Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by David O. Selznick
Any movie fan can likely rattle off an impressive number of titles directed by the great Alfred Hitchcock. Each film buff has their own personal favorite films list from the master that often is more than a top 5, and sometimes even more than a top 10. The Paradine Case is a title I honestly have never seen before on such a list. It seems to be a forgotten title in Hitchcock’s filmography, something that doesn’t come up in conversation or analysis when reviewing. So as a film I myself have not seen, I entered the viewing with much curiosity about what it is about the film that it doesn’t ever get mentioned. Is it bad, or just mediocre and too middle of the road to be worth mentioning? It stars Gregory Peck, a notable, bankable star of the 40s. What is it about The Paradine Case? Well, perhaps its just a mix of mediocrity and bad.
Mrs. Paradine (Alida Valli) is recovering from the poisoning death of her blind, rich husband when she is arrested for committed the crime. A friend recommends a young, brilliant barrister to defend her, Tony Keane (Gregory Peck), who upon meeting Mrs. Paradine for the first time, finds her to be very attractive. Keane begins to investigate the death of Paradine, and even travels north from London to the couples country home, where he encounters the deceased man’s valet, Andre (Louis Jourdan), whom he begins to suspect. Tensions begin to arise with Keane’s wife Gay (Ann Todd) when she suspects he is falling for his client, but she insists he continue Paradine’s defense for fear of losing him. When the court goes to trial, overseen by Judge Horfield (Charles Laughton), the case is turned on its head as new evidence comes to light.
For a film that feels buried in Hitchcock’s filmography, the cast certainly doesn’t feel that way with two legends in Gregory Peck and Charles Laughton. The rest of the cast is slightly anonymous, although we also get appearances from the likes of Ethel Barrymore and Charles Coburn as well. But immediately I can say that Laughton feels criminally underutilized here. As a true legend of the craft, Laughton as a judge in a movie about a court case should have been more involved, more scenery to chew on and certainly more lines to read. He’s great whenever he’s on screen, but it’s not very long. Peck, meanwhile, is also fine here, as is the rest of the cast to be honest. The problem with the film is not the ensemble performance. It’s mostly a finely acted film. I think the larger issue is that the story doesn’t seem to lend itself very well to the expertise of Hitchcock.
That may seem an add statement, what doesn’t Hitchcock know about murder cases? Well, honestly, he does know a lot about the tension and suspense of a murder case, but the issue here is its more tell than show, and as a visual filmmaker, Hitchcock’s strengths lie more with the showing than the telling. But that’s not even the true flaw of the film either. The second half the film features the court proceedings, and while not as great as his other work, the sequences here are much more heightened and interesting than the first half of the film, which is really bogged down by the slow narrative and lack of intrigue. The romance is bland, the dynamics are bland, and the film is just overly long at right about two hours. I think this film could work much better as a 90-100 taut thriller.
But perhaps the worst offense of The Paradine Case was the lack of interest in the murder. It’s rarely touched on until the trial, and even then, little investigation seems to be done on how the murder was committed. The payoff is put off way too long to be effective, as I spent much of the first half of the film wondering why we didn’t already know more. Usually less is more can be applied, and the suspense grown, but something about this film failed on that front. By the time we get to the payoff, I didn’t care as much as when the film kicked off. It’s the rare misstep for Hitchcock as a film which feels very much as though it belongs with his collection of British films. Set in Britain, it feels of that era and setting. I don’t think at this point, Hitchcock has fully captured the American audience, and this regression back to his years in England, which did net many great movies, leaves The Paradine Case among the worst of his work, certainly in America.