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 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.
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.
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
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.