“I know what I’m talking about; what I say is true. I know her. And I will tell you one thing more, I will tell you about Mrs. Paradine. She’s bad. Bad to the bone! If ever there was an evil woman, she is one,” says Andre Latour.
Alfred Hitchcock followed up his 1946 spy thriller Notorious with an England-set courtroom drama based on a novel by Robert Smythe Hichens. Hitchcock would reunite with Gregory Peck, who had previously starred in Hitchcock’s 1945 psychological thriller Spellbound. Hitchcock’s latest would also be the last film in his contract with producer David O. Selznick (a contract that had started with the 1940 Best Picture Oscar winner Rebecca). I saw Hitchcock’s The Paradine Case at Film Forum in New York City two-and-a-half years ago as part of a complete Hitchcock retrospective, and it was a fascinating experience. This review of The Paradine Case is my entry in the Second Annual Barrymore Trilogy Blogathon hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood.
1947’s The Paradine Case follows an English lawyer who falls in love with a woman accused of murder (who he is also defending) and how it affects his marriage. Hitchcock brought together a terrific cast that included Peck (as Anthony Keane), Ann Todd (as Gay Keane), Alida Valli (as Maddalena Anna Paradine), Charles Laughton (as Judge Lord Thomas Horfield), Charles Coburn (as Sir Simon Flaquer), Joan Tetzel (as Judy Flaquer), Ethel Barrymore (as Lady Sophie Horfield), Louis Jourdan (as Andre Latour), Leo G. Carroll (as Sir Joseph), Isobel Elsom (as the Innkeeper), and John Williams (as Barrister Collins). Peck gives a commaning performance as the married barrister who falls in love with his client, who may or may not be a murderess. Todd is strong yet reserved as the barrister’s wife who won’t give up on her husband. Valli is alluring and mysterious as the murder suspect defended by Keane. Laughton is harsh (and almost sadistic) as the judge presiding over the murder trial. Coburn is droll as the Paradine family lawyer who recruits Keane to defend Mrs. Paradine. Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee Barrymore is hilarious at times as the judge’s balmy, confused wife, and plays well off of Laughton.
Hitchcock’s direction draws strong performances from his cast and makes use of elaborate crane shots in his courtroom scenes (his use of long takes would lead to his further experimentation of creatively-staged uninterrupted takes in his next film, Rope). The screenplay by Selznick (from an adaptation of Hichens’ novel of the same name by Alma Reville and James Bridie) tones down as well as eliminates some of the grimmer aspects of the novel due to the Production Code. Lee Garmes’ black-and-white cinematography gives the film a noirish look while simultaneously being creative (one example being shadows of bars appearing on a character to suggest that character’s figurative imprisonment, another being the courtroom tracking shots).
The production design by J. McMillan Johnson is very detailed, particularly the faithful duplication of a courtroom from London’s Old Bailey. Hal C. Kern’s editing moves the film at a good pace, and Franz Waxman delivers a melancholic and tragic score that reflects the tone of the film. Hitchcock’s The Paradine Case is an underrated gem that survived the constant interference by Selznick during production and post-production (thanks to extensive re-shoots, the film ended up costing almost as much as another Selznick production, Gone With the Wind). It is unfortunate that the original 132 minute version of the film will never be restored (the original, uncut version was destroyed in a flood in 1980), however, the current 114 minute version is still an enjoyably tense courtroom drama with a curious love triangle entangled in it.