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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.

6 responses »

  1. Adam,

    I believed that I was in the minority, in that, I enjoyed, “The Paradine Case”, despite the fact that it has been accused in some quarters as being “too talky”.

    It is reported that the film opened to “mixed reviews”, although some influential critics are recorded as having given it a favourable review both for the film itself and the acting; in fact, for her performance as “Lady Sophie Horfield”, Ethel Barrymore was nominated as “Best Supporting Actress” in the 1947 Academy Awards.

    In my own opinion, Valli, although “cold and distant ” – certainly to Gregory Peck’s character – adds to the “mystery” of the film – and her attitude is aptly explained at its exposition. Valli is probably best remembered, (out of her own native Italy), for her role in “The Third Man”.

    Charles Laughton’s presence in any film, adds to its value and I certainly agree, that, once again, his interpretation of the character is “spot on”, ” stealing” some of the scenes in which he appears.

    Perhaps this film may not be one of Hitchcock’s best or most successful efforts, but it is certainly worth visiting.

    Thank you for your interesting review.


  2. Carl-Edward Endicott

    I think both Ann Todd and Valli arresting presences. If anyone is miscast, it is Gregory Peck, who is completely out of his depth as an Englishman (he has anyway always had about him an unvarying wooden quality). Stewart Granger or David Farrar would have been better suited to the part, with Deborah Kerr as Gay Keane, and Margaret Lockwood as Maddalena Paradine.

    Let us be clear about the titles: Laughton is Lord Horfield: to call him Lord Thomas Horfield would be to make him a younger son of a duke or marquess. His wife is Lady Horfield. As Lady Sophie, she would be the daughter of a duke, marquess or earl. As this is a courtesy title, she would share her husband’s rank, if the latter were above her own rank.

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