Thursday, July 3, 2008

THE PARADINE CASE (Selznick International 1947) Anchor Bay

The Paradine Case (1947) effectively ended the association between Alfred Hitchcock and David O. Selznick with a modest thud. That the resulting project failed to live up to everyone’s expectations (coming directly after Notorious) belies Selznick’s intervention on the project, even though the film itself is consistently charming and moody, if nowhere near the caliber of its predecessor.

Originally Hitchcock had wanted either Ronald Colman or Laurence Olivier for the role of the barrister, Anthony Keane. There is some speculation that Hitch’ also sought the elusive Greta Garbo as his Mrs. Paradine. Disinterested in paying for these loan outs, Selznick assigned his own homegrown contract players to the cast. Hitchcock was disenchanted with this decision. Although he greatly admired Gregory Peck, Alida Valli and Louis Jourdan as actors, he felt all of them entirely unsuited for their roles.

Nevertheless, the project progressed at a grueling ninety-two day shoot – the longest of any Hitchcock film schedule to date. It was always Selznick’s intention to create another colossus – an extensive courtroom melodrama with obsessive love as its underpinning. Working from a script by Selznick and Ben Hecht, Hitchcock chose to acquiesce to Selznick’s demand rather than fight the producer's desires for a really big movie. In the end, Hitchcock delivered a rough cut that ran nearly 3 hours. For once, Selznick felt that a film could, in fact, be too long and, after having disposed of Hitchcock’s services once and for all, he went to work re-editing The Paradine Case down to a modest 125 minutes.

Though the cuts are not damaging to the overall continuity of the story, they do tend to reduce various characters to mere cardboard cutouts. Imminent personalities such as Charles Laughton and Ethel Barrymore – cast in the film as tawdry philanderer, Judge Lord Thomas and Lady Horfield - simply float in and out of the story rather than becoming an integral part of it. So too, does the ending of the film, at least in hindsight, seem slightly rushed.

The story that emerges on screen is rather threadbare and in viewing the film today one wonders just how much more there might have been to sustain an audiences’ interest for three hours. The plot concerns one Maddalena Anna Paradine (Valli), the late wife of a blind colonel whom she is accused of poisoning to death. It seems Mrs. Paradine has been having an affair with her husband’s valet, Andre LaTour (Jourdan).

On the advice of legal council, Sir Simon Flaquer (Charles Coburn) Maddalena hires handsome hotshot attorney, Anthony Keane (Peck) as her defense. But the trial is made problematic when the married Keane begins to invest in Maddalena’s innocence on the basis that he is slowly becoming enamored with her. Keane’s wife, Gay (Ann Todd) is patient in her love, allowing her husband his romantic fancies because she knows they will come to not; for Maddalena is guilty of the charge.

Given the severity of Selznick’s editing, the distillation of Hitchcock’s suspense into tepid melodrama is perhaps forgivable. The resulting film is much more a polite comedy of manners than a political/crime thriller. There are no surprises, no great complexities to wade through and no rivalry between characters once the audience has figured out that the accused is in fact destined to die.

To date, only Anchor Bay Home Video has managed to release a credible DVD transfer of The Paradine Case. The disc is currently out of print but readily available on Amazon and other websites. The B&W transfer is generally sharp and clean, with only moderate lapses of grain and age related artifacts and the occasional hint of edge enhancement that will not distract. The audio is mono as originally intended and presented at an adequate listening level. The one regret here is that Anchor Bay did not produce either a documentary of featurette on the making of the film.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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