18 October 2003

The Paradine Case and other Hitchcock films

Last evening my wife and I saw Alfred Hitchcock's 1947 film, The Paradine Case, starring Gregory Peck, Alida Valli and Ann Todd. I myself have long been a fan of the master director, whose films span the silent era up to the mid-1970s. His best work came in the decade between 1951 and 1959. The first of his films I saw was Rebecca (1940), a cinematic rendition of Daphne DuMaurier's gothic romance novel produced by the David O. Selznick studio. I was mesmerized by Rebecca at first viewing in the mid-1980s, and I had to see more.

Among the very best of Hitch's works are Rear Window (1954), North by Northwest (1959), and Rebecca itself. Among the best of his earlier British films are The 39 Steps (1935) and The Lady Vanishes (1938). Among his lesser films are numbered Spellbound (1945) and Torn Curtain (1966). The second version of The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) is quite good entertainment, while Psycho (1960), possibly Hitch's most infamous film, is not, in my view, to be counted among his better efforts. (Clicking on the above links will bring up my reviews of these films.)

As for The Paradine Case, although it too is not one of the better Hitchcock films, the cast is excellent and some quite good performances are delivered by the actors. The most haunting performance is by Alida Valli, as the mysterious Maddalena Anna Paradine. Valli is best known for her performance as the equally mysterious Anna Schmidt in Carol Reed's 1949 classic, The Third Man. Gregory Peck acts reasonably well, but his attempts to imitate a British accent fall flat and are distracting.

The plot revolves around Peck's character, a trial lawyer in London, undertaking to defend Mrs. Paradine from the charge that she murdered her late husband, a wealthy and respected colonel who had lost his vision in a tragic accident before the marriage. Predictably perhaps, Peck falls for his client, thus endangering his marriage to the long-suffering (and rather too understanding) Todd. In many respects this is more of a psychological drama than an actual mystery, as the outcome of the case, while by no means inevitable, is not unexpected by the viewer.

This was Hitch's last film directed for Selznick, and it bears some similarity to Rebecca. Franz Waxman composed the score for both films, and his lush music lends a similar atmosphere to each. Moreover, there is even a scene where Peck visits the palatial Paradine home up in Northumberland which is a little too reminiscent of the scenes in Rebecca's bedroom in Manderley. (We actually wondered whether the same set had been used for both.)

Ultimately the film is too slow moving. It could have been better edited. And, while it succeeded in keeping my attention, especially in the latter half, the actual solution to the murder was not all that surprising when it finally came.

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