20 October 2008

The Paradine Case (1947)

d. Alfred Hitchcock / USA / 125 mins.

Alfred Hitchcock's personal obsessions played out so vividly in his own films, and his masterpieces – Vertigo, Rear Window, Psycho, Notorious – are so evident because the audience can sense how extraordinarily invested in them he was. When he lost interest in a production, however, his apathy was as unfortunately evident.

The Paradine Case was Hitchcock's third and final film for the megalomaniacal producer David O. Selznick, who tended to bring Hitchcock nothing but frustration during their seven-year collaboration (although the making of Rebecca was considerably smooth as Selznick was still tied up with finishing Gone With The Wind). The quality of the Hitchcock-Selznick films depreciated through their time together, with their first – Rebecca, Best Picture of 1940 – being their greatest. Their second, Spellbound, is bizarre and interesting but nothing stellar, and Hitchcock abandoned it to Selznick after assembling a rough cut.

There isn't much to note about The Paradine Case. It's a sub-par Hitchcock film, but a Hitchcock film nonetheless. Inside it are the seeds of obsession, love, and sacrifice that were better in Notorious and would be better explored by Hitchcock in the mid- to late-1950s. British lawyer Anthony Keane (a very un-British Gregory Peck, who makes no attempt to hide his Americanness) falls in love with his alluring client (Allda Valli), who is on trial for the murder of her husband. This love is apparent to his Keane's own wife (Ann Todd), and she pushes him to make the case a slam dunk so he can come back to her with his psyche in tact. She can see, quite plainly, that while Keane shows no sign of potentially leaving her for his client, he will never be the same man if the woman is he falling for is sentenced the die.

This theme is right up Hitchcock's alley: a man succumbing to his darker and weaker impulses, caught in a trap that he must overcome to save himself mentally and emotionally, his cool wife standing (nealry) silently by his side. But after watching The Paradine Case again, I realize my interest in the theme stops short of anything else in the entire film. The cast is uniformly weak across the board, but particularly Valli, who plays her character in such a humdrum way that it's hard to understand why Keane would fall for her. (Now, if it were Ingrid Bergman ... that might be a different story.) The murder itself is blas̩, and the characters you end up rooting for the most are those on the jury, who can't move fast enough to end the boring trial. To make matters worse, the film feels quite long for two hours Рalthough the original rough cut was reportedly closer to three.

On a technical note, Hitchcock devised an ingenious setup for filming the dramatic courtroom proceedings: four cameras, each positioned to record one of the principals as the scene played out. In the past, multiple cameras had been used to record the movements and words of one actor before, but never multiple cameras on multiple actors. While it sounds intriguing to the cinephile's mind and probably made editing less burdensome, it doesn't affect the appearance of the courtroom drama in any profound way. The cameras ran for entire reels though, which would flip a switch in Hitchcock's mind and prompt him to experiment with long-takes on his next two pictures, Rope and Under Capricorn.


darkcitydame4e 21 October, 2008  

Hi! T.S.,
I really "hated" when Hitchcock lost interest in the production of a film...because it usually spelled out the word d-o-o-m-e-d ...
Once again, you have summed up the film "The Paradine Case" in a very logical, well-structured and detailed, manner...just like Hitchcock's "Spellbound"
I have only watched the 1947 film "The Paradine Case" only once.
I guess it is also time for me to revisit this film again.


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