Sunday, June 9, 2013

#1,028. The Paradine Case (1947)

Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: Gregory Peck, Ann Todd, Charles Laughton

Trivia: An exact replica of the Old Bailey courtroom was constructed for the court scenes, at a cost of $400,000

Based on a screenplay written by David O. Selznick himself, 1947’s The Paradine Case possesses a rare quality, one that makes it stand apart from the other films its director, Alfred Hitchcock, was turning out at this point in his career. I’m not referring to the story, which centers on a forbidden romance between a lawyer and his client, or the fact it’s a courtroom drama. No, what makes The Paradine Case such a unique entry in Hitchcock’s filmography is it’s the first of the director’s movies that threatened to put me to sleep. This film is dull with a capital “D”.

Anthony Keane (Gregory Peck), a well-respected London attorney married to the beautiful Gay (Ann Todd), has been assigned to defend Mrs. Paradine (Alida Valli), a woman accused of murdering her wealthy husband. But the more time he spends with the alluring Mrs. Paradine, hearing her side of the story, the deeper Keane falls in love with her. Torn between his duty to the crown and his feelings for his client, Keane's conflict of interest is soon affecting much more than his high-profile case. In fact, it threatens to tear his life apart.

The Paradine Case isn’t a total failure; Ann Todd delivers a fine performance as the forgotten Mrs. Keane, and thespians Charles Laughton and Ethel Barrymore are on-hand as well, with Laughton hamming it up to perfection as Judge Lord Thomas Hurfield. The final act, when the action shifts to the courtroom, is also a strength, with Hitchcock using multiple cameras to capture every nuance of the trial, bringing what might have otherwise been a pedestrian affair convincingly to life.

The main problem I had with The Paradine Case was its two central characters, Keane and Mrs. Paradine. Even in the hands of such talented performers as Gregory Peck and Alida Valli (who was solid as the heartbroken girlfriend of Harry Lime in The Third Man), there was absolutely no chemistry between them. This, along with the first two-thirds of the movie (filled with one talky scene after another), made The Paradine Case one of the few misfires of Alfred Hitchcock’s career.

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