Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Tonight's Movie: The Paradine Case (1947)

Note: This review is my contribution to the Master of Suspense Blogathon hosted by Maddy this weekend at Classic Film and TV Corner. This blogathon celebrating the word of director Alfred Hitchcock is taking place on April 29th and 30th. Please visit Maddy's blog for additional blogathon links!

THE PARADINE CASE (1947) is one of three '40s Alfred Hitchcock films I'd never seen, the others being LIFEBOAT (1944) and UNDER CAPRICORN (1949).

The subject matter of LIFEBOAT hasn't particularly interested me, but there's no particular reason I hadn't seen THE PARADINE CASE or UNDER CAPRICORN other than periodically having read that they were sub-par Hitchcock.

I decided it was finally time to check THE PARADINE CASE off my Hitchcock viewing list, and I'm happy to say I actually found it quite interesting; it proved considerably more enjoyable than I'd been led to believe over the years.

I did think it ran a bit overlong at 115 minutes and could have stood to have its courtroom scenes shaved down -- more on that later -- but otherwise this was an absorbing drama.

As the movie begins, Maddalena Paradine (Alida Valli, billed here simply as Valli) is arrested for the murder of her wealthy, blind husband.

Her solicitor, Sir Simon (Charles Coburn), arranges for Maddalena to be represented in the criminal case by hotshot lawyer Anthony "Tony" Keane (Gregory Peck, who previously starred in Hitchcock's SPELLBOUND).

Tony promptly finds himself strongly attracted to Maddalena, causing his loyal wife Gay (Ann Todd) to feel uneasy. When Tony realizes Gay is right in her concern he offers to give up the case, but Gay encourages him to continue; she feels that he needs to see the case through to the end in order to get Maddalena out of his system.

In the courtroom Keane tries to scapegoat the late Colonel Paradine's manservant Latour (Louis Jourdan) as the murderer, with very unexpected results in more ways than one.

With its large cast and a couple of twists and turns, THE PARADINE CASE perhaps plays closer to something like WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION (1957) than the typical Hitchcock film. That said, despite the courtroom drama the film was also really more about relationships than it was the actual murder case, and I wonder if that's why some viewers have come away dissatisfied.

I actually think trimming the courtroom scenes and focusing even more on the various characters' lives outside the courtroom would have been to the film's benefit; Jourdan's courtroom testimony begins to feel repetitive, while poor Ethel Barrymore seems to have mostly been left on the cutting-room floor.

Barrymore is touching as a woman seeming to teeter on the emotional edge, and her relationship with her husband (Charles Laughton), the lascivious judge presiding over the case, was rather interesting. Even so, I was surprised by her Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination given the brevity of her part.

I don't dislike Peck but at times I can take or leave him, finding him attractive but an actor of limited range; he did hold my attention here and came off well enough, though I suspect other actors could have given his conflicted lawyer greater nuance and depth.

In one of the most striking scenes, Peck's lawyer visits the Paradines' country home in hopes of unearthing clues to exonerate his client. Tony's walk through Maddalena's bedroom very much calls to mind a similar scene from Hitchcock's REBECCA (1940), with a touch of Dana Andrews searching the apartment in Otto Preminger's LAURA (1944) on the side.

Incidentally, in that charming way of classic Hollywood, Peck's lack of a British accent isn't explained, and the same applies to Coburn.

Todd at times rather resembles Eva Marie Saint and seems to foreshadow Hitchcock's classic "cool blondes" of the '50s and '60s. She's a woman who's simultaneously brittle and warm; we see in her first scene with Peck that she is quick to chide him yet equally easy to praise her husband. She deftly conveys a long-married woman who perhaps takes her husband a bit for granted, but at the same time she is fully invested in keeping romance alive. Gay proves to have great insight into Tony's obsession with his latest case -- and how to solve it.

Joan Tetzel is also appealing as Sir Simon's daughter Judy, who serves as a sounding board for both her father and her best friend Gay. Tetzel and Coburn's scenes are quite good and help illustrate that the film's scenes focusing on various characters' relationships eventually outweigh interest in the court case. When the climax of the trial comes to pass, it's rather less interesting than how it will impact the surrounding personalities.

Returning to the subject of the running time, I was surprised that the movie ran only 115 minutes -- closer to 114, but I always round up -- given that both IMDb and the DVD box said it was 125 minutes. I learned that there have been a couple different edits over the years; according to various online references it originally it ran 132 minutes and then 125 before being trimmed down to its current running time.

The cast includes Hitchcock regulars Leo G. Carroll and John Williams; also appearing in small roles are Patrick Aherne, Isobel Elsom, and Leonard Carey.

The movie was beautifully photographed in black and white by Lee Garmes. The score was by Franz Waxman, and the gowns were designed by Travis Banton.

THE PARADINE CASE was written and produced by David O. Selznick from Alma Reville Hitchcock's adaptation of a novel by Robert Hichens. Additional dialogue was provided by the uncredited Ben Hecht.

I watched this film via a Kino Lorber DVD I purchased a few years ago. The print quality is beautiful, and there are impressive extras including a 1949 Lux Radio production with Valli, Jourdan, and Joseph Cotten in Peck's role.

I'm glad that this blogathon prompted me to finally catch up with this film; given that I enjoyed it, perhaps it's time to try UNDER CAPRICORN soon as well?


Anonymous Barry Lane said...

I thought as you do and have written, that the courtroom scenes are tedious, and have also seen comments about Peck, I disagree there. He plays his vulnerable character with great sensitivity. The supporting cast is unparalleled. Especially Laughton, Barrymore, Coburn, and Joan Tetzel. Valli and Jourdan disappoint, at least they do me.

Sidebar. The original choice was Laurence Olivier instead of Peck. I will take Greg. On the other hand, how great woudl this material be pared down for a one-hour television show with Raymond Burr as Perry Mason, Barbara, the two Bills, and Mr. Collins in support. I taste it.

9:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Laura. How wonderful that this was your first viewing and that you ended up loving it so much. I agree it's not your typical Hitch film but it is a good courtroom and relationship drama. It's a pretty solid film despite not really meeting our expectations of Hitchcock content and style.

Nice catch on the homages to those other films in the walk through the bedroom.

I didn't realise so much of Ethel's footage was cut. Such a shame.

Thanks so much for joining.


3:11 AM  
Anonymous nitrateglow said...

I saw The Paradine Case for the first time last year. It was not at all the mess I'd expect and features some wonderful moments and gorgeous cinematography, though I do wish Laurence Olivier had been cast in the lead instead of Peck. I think he would have played the obsessive erotic passion part better, though Peck isn't bad in the least.

The standouts were definitely Laughton and Barrymore. Laughton is so icky and Barrymore is heartbreaking in her fragility.

6:00 PM  
Anonymous Colin McGuigan said...

I revisited this film myself a year or so ago. It's not a total dud, there's always something of value and interest to be found in a Hitchcock movie after all. However, it is problematic. I wasn't that troubled by the length of the courtroom scenes but Peck's character makes it rather heavy going. I don't blame the actor for that though, it's the way it's written. I guess the point is to highlight the obsessive, tunnel vision of the character and the way this has him demolishing everybody and everything around him. Yet it occurs so often, goes on so long, that it becomes wearing and counterproductive.
That said, I do like the way the whole theme of blindness, both physical and emotional permeates it all, and the look of the movie in general.

2:57 AM  
Blogger Silver Screenings said...

This is one I've yet to see. I haven't been enthused about it, and never made the effort to track it down. Your review changed all that, however, and I'll see if it's lurking in my DVD collection somewhere...

4:59 PM  
Blogger Rebecca Deniston said...

This definitely looks like a different kind of movie for Hitch, but that's not a bad thing.

8:13 PM  

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