The Paradine Case (1947)

Synopsis:

In London, England, a well-respected barrister, Anthony Keane (Gregory Peck, To Kill A Mockingbird), decides to represent a socialite, Mrs. Paradine (Alida Valli, The Third Man), who is accused of killing her husband. The married Keane quickly fall over heels in love with his beautiful client, which causes all kinds of trouble.

Reaction & Thoughts:

“Nice people don’t go murdering other nice people.”

I first watched Alfred Hitchcock’s The Paradine Case when I was in my teens, and to put it mildly, I didn’t care for it — for years, I thought it was one of Hitchcock’s dullest movies. I definitely liked it much better the second time around. Despite some big flaws, this courtroom drama wields an oddly intriguing tale of romantic obsession.

The Paradine Case was the very last movie Hitchcock made for producer David O. Selznick (Rebecca and Spellbound). Because the producer wrote the screenplay, selected the actors and practically took over the movie during the crucial post-production phase, the film has always been considered more Selznick’s than Hitchcock’s.

Regardless of who is responsible for the final product, this admittedly slow-paced, talky crime drama has many good qualities. My first impression of the movie was certainly wrong. This is a fascinating case study of the dark passions that reside in the human heart. The murder mystery is clearly a mere pretext to explore complex themes of guilt, obsession, degradation and unrealistic romantic expectations.

The movie is also impeccably crafted. Despite Selznick’s constant interference, Hitchcock’s shooting style is sharp and precise. There isn’t a hair out of place. The camera work by Lee Garmes (Since You Went Away and Duel in the Sun) is always impressive. As a matter of fact, this is one of Hitchcock’s best-looking movies.

However, a series of bad casting choices undermines the good work done by Hitchcock and et al. It pains me to say this, but 31-year-old California-born Gregory Peck isn’t remotely convincing as a gray-haired Briton. He is way too young, and too American, and that’s that. What is more, Peck is unable to convey feelings of intense infatuation — it’s a wooden performance by an otherwise excellent actor.

Italian actress Alida Valli was also the wrong choice for the pivotal role of the aloof defendant, Mrs. Paradine. She lacks the “fire-under-ice” quality that the role demands. Worst of all is Louis Jourdan (Gigi) as a houseboy who may or may not be Valli’s lover. The sophisticated Jourdan performing housekeeping duties? I think not.

Ann Todd (Madeleine) does the heavy lifting as Peck’s overly-tolerant wife. Todd is somehow able to project strength and intelligence despite her character’s passive response to her husband’s emotional infidelity. Charles Laughton (Jamaica Inn) has a few good scenes as a lecherous judge. Ethel Barrymore (Pinky) received an Oscar nomination for her smallish role (approx. 4 minutes) as Laughton’s unstable wife (Selznick allegedly removed most of her scenes from the final version of the film).

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

I’m glad I gave The Paradine Case another chance. It’s an intriguing movie that illustrates the consequences of letting our emotions run amok. The film seems to be advocating for the suppression of feelings (a sort of endorsement of the British “stiff-upper-lip” attitude), and since this approach to life is now considered outdated, it makes for a truly fascinating watch. B&W, 116 minutes, Not Rated.

Hitch’s cameo

9 responses to “The Paradine Case (1947)

  1. Gotta give it to Hitchcock for being able to even do the job despite Selznick’s suffocating grip. The way you describe the miscasting sounds tragic, too. A 31-year-old was playing an older British guy?! Usually it was the other way around in old movies: people who clearly looked 35 playing high schoolers, etc. And the two ladies sound no better. But one of his best-looking, you say? I’m curious about that; I’ll definitely keep this is mind when we’re searching around for stuff to see. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s