Hitchapalooza 4: A Case Of The Paradines July 3, 2008Posted by Jim Berkin in Movies.
The other night TCM did me a favor and ran yet-another-unseen-by-Wagstaff Hitchcock, 1947’s The Paradine Case, featuring Gregory Peck as an English lawyer (!) who falls for his murder-suspect client and deals with the strain it puts on his marriage & his soul.
As with many of the other Hitchcock films that fall short of the standards we grown to expect (or feel entitled to, I guess – Good God, the man made so many great films, there HAVE to be some clunkers in there!), Hitchcock acknowledged the weaknesses of this one later on in interviews and (shades of Torn Curtain) blamed the casting and the fact that the movie had been forced upon him contractually. Paradine was the final movie Hitchcock made for Selznick, and filming the novel it was based on had been a Selzick obsession for more than ten years prior.
Selznick fought with Hitchcock a lot but most often got him what he wanted. If you want some entertaining stories of what a control-freak whack job Selznick could be coming off his grand slam success of Gone With The Wind, read some stories about the making of Duel In The Sun when you have the chance. It’s overly long and uneven, but it’s got some great over-the-top material in it that’s very entertaining. Too bad it cost so much money for its time that despite being a hit, it wound up being Selznick’s Waterloo.
But I digress.
While I can agree with Hitchcock that much of Paradine is miscast, I don’t agree with all of his particular complaints. Peck as a British lawyer could be acceptable, but Peck as someone whose passions are uncontrollably aroused by a suspected murderess is a stretch. Peck was always a stoic screen presence, and the roles that fit him well were those of stiffly controlled people (Duel In The Sun is actually a rare exception to this – perhaps Selznick saw something else in the guy). Peck’s other Hitchcock role in Spellbound works since he’s an amnesiac with no idea of his personality, so his emotions become under the control of repressed nerd Goddess Ingrid Bergman (another common female type to be found in Hitchcock films, whether it’s Barbara Bel Geddes in Vertigo, Joan Fontaine in Suspiscion, Pat Hitchcock in Strangers On A Train, etc. Just look for the tell-tale glasses!). It’s tough to buy Peck as someone who’d throw his well-ordered life away falling for an ice queen who has no feelings for him. This is where Jimmy Stewart might have worked better since he can do the self-destructive obsession bit better, whether in an Anthony Mann western or in Vertigo.
Instead of their wish of Greta Garbo for the murderess role, they had to settle for Selznick’s discovery Alida Valli. I can’t really blame her for the lifelessness of the material, however. Garbo would have made no difference here. And where I part ways with Hitchcock is over his complaints about Louis Jourdan in the key role of the murdered man’s valet. Hitchcock wanted someone swarthier and covered with dirt, basically, but Jourdan’s performance is quite good. He evokes repressed secrets and emotions well, and handles his inevitable breakdown and blow up very well. And since he looks like he just got back from his handsome lesson, he’s believable as a secret cough-up-your-scones Good Lord m’lady consorts with the servant class! lover in the DH Lawrence sense.
The plot and its unfolding are talky, slow and obvious. There’s not much suspense here, and all of the characters are a bit too stiff to really care about. I never found the movie involving, to be honest. The only bright spots were the wonderfully creepy Charles Laughton as an elitist old letch of a judge and Ethel Barrymore as his ignored good hearted wife. But since the crux of the plot rides on Peck’s love for his client and how it determines his clouded view of her innocence, it’s her character that needs a lot more development. Simply being shot in flattering light doesn’t make us understand why anyone would fall for her or willingly let themselves he destroyed by her. Maybe it was in the novel somewhere, maybe not. But it’s certainly not on the screen, and the way it all just lays there made me think that there ought to have been a crawl along the screen reading “Alfred Hitchcock’s Contractual Obligation Film” running every so often.
Ah well, on to hopefully better things in the DVD pile! Up to bat next, 1953’s never-seen-by-Wagstaff I Confess, followed by the next category of not-seen-by-Wagstaff-for-20-years-or-more, including Dial M For Murder, Rope, The 39 Steps & Frenzy.
Like I said, those DVD finds at yardsales have been a true Hitchapalooza…