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Monthly Archives: March 2012

Musik i mörker (Jan. 17, 1948)

After Ingmar Bergman’s last movie, Skepp till India land (A Ship to India) (1947), I was expecting more of the dismal same from this one.

Skepp till India land is a bleak, claustrophobic tale of a miserable family, so when I sat down to watch Musik i mörker (Music in Darkness), which is about a blind musician, I was prepared for something even glummer.

Surprisingly, Musik i mörker is a romantic and even sometimes whimsical film. Birger Malmsten, who played the bitter, hunchbacked son in Skepp till India land, here plays a sweeter, more likable character.

Musik i mörker is based on the novel by Dagmar Edqvist, and she and Bergman collaborated on the screenplay. Malmsten plays Bengt Vyldeke, a young musician who is blinded during his military training (when he attempts to save a little dog that runs out onto a firing range, of all things).

Bergman visually represents Bengt’s initial shock and the blindness that results from his accident in a bizarre dream sequence, shown in the still below:

That’s about as extravagant as Bergman gets in Musik i mörker, but the entire film is pleasingly shot. The lighting is especially good, and beautifully complements the fresh-faced beauty of Mai Zetterling.

Zetterling plays Ingrid, a lower-class servant girl who works for Bengt’s family. She cares for him after he loses his sight, but he is caught in a spiral of self-pity, and eventually he offends her deeply enough to drive her away.

In his second autobiography, Images: My Life in Film (1990), Bergman wrote of making Musik i mörker, “My only memory of the filming is that I kept thinking: Make sure there are no tedious parts. Keep it entertaining. That was my only ambition.”

I think he succeeded. The events of the film are small and intimate, but they move along at a nice clip. Bengt takes a job playing piano in a saloon, he’s cheated by someone he trusts, and he tries to make Ingrid a part of his life again. Meanwhile, Ingrid develops a relationship with a young intellectual named Ebbe (Bengt Eklund) and resists Bengt’s advances when he reenters her life.

Musik i mörker still shows Bergman developing as a director. It’s not a towering cinematic achievement like some of his later films, but it’s a satisfying picture full of gentle romance and bittersweet moments.

I Walk Alone (Jan. 16, 1948)

It’s the battle of the strutting, preening alpha males!

Fighting out of the blue corner, with the prison pallor, the brand new cheap suit, and the “not good, not bad” room at the Avon, it’s Frankie Madison (Burt Lancaster), former world heavyweight champion of bootlegging.

Fighting out of the red corner, with the jutting cleft chin, the expensive wardrobe, and the controlling interest in the swank night spot the Regent Club, it’s Noll “Dink” Turner (Kirk Douglas), the current world heavyweight champion of upscale criminality.

Let’s get ready to ruuuuuuuuuuuuuuumble!

When the film begins, Frankie, a former hard man in the bootlegging rackets who came up in a tough neighborhood and knew how to handle himself, has just gotten out of prison after a 14-year stretch for murder.

He’s picked up at Grand Central Station by his old friend Dave (Wendell Corey), who’s now the bookkeeper for Dink Turner.

The killing that sent Frankie to prison occurred when he and Dink were running rye whiskey from Canada through upstate New York and they blew through a roadblock set up by hijackers, which led to a chase and a gun battle that left one of the hijackers dead. Afterward, Dink and Frankie split up and agreed to go 50-50 for each other, no matter what happened or which one of them got nabbed.

All of Turner’s men call him “Noll” now, but Frankie mostly still refers to him as “Dink.” When Dave takes Frankie to the Regent Club, Frankie recognizes his old friend Dan (Mike Mazurki), a hulking mug who used to be behind the door of Dink and Frankie’s speakeasy the Four Kings, staring through a little peephole. Now he’s out front, in a snappy uniform.

A lot has changed in 14 years, but Frankie’s still the same guy he was when he went to prison.

Dink tells him, “The world’s spun right past you, Frankie. In the ’20s you were great. In the ’30s you might’ve made the switch, but today you’re finished. As dead as the headlines the day you went into prison.” (On New Year’s Day, 1930, Burt Lancaster was 16 years old and Kirk Douglas had just turned 13, so I think both men might be a little young for the roles they’re playing.)

The Regent Club was built on the force of Dink’s personality. It was his personality that controlled Frankie back in their bootlegging days. He expects the force of his personality to still be able to get Frankie to do what he wants, but all of his smooth talk and finesse only carries him so far.

Frankie is bitter than Dink never came to personally visit him in prison, and instead sent Dave, even though the prison was only an hour’s drive on the new parkway. All Dink did was send Frankie a carton of cigarettes a month.

Dink tells Frankie he feels terrible about never coming to see him, but that he just couldn’t be associated with a convicted murderer when he was building up a high-class joint like the Regent Club. Back in the days of the Four Kings they ruled things by force, but now Dink deals with banks and lawyers, and his nightclub has a Dun & Bradstreet rating.

Dink manages to deflect Frankie for a little while by setting him up with his paramour Kay Lawrence, who’s played by the angular, dead-eyed beauty Lizabeth Scott. Dink tells Kay he wants her to find out what Frankie really wants, so he can help him, but she can’t help falling for Frankie a little, especially after Dink shows his true colors by planning to marry the wealthy Mrs. Alexis Richardson (Kristine Miller) while telling Kay that it’s just to increase his wealth and prestige, and his upcoming nuptials don’t have to change anything between him and Kay.

Frankie is volatile and brutish. He wants what’s his. But he’s like a bulldozer and Dink is like a silk curtain. No matter how hard he comes at him, Dink just seems to slide harmlessly to one side.

Dink tells Frankie that their 50-50 agreement was based on their partnership in the Four Kings, not on anything future. Dave brought Frankie a lot of things to sign in prison that he didn’t read very carefully, and one of them was a dissolution of his partnership in the Four Kings. After closing costs, plus 6% interest compounded over 14 years, there’s $2,912 Frankie has coming to him. Dink makes it an even $3,000 and wishes him well. Frankie wants half of everything Dink has, but Dink doesn’t think Frankie’s entitled to anything Dink earned on his own after the Four Kings closed down. “How can you collect on a race when you don’t hold a ticket?” Dink asks Frankie rhetorically.

This confrontation occurs about two-thirds of the way through the film, and it’s a great sequence. Burt Lancaster was a former acrobat and circus performer, and he was always wonderful at using his body. When he finally realizes how little he can do to get what he wants from Dink, he stands alone in the middle of Dink’s conference room, his fists balled, bent over in anguish.

I Walk Alone was directed by Byron Haskin and produced by Hal B. Wallis. The screenplay is by Charles Schnee, and it’s based on the play Beggars Are Coming to Town by Theodore Reeves.

It’s not a bad film, but it’s not good enough to be called a classic. Part of the problem is that it too often strays from its most compelling feature, the snarling macho men at its center who oppose each other. I was really caught up in the story when Dink denies Frankie his half and Frankie vows to kill him, but then the story veers into less interesting territory. Where does Dave’s loyalty lie? What does Dink have over Dave? Will Dave be able to break free? Does Kay really love Frankie? And so on.

Lancaster and Douglas are both outsized personalities who dominate the screen. By the time things come to a head two-thirds of the way through the film, the picture might have been more compelling if it focused solely on them and their head-to-head conflict, instead of spinning off a variety of plot threads.

The film ends with a shootout in a darkened room that we’ve seen a hundred times before and will probably see a thousand times again. Like everything else in the film, it’s not terrible, but it’s too run-of-the-mill to be truly outstanding.

I Walk Alone is definitely worth seeing if you’re a die-hard fan of either of the two lead actors, and worth a look for film noir fans who’ve never seen it. If, however, you’re looking for something truly great, I Walk Alone never quite rises above the level of entertaining mediocrity.

I Love Trouble (Jan. 10, 1948)

Are there any fans of the old ABC TV series 77 Sunset Strip (1958-1964) out there?

If you have fond memories of that hepper than hep private eye show, you might be interested to know that this little mystery programmer is where it all started.

S. Sylvan Simon’s I Love Trouble is based on Roy Huggins’s novel The Double Take, and stars Franchot Tone as Stuart Bailey, a pencil-necked P.I. with a high forehead and an eye for the ladies.

Bailey was later (and more famously) played by Efrem Zimbalist Jr. — first in “Anything for Money,” an episode of the ABC series Conflict (1956-1957), and then in the ongoing series 77 Sunset Strip, where he was paired with a partner, Jeff Spencer (Roger Smith).

I haven’t read any novels by Roy Huggins, but if I Love Trouble is any indication, he was a writer firmly in the mold of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. With a title like I Love Trouble, I was expecting a lighthearted mystery-comedy, so I was pleasantly surprised when it turned out to be a hard-boiled mystery with crisp dialogue and a well-rendered Los Angeles backdrop.

Ralph Johnston (Tom Powers), a wealthy gentleman who used to run with “a pretty rugged crowd,” hires Stuart Bailey to find out more about his wife Jane, who has been receiving threatening letters. Johnston says Jane is sheltered, unaccustomed to trouble, and couldn’t possibly be mixed up with anything shady. He believes one of his old friends resents Jane, got plastered, and sent her a threatening letter. Bailey responds that Jane spotted him tailing her, and that’s pretty uncommon for someone who was just a “nice quiet sorority girl at UCLA.”

Although he suspects there’s more to the story than Johnston is telling him, Bailey heads for Portland, Jane’s hometown, where he finds out that a high school diploma wasn’t the only piece of paper she picked up. She also got a work permit to dance at “Keller’s Carousel,” a seedy little club on South Broadway.

Keller (Steven Geray) and his henchman Reno (John Ireland) don’t take kindly to snoopers, and they send Bailey home with a few black-and-blue souvenirs.

Back in Los Angeles, Bailey is approached by a woman named Norma Shannon (Janet Blair), who claims to be Jane’s sister from Portland. But she doesn’t recognize the theatrical head shot of Jane sitting in Bailey’s apartment. What’s going on?

I Love Trouble is a solid B movie from Columbia Pictures. It’s chock-full of beautiful actresses (Adele Jergens doesn’t even rate a mention in my plot summary, but I sure was happy to see her in a swimsuit). It’s sometimes hard to distinguish one from another, but if you’re paying attention (and have ever read Chandler’s Lady in the Lake), you’ll realize why that actually works in the film’s favor.

As played by Tone, Stuart Bailey isn’t a very memorable character. Tone is simply too gangly and effete to be fully believable as a hard-boiled P.I, but the story is good, the dialogue is hard-boiled, and the action is tough and fast-paced. I especially enjoyed Bailey’s wisecracking secretary, Hazel “Bix” Bixby (Glenda Farrell).

The Swordsman (Jan. 2, 1948)

Joseph H. Lewis’s Technicolor spectacle The Swordsman takes place in the Scottish highlands toward the end of the 17th century. Clan warfare is what the highlanders live and breathe, and no clan war is as bitter as the one between the MacArdens and the Glowans.

So when Alexander MacArden (Larry Parks) falls into the skirts of the beautiful Barbara Glowan (Ellen Drew) after leaping onto her moving coach (as swashbuckling heroes in Technicolor spectacles are wont to do) he naturally tells her his name is “Duncan Fraser.”

This little deception allows him to go “undercover” amongst the Glowans along with his rotund, Falstaffian sidekick Angus MacArden (Edgar Buchanan).

After the obligatory sequence of highland games (including a javelin throwing competition that I’m not sure is culturally accurate as well as a “walk the greased plank to grab a caged piglet” competition that you probably won’t be seeing at your local highland games anytime soon), Alexander is found out by the Glowans and has to flee.

The rest of the film is a well-paced and exciting adventure story. Alexander and Barbara’s star-crossed love suffers the predictable travails, but I liked that there were few contrived misunderstandings between the two.

Alexander attempts to broker peace between the Glowans and the MacArden, and there’s nothing like a marriage to do it.

But restive elements in both clans work against a truce, and there’s plenty of double-dealing and murder afoot.

Wilfred H. Petitt’s script doesn’t always jibe with what we see on screen. For all the talk of “claymores” I never saw one of those fearsome two-handed Scottish long swords, only rapiers.

Larry Parks will never be mistaken for swashbuckling superstars like Errol Flynn or Tyrone Power, but at this point I can’t remember the last swashbuckling film Flynn made, and while I love Power, there’s no question that The Swordsman contains more thrills per minute than the ambitious but flawed Captain From Castile (1947).

The Swordsman is a really fun adventure picture. The pacing of the film is excellent, and Hugo Friedhofer’s score is rousing and exciting. I wasn’t bored for a single moment of the film’s 80-minute running time.

The 10 Best Films of 1947

When it came time to put together this year’s rundown of my top 10 favorite films, I had trouble narrowing things down to a short list of even just 25 possibilities. (Consequently, this year’s list of honorable mentions is longer than usual.) Part of the problem was that I watched many more movies during 1947 than I did in previous years.

But another part of the problem is that 1947 was a good year for great films, particularly film noirs. So just because Odd Man Out and Brighton Rock didn’t make my cut for the top 10 doesn’t mean they’re not both great films. They’re two of the best noirs that the British movie industry every produced. But I wanted my top 10 list to have a bit of variety, so some great films had to go on the “honorable mention” pile, including Anthony Mann’s first really great noir, T-Men, Orson Welles’s bizarre but very entertaining The Lady From Shanghai, Elia Kazan’s wonderful Boomerang, and Edward Dmytryk’s hard-hitting Crossfire.

Picking a film for the #1 spot proved especially difficult, and I struggled with my two top choices, Jacques Tourneur’s Out of the Past and Robert Rossen’s Body and Soul. Out of the Past has been a part of my life for 20 years, and it’s one of my favorite noirs. Body and Soul, on the other hand, is a film I saw for the first time this year.

But eventually I went with Body and Soul, because I love boxing, and it’s not only one of the best boxing films of all time, but also a great noir and a powerfully told story of redemption featuring a brilliant lead performance by John Garfield.

It wasn’t quite a coin flip, but it was close.

Anyway, 1947 was a significant year not only for noir but for the film industry in general. The previous year had been the most financially successful year in Hollywood history, which led to the construction of 500 new movie palaces containing half a million new seats in 1947. It was the single biggest year of movie theater construction since the boom of the ’20s, but movie attendance was beginning to fall off, and on most nights a lot of those new seats were empty.

Did the fault lie with television? It’s certainly possible, since 1947 was the year TV really started to make inroads. On November 6, 1947, the television show Meet the Press made its debut on NBC. (It’s still being broadcast, and is the longest-running program on TV.) Truman was the first U.S. president to see himself on television. And in 1947, there were roughly 12,000 televisions in Manhattan saloons, and they increased business tremendously. The day when there would be a television in nearly every living room in America was years away, but the handwriting was on the wall.

The five top-grossing films in 1947 were Road to Rio, My Wild Irish Rose, Captain from Castile, The Bishop’s Wife, and Unconquered. Three were in Technicolor and the other two were comedies, which says as much about the state of the film industry in 1947 as anything else. The days of Hollywood attempting to lure people away from the TV sets in their living rooms with spectacles like 3-D and Cinemascope weren’t too far away.

1. Body and Soul

Robert Rossen’s Body and Soul is the first really great boxing film, and it still stands as one of the best. John Garfield’s performance as tortured pugilist Charlie Davis is pitch-perfect, and James Wong Howe’s black and white cinematography is gorgeous. As good as Raging Bull (1980) is, it still owes an enormous debt to this film. And so does nearly every boxing picture made after 1947. Despite a sense of familiarity to the plot elements, Body and Soul still manages to feel fresh.

2. Out of the Past

When Jacques Tourneur directed Out of the Past, no one knew what “film noir” was. But now that we’ve made that shifty, seductive genre a part of our vocabulary, my vote for greatest noir of all time goes to Out of the Past. The plot is often confusing for first-time viewers, but it barely matters. The situations, dialogue, performances, and black and white cinematography are pitch-perfect.

3. Gentleman’s Agreement

Gregory Peck plays a magazine writer who pretends to be Jewish in order to write an exposé on anti-Semitism. Director Elia Kazan’s fourth film dominated the 20th Academy Awards, winning best picture, director, and best supporting actress. It remains one of the most powerful and thoughtful films about the “polite face” of intolerance and the silent majority that allows prejudice to flourish.

4. Brute Force

Brute Force was Jules Dassin’s first film noir, and it’s still one of his best. Burt Lancaster and Hume Cronyn play two men on opposite sides of the prison bars. Lancaster is planning a revolt so he and his fellow prisoners can crash out, but Cronyn is the tyrannical leader of the guards who will stop at nothing to quell the riot, even if it leaves dozens dead.

5. Nightmare Alley

In Nightmare Alley, Tyrone Power plays against type as a grasping, duplicitous carny who graduates to tony nightclub performances and fleecing the wealthy. He has an innate ability to see through people and glean their pasts, their innermost desires, and their secrets, but he has no ability to truly care for anyone but himself, which leads him down a memorably degrading path.

6. Kiss of Death

Kiss of Death is director Henry Hathaway’s greatest noir. It’s a mix of the semi-documentary style of his earlier films The House on 92nd Street (1945) and 13 Rue Madeleine (1947) with the hard-boiled conventions of his private eye flick The Dark Corner (1946). Victor Mature plays Nick Bianco, a con willing to stool for the D.A. to stay out of prison and be with his daughters after his wife dies, and Richard Widmark plays Tommy Udo, an underworld character so grotesque he seems as if he’d be more comfortable in a Dick Tracy newspaper strip than real life. The two men’s destinies intertwine in this powerful thriller that makes good use of its location footage in New York, New Jersey, and Sing Sing prison.

7. Quai des Orfèvres

Nothing spices up a love triangle like murder, and nothing elevates a routine police procedural like the sure hand of director Henri-Georges Clouzot, who is ultimately less interested in the mechanics of unraveling a murder mystery than he is in showing human life in all of its sordid glory. Quai des Orfèvres is a meticulously crafted film that brilliantly evokes Paris in the early months of winter.

8. A Double Life

George Cukor’s A Double Life stars Ronald Colman as a brilliant stage actor who loses himself so completely in each of his roles that he has to be careful about which parts he accepts. Colman took home the Academy Award for best actor for his role as Anthony John, a man who loses his grip on sanity after playing the role of Othello on Broadway for more than 200 performances.

9. Miracle on 34th Street

Edmund Gwenn won the Academy Award for best supporting actor for his role as a department store Santa who claims that his name is Kris Kringle and that he really is Santa Claus. Miracle on 34th Street is a holiday classic and a wonderful film. It walks the tricky line between faith and skepticism without ever going too far in either direction.

10. Black Narcissus

Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s Black Narcissus is a sensuous, beautifully lensed Technicolor production. Deborah Kerr plays a young Anglican nun who is appointed Sister Superior of the Convent of the Order of the Servants of Mary, Calcutta. Not only does the convent occupy an abandoned harem high in the Himalaya mountains, but Sister Clodagh will be the youngest Sister Superior in the history of her order. The film is a fine character study and a well-acted story of the clash between fantasy and reality. Its visual textures, breathtaking scenery, and exquisite attention to detail are overwhelming.

Honorable Mentions:

The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer, The Bishop’s Wife, Boomerang, Brighton Rock, Crossfire, Dark Passage, The Farmer’s Daughter, The Gangster, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, The Lady From Shanghai, Monsieur Vincent, My Favorite Brunette, Odd Man Out, Ramrod, T-Men.

Brighton Rock (December 1947)

John Boulting’s Brighton Rock is an indelible portrait of evil. Richard Attenborough’s portrayal of 17-year-old gangster Pinkie Brown is one of the nastiest and coldest characterizations I’ve ever seen on film.

While Pinkie Brown’s crimes may pale in comparison with cinematic bogeymen like Hannibal Lecter — Pinkie is a garden-variety murderer, schemer, racketeer, and despoiler of women — Attenborough’s uncompromisingly nasty performance has no equal.

Brighton Rock is based on the novel by Graham Greene. It takes place during the interwar years in the seaside resort town of Brighton, home of the Brighton Racecourse, where Pinkie and his crew ply their protection racket.

Before seeing this film, my only image of Attenborough was as the middle-aged, pouchy-eyed RAF Squadron Leader of The Great Escape (1963) and as the grandfatherly CEO of Jurassic Park (1993). If I’d missed the credits, I never would have recognized him. He was 23 or 24 when he appeared in Brighton Rock, a little older than the 17-year-old hoodlum he was playing, but nevertheless he was perfectly cast.

Attenborough has the smooth, angelic face of a choirboy, but his eyes are cold and malevolent. Pinkie is a young man with no past and no future. There is no real explanation of how he came to be the way he is, and his homicidal impulses and poor planning guarantee that he is not long for this world.

The film begins with the choice Pinkie makes that will seal his downfall. It’s fitting that it’s a murder committed not out of necessity, but in retaliation for a perceived slight. Pinkie blames a newspaper writer named Fred Hale (Alan Wheatley) for the death of his gang’s leader, so when Hale is in Brighton for a day, Pinkie sets his sights on him.

After threatening Hale in a pub, Pinkie and his henchmen — the happy-go-lucky ne’er-do-well Cubitt (Nigel Stock) and the coldly efficient Dallow (William Hartnell) — pursue Hale through the throngs of summertime beachgoers in a pulse-pounding sequence. Pinkie finally corners Hale and murders him on a carnival ride.

It’s appropriate that it’s a fun-house ride to hell, with painted demons and cartoonish monsters flying toward the riders, since Pinkie is himself headed to hell, and Brighton Rock is the chronicle of his dissolution.

His murder of Hale piques the interest of Ida Arnold (Hermione Baddeley), a brassy music-hall singer who spent some time with Hale on the day of his death. However, Pinkie’s attempt to create an alibi for himself only creates a second possible witness — a shy waitress named Rose (Carol Marsh) — after Pinkie’s elderly henchman Spicer (Wylie Watson) bungles the job of trying to create a false trail for the police to follow.

Pinkie’s interest in Rose causes her to become deeply attached to Pinkie. She falls in love with him, even though she knows how wicked he is.

Pinkie’s evil is inextricably tied to his Catholicism. He’s not a psychopath who doesn’t understand the difference between right and wrong. His rejection of goodness is a conscious decision. As he tells Rose, “These atheists don’t know nothing. Of course there’s a hell, flames, damnations, torments.”

Pinkie knows he is damned. He just doesn’t care.

Rose is his diametrical opposite. Modern viewers might have trouble swallowing how deeply devoted Rose is to Pinkie, despite his clear disdain of her, but her love of Pinkie is a mirror of her devotion to God. It’s the kind of devotion that asks nothing in return.

When Pinkie tries to convince her they should enter into a suicide pact (which he calls a “suicide pax” — as a Catholic he knows that “pax” means “peace”), she weepingly protests that it’s a mortal sin. He responds, “Just one more.”

If you care for the character of Rose, Brighton Rock can be a difficult film to watch. While the ending of the film is an ironic demonstration of “the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God,” watching Pinkie systematically attempt to destroy such a simple, sweet-natured young woman is appalling.

On the other hand, it’s his unblinking awfulness that makes Brighton Rock such a powerful film. Most film villains have something that makes them likable or fun to watch — a sardonic sense of humor, a glimmer of goodness, a tragic origin story. Pinkie has none of these things. He is a nasty piece of work, through and through.

The Paradine Case (Dec. 29, 1947)

The Paradine Case
The Paradine Case (1947)
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Selznick Releasing Organization

The Paradine Case was the last film Alfred Hitchcock directed while toiling under the heavy yoke of his contract with David O. Selznick.

Even though The Paradine Case was filmed entirely on sets in Selznick’s studio in Culver City, it ended up costing nearly as much as Gone With the Wind (1939), partly because Selznick insisted on extensive reshoots and constantly rewrote the script. Selznick even took over the postproduction work, editing and scoring the film without Hitchcock’s assistance.

Some of the money shows up on screen, though. The set used for the courtroom scenes that dominate the second half of the film was a perfect facsimile of London’s Old Bailey. It cost Selznick about $80,000 and took 85 days to construct.

The Paradine Case is a talky, slow-moving courtroom drama, and it’s rarely on lists of people’s favorite Hitchcock films, so I had pretty low expectations going in, and was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I probably shouldn’t have been surprised, though. No matter how static the setting or how garrulous the script, Hitchcock always found a way to make the proceedings fun to watch.

He doesn’t go to the lengths he would later go to in set-bound pictures like Rope (1948), with its takes that last an entire reel, or Dial M for Murder (1954), which was shot in 3D to create a sense of immediacy and intimacy, but The Paradine Case contains a lot of long takes and subtle dolly movements at critical moments to keep things interesting.

I think the biggest problem with The Paradine Case is the performance of Italian actress Alida Valli as the accused murderer Mrs. Maddalena Anna Paradine. Valli was touted as the “next big thing” when she appeared in The Paradine Case. She was known professionally as just “Valli,” and her name even appeared in the credits (and on the poster above) in a different font than the other actors’ names.

Grant and Valli

The central conceit of the film is that the sober, level-headed, married barrister Anthony Keane (Gregory Peck) falls instantly in love with Mrs. Paradine, convincing himself not only that she is innocent of the crime of poisoning her husband, but that he knows who is really guilty — Colonel Paradine’s valet, Andre Latour (Louis Jourdan).

The problem, for me at least, is that Valli is too cold and distant to be believable as an irresistible femme fatale. On the other hand, it does lend her character an air of impenetrable mystery.

Sparks don’t exactly fly when Valli and Peck share the screen, and Ann Todd is pretty bland as Keane’s too-understanding wife Gay, so I especially enjoyed Charles Laughton’s performance as the mildly sadistic judge who presides over the Paradine case, Lord Thomas Horfield.

The Paradine Case is not a film I’ll be championing as “misunderstood” or “underrated,” and it will never be in a list of my favorite Hitchcock films, but I still thought it was really good. Peck’s accent is a little weird for a London barrister, but the acting in the film is excellent, the story is involving, and the direction is assured.

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