a Train, and North by Northwest.  Patrick Aherne (police sergeant) would later have a small role in the 1956 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much.   Leonard Carey (courtroom stenographer) also had bit parts in Rebecca, Suspicion and Strangers on a Train.  Elspeth Dudgeon had appeared in Foreign Correspondent.   Lumsden Hare (courtroom attendant) had appeared in Rebecca and Suspicion.  Phyllis Morris (Mrs. Carr) had a bit part in The 39 Steps.   The great character actor John Williams has an uncredited role as Barrister Collins, Gregory Peck’s assistant.  He is seen in several scenes, but has no dialogue.  He would have plenty of dialogue in Dial M For Murder and To Catch a Thief.  

Joan Tetzel and Charles Coburn provide two of the best performances in the movie.

Where’s Hitch?  Alfred Hitchcock shows up just after the 38:00 mark, exiting the train station, and carrying what appears to be a cello case.

What Hitch said:  Generally speaking, when Hitchcock considered one of his own films to be weak, he had little to say about it.  But he actually had quite a lot to say about this movie, while recognizing its flaws:

Let’s go over some of the more apparent flaws of that picture.  First of all, I don’t think that Gregory Peck can properly represent an English lawyer.  I would have brought in Laurence Olivier…But the worst flaw in the casting was assigning Louis Jourdan to play the groom.  After all, the story of The Paradine Case is about the degradation of a gentleman who becomes enamored of his client, a woman who is not only a murderess, but also a nymphomaniac.  And that degradation reaches its climactic point when he’s forced to confront the heroine with one of her lovers, who is a groom…Unfortunately, Selznick had already signed up Alida Valli – he thought she was going to be another Bergman – and he also had Louis Jourdan under contract, so I had to use them, and this miscasting was very detrimental to the story.  Aside from that, I myself was never too clear as to how the murder was committed, because it was complicated by people crossing from one room to another, up and down a corridor.

Definitive edition:  Kino Lorber released a blu-ray edition in 2017, as part of their Studio Classics series.  The print is good, not great.  As a matter of fact it has a very grainy appearance in places, but it is still better than it has ever looked on a home video release.  The blu-ray includes a commentary track by Bill Krohn and Stephen Rebello; two audio interviews featuring Hitchcock, one with Francois Truffaut and one with Peter Bogdanovich; a Lux Radio Theater radio adaptation starring Joseph Cotten; a brief interview with two of Gregory Peck’s children;  theatrical trailer; and a restoration comparison.


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