Highly successful London barrister Anthony Keane takes on the case of Italian Maddalena Paradine who is accused of poisoning her blind military hero husband. Keane comes increasingly under her spell, threatening both his marriage and his career.
Gregory Peck ... Anthony Keane, Counsel for the Defence
Ann Todd ... Gay Keane
Charles Laughton ... Judge Lord Thomas Horfield
Charles Coburn ... Sir Simon Flaquer
Ethel Barrymore ... Lady Sophie Horfield
Louis Jourdan ... Andre Latour, Paradine's Valet
Alida Valli ... Mrs. Maddalena Anna Paradine (as Valli)
Leo G. Carroll ... Sir Joseph, Counsel for the Prosecution
Joan Tetzel ... Judy Flaquer
Isobel Elsom ... Innkeeper
"The Paradine Case" has gotten an undeserved bad reputation as one of Alfred Hitchcock's least interesting films simply because it does not use any of the gimmicks and brilliant visual touches Hitchcock is famous for, e.g., a man being chased by a crop duster, inventively shot murder scenes in locations such as the ones in "Psycho", people dangling from Mt. Rushmore, unusual settings such as a cramped lifeboat, as if these touches were what made Hitchcock great. If these touches are all we watch Hitchcock for, it's as shallow a reason for watching films as going to see summer movies merely to see special effects. A great director like Hitchcock deserves more credit than that.
"The Paradine Case" is, on the contrary, one of Hitchcock's most entertaining films, if you are willing to concentrate on dialogue and characterization rather than flashy visuals. Gregory Peck is the barrister assigned to defend Mrs. Paradine, a woman on trial for the cold-blooded murder of her blind husband, and it is immediately obvious that Peck is so besotted by this beautiful, mysterious woman that he is in no position to be objective about his client. Peck does quite a good job, but one can only wonder how Laurence Olivier, who was busy filming "Hamlet" at the time, and who was Hitchcock's first choice for the role, might have played it. Hitchcock wanted Greta Garbo for the role of Mrs. Paradine, but was unable to get her, and settled for Alida Valli, who is excellent, if not as beautiful and mysterious as Garbo. Louis Jourdan plays a suspicious-looking witness in the case, but Hitchcock wanted Robert Newton (famous for playing Long John Silver and other disreputable characters) for the role, and Newton would have provided a far more different and repulsive characterization (apparently Hitchcock's intention).
Charles Laughton unforgettably plays the judge at the trial as a sadist and a supremely dirty old man, who hates Peck because Ann Todd (as Peck's wife) refused his advances once, and Ethel Barrymore, brilliant in her limited screen time, is Laughton's intimidated and submissive wife.
The majority of the film does take place in the courtroom, but so does "Witness for the Prosecution", and no one has a bad word to say about that film. (Would they have done so if Hitchcock had made that one? The Agatha Christie thriller doesn't contain any flashy visual touches either.)
Those who love Hitchcock for only his "trademarks" perhaps need to look a little harder and think a little deeper, and then they will appreciate this excellent film.
Because this movie has so few of the features normally associated with a Hitchcock picture, it has a rather poor reputation. But it has a fine cast, most of whom perform quite well, and if the story is taken on its own merits it is interesting, although slow-moving and heavily dependent on the characters' conversations with one another. If it had been made by someone else, it might seem like more of an accomplishment.
In "The Paradine Case", Mrs. Paradine (Alida Valli) is arrested and tried for the murder of her husband. She is defended by the great lawyer Anthony Keane (Gregory Peck), who quickly becomes intoxicated by his client and loses all objectivity. Even as evidence mounts that she may have done the crime after all, he risks his marriage and reputation on the slightest of chances to find new evidence. It moves quite slowly, but is helped by the presence of many good supporting characters and a fine cast that portrays them convincingly. Things come together in a lengthy courtroom sequence that is sometimes uncomfortable to watch, but tense and realistic.
Many viewers feel let down by the film because it lacks the energy and excitement found in most of Hitchcock's films, and because the courtroom setting creates expectations that are not quite filled. Indeed, it does have its faults, and it's hard to believe that someone of Hitchcock's creative genius could not have thought of some ways to give more life to the body of the picture, because there are times when it really crawls along. But taken on its own merits, it is a pretty good movie, carefully filmed as always, and one that gives the viewer plenty to think about. There are some good scenes, with the best one being the subtly crafted opening sequence of Mrs. Paradine being arrested in her elegant home and taken to prison.
Many Hitchcock fans will not particularly enjoy this one, although if you like his more somber masterpieces such as "Vertigo", you might at least want to give this one a try - not that it is nearly as good as "Vertigo" (how many films are), but it is somewhat similar in tone. It works much better as straight drama, rather than as suspense or mystery, and as such it is worth watching.
here are some films that are forever lost that one wishes still existed: the complete GREED and THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS (Welles final cut)for examples. In the cinema of Alfred Hitchcock, THE PARADINE CASE as he originally shot would have been of great interest. Whether it would have been better is another matter. THE PARADINE CASE is generally conceded as among Hitchcock's lesser films. It's most interesting parts of the performances of the leads (except for Alida Valli, who is quite dull), and the famous sequence of the portrait of Valli whose eyes seem to follow the camera (standing in for Gregory Peck/Anthony Keane) as it passes from one room to the next.
Hitchcock told Francois Truffaut that he felt the casting was wrong. He wanted Greta Garbo for Mrs. Paradine (but Selznick had Alida Valli signed up). He wanted Ronald Colman or Laurence Olivier as Keane (but Selznick had Gregory Peck signed up). He did not want Louis Jourdan as LaTour, but wanted Robert Newton. Again Selznick said no. As a result of our general respect for Hitchcock the suspense film artist we sympathize with his comments, and dismiss Selznick as a bullying producer who destroyed a masterpiece. I seriously question this view.
First of all, David Selznick (for most of his career as a producer) was way ahead of the majority of such Hollywood figures because of his taste and ability. Anyone who could create GONE WITH THE WIND, David COPPERFIELD, SINCE YOU WENT AWAY, and other high caliber movies is not one to dismiss so cavalierly. Most of the films he did with Hitchcock (whom he brought to Hollywood in 1939) were very good films: REBECCA, SUSPICION, SHADOW OF A DOUBT, LIFEBOAT, FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT - they were not crappy. Secondly, he was aware of difficulties in getting performers: Olivier was working in England in 1948. Colman was working mostly at MGM, but was a bit too old for the role. And Peck was not an unknown talent: He had worked with Hitchcock already. As for Garbo, she had been in retirement for six years, and there was no sign she was interested in a film come-back.
The Jourdan - Newton problem is another matter. LaTour, in the film, is Colonel Paradine's loyal batman, now a valet and groom on the estate. Mrs. Paradine has made a play for his affections, and he has rejected them out of loyalty to his master. Hitchcock felt that Robert Newton, with his physical appearance, would have looked more like a man who worked in the mire of a stable than Louis Jourdan did, although as Jourdan remained the Colonel's personal servant that seemed a minor casting point in favor of Newton. Hitchcock also skirted the issue (soon to be handled in ROPE, STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, and NORTH BY NORTHWEST) of a homosexual relationship between his characters. LaTour was supposed to be more openly close to the Colonel in Hitchcock's opinion. But it was a 1948 film - how close was the relationship supposed to be? Furthermore, Selznick as producer would be aware of one defect regarding Newton not found in Hitchcock's account to Truffaut: Newton's alcoholism. Given the size of Newton's benders he was a poor risk in most film acting roles (no matter how available he was). Not so with Louis Jourdan. The film was brought in under 93 days, and that record would not have been possible if Newton had been in the cast and kept getting drunk. As for the homosexual relationship, it never is fleshed at all in the film. But would a 1948 audience have been willing to accept that? I don't think so.
The supporting players, particularly Ann Todd, Charles Laughton as the sadistic Mr. Justice Lord Hawfield, and Ethel Barrymore as Lady Hawfield, gave good accounts of themselves in the film, especially Laughton as the Judge who takes out his frustrations with Mrs. Keane (ANN TODD) to wreck her husband's case. His best scene, where he compares a walnut to a human brain sums up the character's beastliness.
I think that what Hitchcock fans fail to notice here is that it is Hitch's only real courtroom film. While his characters face hearings and sentencing in court (like in the start of NOTORIOUS), they rarely are shown being tried. I CONFESS is an exception - and the bulk of the film is not a trial. Here the bulk of the film is the trial of the anti-heroine Mrs. Paradine. It is not typical Hitchcock, and fails to fascinate the audience. The highpoint is the verbal clashes between Laughton and Peck (sometimes assisted by Leo G. Carroll as the prosecutor), Jourdan's collapse in the witness box when Keane attacks him for secretly betraying his master with the defendant, and Valli's final condemnation of Keane in court. But the circumstances and the dialog do not fascinate the viewers. Compare the way the trial in THE PARADINE CASE compares with those in Billy Wilder's WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION, and in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Laughton's Sir Wilfred Robarts enlivens the film, and his tactics in attacking Torin Thatcher's case for the prosecution of Tyrone Power are solid and interesting in the former. Gregory Peck's Atticus Finch, in defending Brock Peters on a rape charge in a segregated, bigoted South, are cutting and sensible. The key is the script - both of those films have better scripts, based on better writings (Agatha Christie and Harper Lee) than the Robert Hitchens novel.
One can bemoan the loss of the three hour version or the 119 minute version that we lack now, but if it was anything as dull as the slow moving courtroom sequences of the currently extant film, I doubt that any improvement would have appeared.
* Director Cameo: [Alfred Hitchcock] getting off a train at the Cumberland station carrying a cello (see also his cameo in Strangers on a Train (1951)).
* An exact replica of the Old Bailey courtroom was constructed for the court scenes.
* Alfred Hitchcock's last film under contract with David O. Selznick.
* The movie cost almost exactly the same to film as Gone with the Wind (1939), with most of the overruns due to David O. Selznick's constant interference with Alfred Hitchcock's carefully budgeted production and his insistence that Hitchcock do extensive re-shoots. Since Hitchcock required that he receive his contractual $1,000-per-day fee, Selznick took over, including supervising editing and the musical score.
* Alfred Hitchcock wanted to cast Laurence Olivier or Ronald Colman as Anthony Keane, Greta Garbo as Mrs. Paradine and Robert Newton as André Latour.
* In 1980, a flood destroyed the original, uncut version, making the restoration of the cut scenes unlikely.
* While Alfred Hitchcock liked the actors, he felt that Gregory Peck, Alida Valli and 'Louis Jourdan (I)' were unsuited to their roles. David O. Selznick asserted his power as studio head to insist that Hitchcock use them.
* When Alfred Hitchcock delivered the completed film to the studio, after a Hitchcock record of 92 days of filming, it ran almost three hours.
* Alfred Hitchcock wanted to direct Ingrid Bergman in the role of a woman on trial for killing her husband - the part that eventually went to Alida Valli. Bergman wanted to avoid doing another movie for producer David O. Selznick.
* It was Alfred Hitchcock who selected 'Ann Todd (I)' for the role Gay Keane.
* The music in "The Paradine Case" was written by Franz Waxman.
* When Keane goes to the Paradine house in Cumberland, he walks over to Mrs. Paradine's piano. On the piano we see close-up of a page of music called Appassionata Op. 69 by Francesco Ceruomo. Francesco Ceruomo is an Italianized version of Frank Waxman, who wrote the background music for the film. The music shown on the piano is the actual music that is playing on the soundtrack at that point.
* Ben Hecht and James Bridie wrote the original screenplay, based on the adaptation by Alma Reville. But David O. Selznick wasn't pleased. So David O. Selznick rewrote the script.
* Greta Garbo turned down the role of Martha in "I remember Mama" around the same time she also rejected to play "Mrs. Paradine" in Alfred Hitchcock's The Paradine Case (1947). She is reputed to have commented, "No murderesses, no mamas."
* A memorable image in The Paradine Case occurs when Mrs. Paradine is taken from her life of luxury and confined to a bare jail cell. The slamming of the iron door behind her as she enters the cell recalls one of Hitchcock's own memories, that of six-year old Alfred being locked up in the Leytonstone jail.
* Although "The Paradine Case" was a box office failure, many critics noticed performances from Ann Todd and Joan Tetzel. Time Magazine (Jan. 12, 1948 issue) commented their performances like this - "The only characters who come sharply to life are the barrister's wife (Ann Todd) and her confidante (Joan Tetzel)." Variety Magazine Commented about Ann Todd's performance in "The Paradine Case" like this "Ann Todd delights as his wife, giving the assignment a grace and understanding that tug at the emotions."
* Alfred Hitchcock and David O. Selznick wanted Sir Laurence Olivier for the role "Malcolm Keane." But Sir Laurence Olivier was unavailable. So the role went to Gregory Peck. And the name "Malcolm Keane" was changed to "Anthony Keane."
* James Mason was also considered for the role "Anthony Keane."
* Alfred Hitchcock wanted Robert Newton for the role "William Marsh." But the role went to 'Louis Jourdan (I)' . So the name "William Marsh" was changed to "Andre Latour."
* In Hitchcock's rough cut and 131 minutes version, Ethel Barrymore can be seen as a half crazed wife of Lord Horfield played by Charles Laughton. But David O. Selznick removed these scenes in the final editing and the final runtime was only 114 minutes.
* According to Book "Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light", Hitchcock's favorite effect, he told Charles Higham, had been planned since the inception of The Paradine Case. Keane and Sir Simon Flaquer walk toward the camera as they enter Lincoln's Inn, part of venerable fourteenth-century London law complex. The two are seen entering the building, closing the door, walking up the stairs, turning the corner, heading along a landing into an office, and then continuing into the office, all without a single cut. It was one of Hitchcock's signature composites, using background projection and a treadmill, elaborately planned and prepared in advance by his second unit in London. Opposed to the long take, and oblivious of the significance of Lincoln's Inn, Selznick deleted the shot.