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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » The Paradine Case (Blu-ray)
The Paradine Case (Blu-ray)
Kino // Unrated // May 30, 2017 // Region A
List Price: $19.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted June 16, 2017 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
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Alfred Hitchcock's The Paradine Case (1947) doesn't get high marks among cinema scholars and film fans, despite its top-tier cast and lavish production values. Produced by David O. Selznick, who wrote the shooting script, the film marked the end of Hitchcock's seven-year contract with the notorious micromanager.

Though set in England, except for some second unit shots the film was shot entirely in Hollywood, with a miscast Gregory Peck starring as a famous barrister defending an exotically beautiful woman (Alida Valli) accused of murdering her blind, older husband, a respected retired colonel.

The movie starts promisingly, with wealthy widow Maddalena Paradine (Valli) somberly playing the piano in her London home, aware that she's about to be arrested and charged with fatally poisoning her husband. In a very good sequence anticipating Hitchcock's later The Wrong Man (1957), she's led to prison, booked and locked in her cell.

Kindly old solicitor Sir Simon Flaquer (Charles Coburn) hires celebrated barrister Anthony Keane (Peck) to defend her. He's happily married to devoted wife Gay (Ann Todd) and, unusually suggestive for the period, it's clear they maintain a very active sex life. However, Keane is almost instantly mesmerized by Maddalena's striking, enigmatic beauty. She offers no particular defense, and the movie audience is pretty certain almost from the start that Maddalena is guilty, or at least an accessory to murder. Keane, however, is so attracted to his client that he loses all perspective, determined to prove her supposed innocence.

And therein lies The Paradine Case's fatal flaw. Instead of the movie audience empathizing with Keane's attraction of Maddalena and accepting his rationalizations in arguing for her acquittal, he merely seems increasingly extraordinarily foolish. His infatuation doesn't just cloud his judgment, from the moment Sir Simon introduces Keane to Maddalena he seems incapable of making any wise decisions, regardless of her guilt or innocence.

Selznick and Hitchcock had other actors in mind, coveting the retired Greta Garbo for Maddalena, and primarily Laurence Olivier for Keane. Olivier would certainly have been a better choice than Peck, who speaks with an American accent and, despite sincere efforts, never is credible. Peck was barely 30 years old, too young even with grayed temples to be playing a character that should be at least 50. Garbo was apparently screen-tested but ultimately turned the part down, yet Alida Valli is excellent and, indeed, uniquely alluring much as Garbo was before her.

Hitchcock was also unhappy with the casting of Louis Jourdan (making his screen debut), like Valli then under contract with Selznick. His character, Latour, the colonel's fiercely loyal valet and Maddalena's possible lover, is critical to the plot, but Hitchcock rightly felt the role should have been played by an actor like Robert Newton (whom Hitchcock apparently wanted), ruddy-faced and working class. Jourdan, on the other hand, is dashingly handsome and cultured-looking.

The movie is lush in the extreme. The sets, including a faithful recreation of the Old Bailey, complete with ceiling, helped drive up the final cost to $4.25 million, a huge budget in 1947 dollars. Indeed, the entire film is so baroque in its art direction and cinematography, in many ways it visually resembles Orson Welles's Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons, to the point where I was surprised that it hadn't been shot by Gregg Toland or Stanley Cortez (the DPs of those movies, respectively). The sets of the Paradine's Lake District estate strongly resemble the Amberson's home in Welles's movie and might well have been redressed sets.

Another peculiar quality to The Paradine Case is the casting of Charles Laughton as Judge Lord Thomas Horfield, and Ethel Barrymore as his long-suffering wife, Lady Sophie. Each is good in their colorful parts, with Horfield depicted as a sadist and sexual harasser, in one very uncomfortable scene grabbing Gay's hands and touching her knee and she discreetly fends him off. Wild-eyed Lady Sophie, seemingly aware of her husband's abhorrent behavior, quietly but desperately pleads for his love yet he seems to delight in humiliating her. But what's the point? These scenes have no bearing on the story, and if their intention was to contrast the happy and later threatened marriage of Keane and Gay they go nowhere. (In a longer, pre-release version of the film, Barrymore's part and possibly Laughton's were considerably expanded, which may account for their lack of clarity in the final cut.)

Coburn and Joan Tetzel, as his daughter, are also very good, but for all its lavishness the picture is a non-starter.

Video & Audio

In black-and-white, The Paradine Case looks good on Blu-ray, with early reels particularly outstanding in their clarity, while later reels are a tad softer and more washed out. The mono 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio is okay, though I found myself having to adjust the volume to catch the quieter moments of dialogue while turning down the volume whenever Franz Waxman's overemphatic score (available on an isolated track) blares away, sometimes at inappropriate moments. Optional English subtitles are included on this Region A disc.

Extras

As with most Hitchcock titles on DVD and Blu-ray, extensive supplements compliment the disc. Stephen Rebello and Bill Krohn provide an audio commentary, while Hitchcock himself is interviewed extensively about the film in separate 1960s audio conversations with directors Francois Truffaut and Peter Bogdanovich, while images from the film unfold onscreen. There's a brief featurette with Peck's surviving children, Celia and Carey, and an hour-long radio adaptation starring Valli, Jourdan, and Valli's Third Man co-star, Joseph Cotten. A trailer is also included.

Parting Thoughts

Still worth seeing if a major disappointment, The Paradine Case is Recommended.





Stuart Galbraith IV is the Kyoto-based film historian largely absent from reviewing these days while he restores a 200-year-old Japanese farmhouse.

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