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Savant Review:


The Paradine Case
Anchor Bay
1947 / b&w / 1:37 / Dolby Digital Mono
Starring Gregory Peck, Alida Valli, Ann Todd, Charles Laughton, Louis Jourdan, Ethel Barrymore
Cinematography Lee Garmes
Production Designer J. McMillan Johnson
Film Editors John Faure, Hal C. Kern
Original Music Franz Waxman
Writing credits James Bridie, Alma Reville, David O. Selznick from the novel by Robert Hichens
Produced by David O. Selznick
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Nobody wins them all, and The Paradine Case has the reputation of being one of Alfred Hitchcock's losers.  But is it?  As one of his last assignments under contract to producer / talent broker David O. Selznick, this title charms some people but confuses a lot more.


Distinguished, never-loses-a-case trial lawyer Anthony Keane (Gregory Peck) takes on the murder defense of Mrs. Maddalena Anna Paradine (Alida Valli, billed as just Valli), accused of poisoning her husband, a respected hero blinded in the war.  She's a total mystery, keeping her thoughts and emotions private, yet communicating an attraction toward Keane that disturbs his judgement, and almost ruins his marriage to the understanding Gay (Ann Todd).  Gay must weather both the indignity and helplessness of seeing her husband stray, while enduring the petty advances of trial Judge Lord Thomas Horfield (Charles Laughton). He's a pompous womanizer who treats his poor wife Lady Sophie (Ethel Barrymore) terribly.  Anthony travels to the Paradine country home to investigate valet Andre Latour (Louis Jourdan), who may have aided Paradine in commiting suicide.  Latour is hostile and uncooperative with Keane, and when Maddalena finds out Keane went to the country home, she becomes withdrawn and abrasive as well.  When Keane goes to trial, both his defense and his private life begin to fall apart under personal stress, especially when Anna Paradine's behavior suggests that she's kept a lot hidden from him ...

For an Alfred Hitchcock film, The Paradine Case is not very exciting, or really very memorable.  There are interesting characters, particularly the couple played by Charles Laughton and Ethel Barrymore, but a general lack of development.  Considerable time is used to establish Laughton as a harassing lecher who plagues Ann Todd and humiliates his own wife, but the thread never meshes with the rest of the plot.  Yes, the Judge may be prejudiced against Keane going into the trial, but the disadvantage doesn't seem relevant, considering that Keane never offers a reasonable case anyway.   Joan Tetzel, the daughter of the Paradine family lawyer played by Charles Coburn, exists only to tell Anthony and Gay how they are feeling, and to deliver unnecessary exposition during the trial: "I'm afraid your husband's not doing well."

 The screenplay 'personally' authored by David O. is unusually awkward, even for him.  There's neither motivation for Keane's abrupt tailspin into bewitchment by Valli, and little identification for his predicament - we don't feel mesmerized along with him.  We don't trust Valli's character, and don't understand why potential murder allies in the Paradine household weren't investigated by Keane (or the cops) from the start.  Keane accepts Maddalena's innocence just because 'anyone can see a woman of her quality couldn't do anything like that.'  We never hear much of the police case against her; so we never know exactly what Keane is up against.  If Selznick had set the story fifty years earlier, it would have been more credible.  The low-key approach starts events well, but since the whole show appears to be in denial about Anna Paradine's obvious guilt, what should be big surprises at the finish turn out to to be news only to a shaken Gregory Peck.

The acting is uniformly fine for a film where characters are well-defined but do not develop.  Perhaps Ann Todd would be one of Hitchcock's 'blondes' if she were not given such a dull role.  Her understanding, suffering wife act is well played but very unoriginal in conception.  Alida Valli, the Selznick 'find' who would go on to fame in The Third Man and Eyes Without a Face, apparently enraptures Keane by telepathy, because despite her stunning looks, there's no chemistry whatsoever between her and Gregory Peck.  She's a good case for the axiom that Hitch only related to blondes in his movies!

Lee Garmes pulls off a few understated camera tricks, especially some smooth tracking shots in the courtroom, one of which is a clever rear-projection.  But in general Paradine is almost devoid of Hitchcock touches.  There's hardly a nervous moment or even a narrative surprise.  It really seems as if Hitchcock was himself an unwilling participant in the movie, perhaps fulfilling a contract and getting it all over with as quickly as possible.  The closest he seems to come to involvement is in the scenes with Laughton, and they (and he) are almost irrelevant to the story.

Anchor Bay's DVD of The Paradine Case is a top-notch presentation.  Anchor Bay is regularly releasing vintage films that look better than comparable titles from the majors.  The Selznick library has taken excellent care of this show; the picture is silvery sleek with very good contrast, and the sound is as clear as a bell.  The special effects people do a few zoom-outs on matte composites in the prison and the Paradine country home, and the quality is almost imperceptable.  There are no extras.  A trailer would have been nice, to see how this film was sold (or over-sold, knowing Selznick).

The Paradine Case is not the best Alfred Hitchcock movie by a long shot, with its star chemistry and soap opera story that never seem to gel.  Whether to blame David O. Selznick for the film's lapses, or to fault Hitch for the lack of excitement, is a game for second-guessers.  In the Truffaut interview book, Hitchcock himself blames Selznick casting choices (Peck an Englishman? Jourdan a lowly valet?) and the usual Selznick blizzard of rewriting during filming.  Savant enjoyed the film as another Hitchcock 'puzzlement', even while trying to decide whether or not there was something that was going over my head.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, The Paradine Case rates:
Movie: Fair
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: none
Packaging: Amaray case
Reviewed: March 2, 2001

Other Alfred Hitchcock - oriented Savant articles and reviews:

Review: North by Northwest ...
The missing shot from Psycho ...
Review: Shadow of a Doubt ...
Review: Saboteur ...
Review: Rope ...
Review: Rear Window ...
Review: The Man Who Knew Too Much

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