The Paradine Case Blu-ray Review

Talky Hitchcock whodunit still has its merits. 4 Stars

The Paradine Case may have offered master director Alfred Hitchcock fewer opportunities for “pure cinema” that he usually applied to the projects he chose to direct, but he nevertheless explores three different troubled marriages in various ways while concentrating on a rather standard courtroom drama involving the death of a wealthy man.

The Paradine Case (1947)
Released: 26 Aug 1949
Rated: APPROVED
Runtime: 125 min
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Genre: Crime, Drama, Romance
Cast: Gregory Peck, Ann Todd, Charles Laughton, Charles Coburn
Writer(s): Robert Hichens (from the novel by), Alma Reville (adaptation), David O. Selznick (screen play), James Bridie (treatment in consultation with)
Plot: A happily married London barrister falls in love with the accused poisoner he is defending.
IMDB rating: 6.5
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: Kino
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 54 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: keep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 05/30/2017
MSRP: $29.95

The Production: 3.5/5

The Paradine Case may have offered master director Alfred Hitchcock fewer opportunities for “pure cinema” that he usually applied to the projects he chose to direct, but he nevertheless explores three different troubled marriages in various ways while concentrating on a rather standard courtroom drama involving the death of a wealthy man. Though there are serious issues with casting of the film’s principals, there is no denying the production is a handsome one (well over $3 million spent very lavishly), and there is a central mystery to be solved during the trial that certainly holds one’s attention.

Mrs. Maddalena Anna Paradine (Alida Valli) is devastated to be arrested by London detectives after the poisoning death of her wealthy blind husband. Her family solicitor Sir Simon Flaquer (Charles Coburn) suggests the man most suitable to defend her is one of London’s slyest and most accomplished young barristers, Anthony Keane (Gregory Peck). Keane and his wife Gay (Ann Todd) are blissfully married, but Tony’s eventual preoccupation with the case and with his enigmatic client who so mesmerizes him that he can think of nothing but getting her off throws a wrench in the Keane’s happy marriage. Tony forges ahead, however, convinced that either Paradine committed suicide or that Paradine’s devoted but shady valet Andre Latour (Louis Jourdan) was the one responsible for poisoning his bedtime glass of burgundy.

The Robert Hichens novel The Paradine Case was adapted for the screen by Alfred Hitchcock and his wife Alma Reville and James Bridie though producer David O. Selznick took the credit for the final screenplay, and perhaps it was his tampering that was partly the reason the infatuation of Tony with Mrs. Paradine never fully convinces: we’re told it’s happening by Tony’s wife, by Gay’s best friend Judy Flaquer (Joan Tetzel), by the solicitor, and even by the presiding judge at the Old Bailey Lord Thomas Horfield (Charles Laughton), but we don’t see the torments of his being smitten by this mystery woman nearly enough to make it convincing. The first hour of the film is spent on exposition and investigation with the second hour spent mostly in the courtroom where Hitchcock can use his four cameras to explore the nooks and crannies of the Old Bailey and assist in making all the excessive talk more visually interesting. We do eventually get a solution to the mystery of the murderer’s identity, but this is not one of literature’s nor cinema’s great denouements. The main credits draw attention to two of Selznick’s new acting finds: Alida Valli and Louis Jourdan, and Hitchcock makes sure each one of them is given a spectacular screen introduction: a slow pan around her playing the piano at the beginning for Valli and a giant close-up framed in a window for Jourdan, both stunning compositions for two of the most beautiful new stars of the 1940s. But the script shortchanges a rather melancholy but fascinating subplot concerning the lecherous Lord Horfield and his abusive, almost cruelly bullying marriage to Lady Sophie Horfield (Ethel Barrymore). We see enough of the judge in court trying to sabotage Tony’s case because he’s in lust with Tony’s wife Gay, but Lady Sophie’s pitiable attempts to be agreeable and accommodating to her husband deserve more development for their rocky marriage to register on an equal par with the troubles in the marriages of the Paradines and the Keanes.

Gregory Peck certainly has the authority to hold forth in a courtroom (witness his Oscar-winning work in To Kill a Mockingbird), but he’s about as British as a Nebraska husking bee (Hitchcock had sought Ronald Coleman and Laurence Olivier for the role, both superb choices) and, apart from a breakdown scene at the end of the trial, never seems to delve deeply enough into his character’s tormenting infatuation with the inscrutable Mrs. Paradine to register his pain, guilt, and resolve. Alida Valli (billed in her movie debut with just her surname, Selznick obviously hoping for another Garbo) isn’t tremendously emotive here though it’s part of her character’s nature to be stoic and secretive to keep the mystery’s eventual solution a surprise, and she is very convincing in a climactic moment on the witness stand when her long hidden emotions finally let loose. Ann Todd is crisp and efficient as the steadfast wife facing the potential loss of her husband with an upturned chin, and Ethel Barrymore matches her in fluttery dignity as the browbeaten Lady Sophie. Veterans Charles Coburn, Leo G. Carroll (as the assertive prosecutor), and especially Charles Laughton use restraint but wily facial mannerisms to make their characters come vividly alive.

Video: 3.5/5

3D Rating: NA

The film’s 1.37:1 theatrical aspect ratio is presented in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. At its best, the image is wonderfully sharp and detailed with a striking grayscale featuring rich blacks and clean whites and accurate contrast to bring out the intricacies of the elaborate sets and props. But there are some inconsistencies present. There is a fair amount of dust and dirt, occasional black and white scratches and a hair which haven’t been dealt with, and increased noise in black levels in a few early low lit scenes. The movie has been divided into 8 chapters.

Audio: 4.5/5

The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound mix is typical of its era. Dialogue has been well recorded and has been combined professionally with Franz Waxman’s haunting score and the appropriate sound effects without distortion. There are also no age-related problems with hiss, crackle, flutter, or humming.

Special Features: 4.5/5

Audio Commentary: film historians Stephen Rebello and Bill Krohn have a fine conversation about the movie (with a few silent passages), one they both admire even with reservations which they both explain.

Isolated Score and Effects Track: presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono.

Hitchcock/Truffaut Interview (12:57): audio only interview excerpts in which Hitchcock discusses the different scripts for the movie, flaws with the film which he feels mar it (Truffaut is more enthusiastic about it than its creator), and the aspects of the movie which he feels work properly.

Celia and Cary Peck Interview (8:36, HD): two of Gregory Peck’s children individually discuss their father’s work in the film and what they recall him saying about the working experience.

Lux Radio Theater (56:37): the 1949 radio version of the movie with Joseph Cotten in Peck’s role and Alida Valli and Louis Jourdan reprising their film roles.

Hitchcock/Bogdanovich Interview (15:54): the two directors spend about 3 ½ minutes talking about The Paradine Case and the rest of the time with Hitchcock discussing his philosophy of filmmaking using numerous examples from his films to talk about his techniques.

Restoration Comparison (1:27, SD) before and after shots of select moments from the movie.

Theatrical Trailer (1:43, SD)

Reversible Cover Art

Overall: 4/5

Alfred Hitchcock’s The Paradine Case was his last film under contract to David O. Selznick and unfortunately, it was the least successful artistically and commercially of the movies they made together. In telling the story of a successful married man brought down by his emotions getting in the way of his reason, the movie has more to offer than it’s generally been given credit for in the past. The Kino Lorber Blu-ray has some video inconsistencies, but it’s still the best version of the movie available on home video.

Published by

Matt Hough

author,editor

17 Comments

  1. Josh Steinberg

    I've never seen this before – I skimmed just the tech parts of the review and will read the rest once I've seen the film!

    Not to be that guy but lower your expectations because it's not one of Hitch's best. It's worth watching (I've got my copy pre-ordered) but if it wasn't Hitchcock, I doubt anyone would remember it today.

  2. Thanks, Matt! This is the one. American Hitch I don't own and haven't seen so was eagerly waiting this release. I'm still getting it but admit to being disappointed at the reports of inconsistent video quality. Not surprising though since Kino releases are often reported to being a mixed bag. It's great this is coming to BD, but it does seem like a missed opportunity.

  3. Paradine is a flawed film, but still worth watching. Here's how it compares to my ratings for other Hitchcock films from the 1940s….

    Rebecca: A
    Foreign Correspondent: B-
    Mr and Mrs. Smith: D+
    Suspicion: C+
    Saboteur: B+
    Shadow of a Doubt: A
    Lifeboat: A
    Spellbound: A
    Notorious: A
    The Paradine Case: B-
    Rope: A
    Under Capricorn: B

  4. benbess

    Paradine is a flawed film, but still worth watching. Here's how it compares to my ratings for other Hitchcock films from the 1940s….

    Rebecca: A
    Foreign Correspondent: B-
    Mr and Mrs. Smith: D+
    Suspicion: C+
    Saboteur: B+
    Shadow of a Doubt: A
    Lifeboat: A
    Spellbound: A
    Notorious: A
    The Paradine Case: B-
    Rope: A
    Under Capricorn: B

    The crazy thing is that most people have trouble making 3 masterpieces in an entire career and Hitchcock did it in a 10 year span while also making at least half a dozen really good movies too. And, astoundingly, a decade that good isn't even his best decade.

  5. TravisR

    The crazy thing is that most people have trouble making 3 masterpieces in an entire career and Hitchcock did it in a 10 year span while also making at least half a dozen really good movies too. And, astoundingly, a decade that good isn't even his best decade.

    Yes, imho Hitchcock made six classics in the 1940s, movies that I've watched and enjoyed again and again in the last 30 years. And really, Saboteur counts as a classic for me too. In my heart, I probably rate Saboteur as high as an A- in terms of how much I enjoy watching it (even with its not-quite-perfect stars). Paradine has some interesting Hitchcock touches and performances. But while Selznick helped make Rebecca better, I think he hurt the Paradine in a number of ways.

  6. benbess

    And really, Saboteur counts as a classic for me too. In my heart, I probably rate Saboteur as high as an A- in terms of how much I enjoy watching it (even with its not-quite-perfect stars).

    Yeah, I think Saboteur is possibly Hitchcock's most underrated movie. It's not Vertigo or Rear Window but it's one that I feel that people should give more recognition to.

  7. Josh Steinberg

    Just watched this and I particularly appreciated your insights into the movie, Matt. Thanks for another great review!

    I read your thoughts, too, and enjoyed seeing another perspective.

  8. “The Paradine Case” is probably my least favorite, (along with “Topaz”) of Hitchcock’s films after he immigrated to America. Technically, it is quite proficient, but dramatically rather uninvolved. Hitchcock was finishing his contract with Selznick. Selznick, being Selznick meddled with everything, re-writing the script, demanding re-shoots. It doesn’t help that the two leads have absolutely no chemistry together. Peck is miscast as an English barrister. Valli is blank, rather than mysterious. And Louis Jordan . . .? The supporting cast is excellent, and much more interesting. As a Hitchcock completest, I will eventually get this. “The Paradine Case” is not bad, it just isn’t very good Hitchcock.

  9. One mystery about this movie is its running time. The disc package lists it as 125 minutes, although the film runs 114, which is apparently the running time it has had since its general release in the 40s.

    I doubt the additional footage would change the general assessment of the film, but I wonder if there might have been more Ethel Barrymore in the longer edits. She got a Best Supporting Actress nomination for this, although in the final edit she has barely more than a walk-on part.

  10. I am not quite a Hitchcock completist – I own about 85% of his films on Blu, but I saw this film and it bored me into a mild stupor (as did UNDER CAPRICORN). However, I will likely buy this release due to the extras.

  11. I watched The Paradine Case last night. (I'd been sitting on the Blu-ray disc for some time) As always, I enjoyed the film far more than most people do. I think Matt's review is about right in assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the film.

    There's no doubt that Selznick damaged the film with his love of middle-class banality but Hitchcock's remarks about the characters and the casting have always made me suspect that he misjudged the material too.

  12. I'm sorry, but what the hell is up with the HIDEOUS digital noise/grain that swarms all over this blu-ray image? It's less problematic in lighter scenes or shots, but in darker scenes or against the black robes or Valli's wardrobe and hair the screen virtually pulsates and crawls. In some shots what I call mosquito noise obscures most detail. Easily the worst blu-ray image quality I have ever seen. I'm not saying it's Kino's fault as it's most likely in what they were given, but it makes many scenes nearly unwatchable. Once I turned my TV's digital noise filters to high, it was somewhat improved, but never eliminated (and it improves a bit as the film goes on anyway). I've only seen this mentioned in one online review (Slate) so I was scratching my head. But then I read the reviews at Amazon and realized that I was not alone in seeing this.

    Did no one else here have any issues with the picture quality on this disc?

  13. Yeah, I think Saboteur is possibly Hitchcock's most underrated movie. It's not Vertigo or Rear Window but it's one that I feel that people should give more recognition to.

    Much like Shadow of a Doubt, it has a dark undercurrent below its aw shucks "innocent' appearance. I enjoy both a lot. My only complaint about Saboteur is that the dialogue can be corny at times, even by the standards of the time.

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