least regarded films, The Paradine Case
was never remembered fondly by the Master himself,
other than for the fact that it ended Hitch's contractual
obligation to David O. Selznick in 1947. Noting
that the domineering Selznick also gets a screenwriting
credit, Hitchcock would retain far more control
in the rest of his projects, leading to his best
decade of filmmaking. Most of the flaws that
attributes to the film revolve around bad casting
calls, many leading directly to Selznick's door.
Thinking Alida Valli would develop into another
Ingrid Bergman, Selznick signed her for the role
of Mrs. Paradine. Those expectations are far too
high, but Valli effectively plays the seductive
nymphomaniac Frenchwoman who is accused of murdering
her husband. What Hitch considers the worst casting
decision was assigning handsome young contract actor
Louis Jourdan the role of Paradine's valet, removing
the irony that would have resulted when Mrs. Paradine
is confronted with her lover.
wanted to use Robert Newton for the role, stating
that this key character "should have been a manure-smelling
stable hand, a man who really reeked of manure."
The Master also considered English actor Ronald
Colman for the leading role of English lawyer Anthony
Keane and preferred Laurence Olivier, but ended
up with Gregory Peck (who starred in Hitch's Spellbound
and made a career of being directors' second choices
in the fifties when Cary Grant would turn down a
role). Peck valiantly grays his temples to make
himself look older, but audiences must suspend belief
when Peck dons his barrister wig to defend his client
in the Old Bailey courtroom.
The source material for the screenplay comes from
Robert Hichens' 1933 novel which, in turn, was based
on two actual English murder cases--the 1923 case
of Madame Fahmy, found innocent after killing her
Egyptian prince husband at the Savoy Hotel after
discovering he had been intimate with his male secretary,
and the 1889 case of Florence Maybrick, found guilty
of poisoning her husband after he had likely discovered
she was having an affair. Mixing those two scenarios,
The Paradine Case begins with a wealthy
attractive widow being arrested for poisoning her
elderly, blind husband. She delivers one of the
film's better lines when explaining to the servants,
"I don't think I shall be back for dinner."
fans anticipate another of his famous "innocent
person wrongly accused" themes, but this woman is
a brunette! Hitch's heroines are always blondes,
aren't they? He's taking a different approach, though
he remains true to his psychological base, as he
explains to Truffaut:
"It may be an expression of my own fear,
but I've always felt the drama of a situation
in which a normal person is suddenly deprived
of freedom and incarcerated with hardened criminals.
There's nothing to it when a habitual lawbreaker,
like a drunk is involved, but I am intrigued by
the contrast in shading when it happens to a person
of a certain social standing."
Of course, in this day of O. J. Simpson and the
like, we realize that the wealthy and famous are
never convicted, and the social standing of Mrs.
Paradine requires the finest defense lawyer in the
Enter Anthony Keane (Peck). Not only does Keane
never lose a case, he's an upright married man with
a beautiful blonde wife (Ann Todd as Gay), who should
maintain professional decorum with the seductive
native Italian defendant that makes "old ruins,"
like senior law partner Sir Simon Flaquer, (Charles
Coburn) take notice.
The first indications of potential trouble occur
when Keane suggests to his wife that they consider
vacationing in Venice instead of Switzerland--it's
warmer and more romantic there, he reasons. Soon
his obsession with his new client becomes obvious
to all, including the London tabloid press. Keane
becomes a workaholic, staying up all hours and visiting
his client far more than normal, yet his trusting
wife continues to believe in him. The line between
dedication and sexual lust may be indistinguishable
to the naked eye; Hitch will later develop similar
obsessions much more fully in Vertigo,
but the origins for Stewart's character are evident
stated weaknesses about the central cast, the always-enjoyable
Charles Laughton pulls off some the best scenes
in his haughty role as Judge Lord Thomas Horfield.
Hitch's humor surfaces through the lecherous Laughton.
Before he's introduced, others refer to his boorish
stories about young girls, so naturally that's exactly
what he talks about over dinner in a jump cut. Hitch's
famous camera struts its stuff after the dinner
scene through Laughton's eyes as he gazes at Todd's
bare shoulder, plops right beside her (shifting
uncomfortably closer), and makes a direct pass at
her. Laughton is not all about lustfulness, however;
he gets the biggest laughs in the courtroom with
his offhanded dry remarks, and he has a great scene
contrasting his views of justice with those of his
sympathetic wife (Ethel Barrymore).
camera provides the biggest thrills of The
Paradine Case. The trial itself plays rather
dryly, and too many talking heads in the script
make this more difficult to watch than most
movies. Still, two particularly stunning shots occur
in the courtroom that play on his theme of obsession.
The first involves an awesome camera shot that Hitch
uses to give impression that Valli feels
Jourdan's presence--he fixes the camera on her face
as Jourdan comes into background while the camera
simultaneously pans around the courtroom. This is
achieved by shooting first without Valli and then
photographing her in foreground on revolving stool.
Equally impressive is tracking shot that continually
frames Valli when Jourdan leaves through a circular
route. Both involve complicated camera movements
while retaining Valli as the central focus—just
like the major characters.
No one will argue that The Paradine Case
stands alongside Hitchcock's
greatest films, but it should get more play as part
of his canon. Selznick has a far larger role controlling
the film than Hitch was comfortable with, yet the
Master's touches continue to shine through, illustrating
his impeccable visual sense, his dry humor, and
themes that will be far better developed in the