Friday, September 14, 2012

The Paradine Case

Kaksi pisaraa viiniä / Två droppar vin. US ©  1947 Vanguard Films. PC: The Selznick Studio. P: David O. Selznick. D: Alfred Hitchcock. SC: David O. Selznick - [James Bridie (n.c.)] - [additional dialogue: Ben Hecht (n.c.)] - adaptation: Alma Reville - based on the novel by Robert Hichens (1933). DP: Lee Garmes. PD: J. McMillan Johnson. AD: Thomas N. Morahan. Set dec: Emile Kuri, Joseph B. Platt. Cost: Travis Banton. Hair: Larry Germain. SFX: Clarence Slifer. M: Franz Waxman. S: James G. Stewart. ED: Hal C. Kern. C: Valli = Alida Valli (Mrs. Paradine), Gregory Peck (Anthony Keane), Ann Todd (Gay Keane), Charles Laughton (Judge Lord Thomas Horfield), Charles Coburn (Sir Simon Flaquer), Ethel Barrymore (Lady Sophie Horfield), Louis Jourdan (André Latour), Leo G. Carroll (Sir Joseph), Joan Tetzel (Judy Flaquer), Isobel Elsom (innkeeper), Lumsden Hare (courtroom attendant), Snub Pollard (cabby), John Williams (barrister Collins), Alfred Hitchcock (man carrying cello case). Helsinki premiere: 21.9.1951 Kino-Palatsi, re-release 14.9.1962, distributed by Suomi-Filmi. 132 min, 125 min, 119 min, 115 min, 112 min, 94 min. A 112 min 1962 re-release version with Finnish / Swedish subtitles at widescreen level by Reino Marjonen / Maya Vanni viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Alfred Hitchcock), 14 September 2012.

The Paradine Case is generally regarded as a failure, one of Alfred Hitchcock's least successful works, but I have always been fond of it while not pretending it is a masterpiece.

In many scenes the dynamic use of space is admirable, and especially in the final trial sequences the long camera movements around Alida Valli are unforgettable. In many scenes Hitchcock's unique direction of the look is at his best, and in those trial scenes he is discovering new dimensions in its expression. All the time Hitchcock is discovering meanings and connections among ordinary objects. The Paradine Case is often exciting to watch.

The Paradine Case is a star vehicle for Alida Valli. The cinematographer is Lee Garmes who had shot Marlene Dietrich for Josef von Sternberg. The gowns are by Travis Banton who had created costumes for Paramount stars of the 1930s, also for Dietrich and Sternberg. Alida Valli's performance belongs to the unforgettable ones in Hitchcock's oeuvre.

In The Paradine Case Selznick, Hitchcock and Alida Valli venture to revive the femme fatale, essentially an old world creature, currently being replaced by film noir women. Robert Hichens (1864-1950) was a sensationalist writer with his roots in the 19th century. He was the one who exposed Oscar Wilde and brought about his downfall. There is something that reeks stale in the story and in the way Hitchcock himself and many critics discuss the movie, but the movie is more fascinating than the surrounding discourse.   

The Paradine Case was Alida Valli's first Hollywood role, and in it she was at her best. Valli already had made over 30 movies in Italy, gentle comedies, historical roles (Piccolo mondo antico), classic roles by Balzac and Prévost, and the great anti-Bolshevik Ayn Rand spectacle Noi vivi / Addio Kira.

When baronessa Valli was asked to play a rags-to-riches murderess in The Paradine Case, she was cast against type, and she could not help her innate nobility and dignity shining through. Or maybe her presence exploded the whole cheapo stereotype as written by Robert Hichens. There is a mysterious air of transcendence in the performance.

Selznick wanted to create a new Garbo, but the divine age of Garbo had been vanishing since the advent of the sound film ("Garbo talks") and the great depression. Lubitsch realized it and took a step forward: "Garbo laughs". (Interesting coincidence: Garbo - Ninotchka, Valli - Noi vivi). In the star images of Garbo and Valli there is a sense of a possible bisexuality and at least a free and timeless concept of sexuality. Perhaps the mystery in them both was the sense of a love that was then forbidden.

From the viewpoint of the law the case is clear. Mrs. Paradine has murdered her husband.

But Mrs. Paradine is also being despised because she is not a noblewoman. Instead as a child she has known poverty in Naples. She is also being despised because of her healthy sexuality. Also the groom André Latour (Louis Jourdan) is being despised for both reasons - because of his class status and his virility. One of the great tragedies of the story is that Mrs. Paradine and Latour condemn each other in the trial ("it was she who dragged us both down"). Yet Latour was the love of Mrs. Paradine's life, and after Latour's suicide Mrs. Paradine is ready to give up everything ("my life is finished") and announce his hate towards Keane.

The whole macabre case is a crushing blow to Keane and his promising career. "I hardly recognize my lost ideals", he mumbles already in the beginning. Yet there may be a blessing in a curse. Keane has been taught a terrible lesson, and profoundly humbled, he might become a better lawyer. Perhaps even a great lawyer.

"Justice is blind" might be the watchword for The Paradine Case, but in an ironic fashion.

The theme of blindness is twofold. Colonel Paradine has been blinded in the war, and Mrs. Paradine has been "his eyes". The colonel married after he was blinded and thus never got to see his wife's beauty.

The barrister Keane is "blinded" by Mrs. Paradine's charm "at first sight" and until Mrs. Paradine's crushing final revelation he acts under delusion.

In a clear but refined way Hitchcock shows us how Keane's wife (Ann Todd) and best friend (Charles Coburn) immediately realize what has happened when Keane has met Mrs. Paradine.

The visual motif of the portrait is prominent. Mrs. Paradine is proud of the portrait of her husband with its "look of the blind man". Visiting the country house in Cumberland Keane looks at the portrait of Mrs. Paradine with a cruel and demonic or perhaps only suffering look but does not see its revelatory quality.

The performance of Alida Valli is great, and many other performances are fine, but those of Gregory Peck (as Keane) and Louis Jourdan (as Latour) I find wanting. Yet the difficult scenes around the final crush to the barrister Peck carries very well. Latour should be an irresistibly physical and virile man, as Hitchcock himself remarked; in Jourdan's performance he is not, and credibility is weakened.

What I like most in The Paradine Case is its sense of souls lost in passions that remain unfulfilled. I even like the sense of hope in the ending, that one can learn even from the most terrible failures.

The visual quality of the print is fine at times, but generally there is a duped look.

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