Thursday, May 25, 2017

THE PARADINE CASE: Blu-ray (Selznick International, 1947) Kino Lorber

“With all the skill in presentation for which both gentlemen are famed, David O. Selznick and Alfred Hitchcock have put upon the screen a slick piece of static entertainment (with) Gregory Peck…impressively impassioned; Ann Todd, the pliant Brit and Alida Valli, as a compound of mystery, fascination and voluptuousness with a pair of bedroom eyes. Louis Jourdan, the new boy from Paris, is electric as the badgered valet.”
Bosley Crowthers
The Paradine Case (1947) effectively ended the association between director, Alfred Hitchcock and producer, David O. Selznick, and, depending on one’s point of view the results of it may either be judged as adequate or disappointing; a box office dud to what had always been a rather tempestuous alliance between these preeminent film makers/storytellers in their own right. Selznick wanted ‘another Rebecca or, more astutely, a hugely engrossing thriller a la the girth and loquaciousness of a literary masterpiece. Hitchcock merely endeavored to survive Selznick’s tsunami of damned memos and daily rewrites to produce another sizable hit to exercise as well as advertise his mastery of the cinema language. In the end, neither of these towering  figures from filmdom were satisfied; the complexity of their tug-o-war evident almost from the moment the Selznick International trademark fades into a close-up on the detailed paneling behind the judges box at the Old Bailey – recreated at the studio of course, and the scroll lettering suddenly – and rather inexplicably – gives  way to the bold-typeface popularized in newspaper headlines; flashing ‘THE PARADINE CASE’, filling every inch of the frame, both from side to side and top to bottom.
The Paradine Case should have been another triumph for Hitchcock (who came late to this party) if not Selznick; Hitch’, barely seven years in America and already touted as the irrefutable ‘master of suspense’. Hitchcock manages little suspense in The Paradine Case, I suspect because Selznick’s endeavor was to relay a wordy melodrama with only lightly peppered elements of suspense carefully spread throughout what was originally planned as a nearly three hour epic in crime. Hitchcock’s tastes did not favor the epic – or at least, Selznick’s preconceived notion of one, and he vehemently opposed any and all of the producer’s directives and attempts to morph The Paradine Case into that sort of classless rubbish he felt the picture was steadily veering towards under Selznick’s aegis. Selznick had, in fact, purchased the rights to Robert Smythe Hichens’ novel in 1933 while he was till at MGM and even before it was published; Selznick, with delusions of grandeur to star Greta Garbo. Garbo was in fact Hichens' inspiration for Maddalena Paradine. For one reason or another, the project was repeatedly stalled until such time as Garbo decided to officially retire from the movies with no regrets and even less interest to be wooed back to the screen, rumored to have quietly said to Selznick, “No murderesses, no mamas” (the latter a reference to being offered the title role in George Stevens’ I Remember Mama, 1948; a part eventually going to Irene Dunne).
Howard Estabrook was assigned by Selznick to adapt the screenplay while Selznick preemptively jumped the gun by announcing in the trades that John and Lionel Barrymore would costar with Diana Wynyard. The Hollywood censors forewarned it was impossible to grant their permission on The Paradine Case, since it was quite obvious Maddalena Paradine had murdered her husband to hop into bed with a lover. In the novel, she was equally as guilty of perjury and, in the end, committed suicide. The Hays Office also objected to the portrayal of Judge Lord Thomas Horfield as a sadist who relished sending people to their doom. Embroiled with his difficulties elsewhere on the MGM backlot (indeed, Selznick would depart the studio as something of an ungrateful offspring, being married to L.B. Mayer’s daughter, Irene at the time); a new draft of the script resubmitted to the censors in1942 was almost immediately approved. Again, The Paradine Case languished as Selznick, buoyed by the overwhelming critical and financial success of his magnum opus, Gone with the Wind (1939) pursued other projects of varying stature and similarity. By 1946, he had another draft ready for the censors, again approved after all references to Madame Paradine’s suicide were expunged. Whatever the case (pun intended); Selznick delayed again, eventually calling in noted writer, Ben Hecht to do a polish on the script; then launching whole hog into a project for which Hitchcock’s affinity had distinctly cooled.
The cast is certainly something: every man and the voice of integrity, Gregory Peck as barrister, Anthony Keane (Hitchcock would have preferred either Ronald Colman or Laurence Olivier – both turned him down), Italian hopeful, Alida Valli, simply introduced by Selznick to North American audiences as Valli (there is some documentation to support Selznick’s eagerness to promote Alida as a viable successor to the retired Garbo by lopping off her first name to suggest the allure, glamor and mystery of that ‘other’ cinema ‘sphinx’), Ann Todd, as Keane’s ever-devoted ‘little woman’ cum sophisticate, Gay; Ethel Barrymore, as a staggeringly empathetic, tortured wife whose self-confidence is bludgeoned by the merciless philandering of her husband, Judge Lord Thomas Horfield (supremely realized with insidious self-inflicted misery by Charles Laughton); Charles Coburn, as the frankly unvarnished and clear-eyed solicitor, Sir Simon Flaquer, and finally, Louis Jourdan, in his debut as the sinfully handsome valet, André Latour, much to studly to be driving anyone’s car or to be passed over by the madam of this maison with whom he has so obviously had an affair. But did Latour and Maddalena Paradine conspicuously plot to poison her husband together? Hmmmm.
The Paradine Case is full of red herrings. That’s part of its charm; the other portion belonging to this glittering ensemble of superb actors giving it their all. Despite its inability to ever become firmly situated on the precepts of either the melodrama or the suspense/thriller, I have always rather enjoyed The Paradine Case as an exercise in the Selznick/Hitchcock battle royale; a deliciously flawed confection with only a semisweet center. Not all the pieces fit, but what remains is so effective and engrossing one can almost excuse the fact that, on the whole, The Paradine Case never attains the finesse of either a class ‘A’ Selznick Studio’s release or a deliberately engaging whodunit made by Hitch’ in his prime. We can forgive these men their ability to tear at each other’s reputations, each emerging from the fray impervious to the picture’s narrative failures. Chief among these is the way most of Ann Todd, Ethel Barrymore and Charles Laughton’s performances have been left on the cutting room floor; the bits and pieces stitched together herein only whetting the appetite without ever gorging the audience on what was so deliberately a three-course feast of their thespian talents. We get echoes of greatness, but with no actual monument to it forthcoming. That’s a shame, because given over to their undeniable strengths The Paradine Case might have evolved into just the sort of thriller/epic hybrid from which both Hitchcock and Selznick might have seized yet another brass ring of stature and merit. Instead, what is here is a sort of truncated medley to tease; a coming attraction advertising a feature film never to follow it. 
The last film to be made under Hitchcock’s ironclad seven-year contract with Selznick, it is a safe bet Hitchcock was elated to be a freelancer in Hollywood once more. By the time of Hitchcock’s involvement on The Paradine Case, the original screenplay Selznick had commissioned from Howard Estabrook was out; replaced by a first draft co-written by Hitch’ and his wife, Alma Reville, later polished by playwright, James Bridie. Hitchcock approved of this version. Selznick did not. Pushed into production before Selznick had the opportunity to commission another draft, the meticulous producer reworked dialogue and whole scenes by night, hitting Hitch’, his cast and crew with a barrage of rewrites expected to be shot later the next day. It proved a demented process, trying Hitchcock’s patience and keeping both cast and crew on their toes.  Disgusted by these chronic manipulations, the atmosphere on set shifted from general unease to a terse tension as Hitchcock plotted to work around Selznick’s interventions and will ‘the damn thing’ into a final form he could, if not take immense pride in, then at least exhibited touches of his usual brilliance. Nevertheless, Hitchcock’s ennui trickled down to the cast; Gregory Peck later commenting “He seems really bored with the whole thing.”
Like all pictures produced under Selznick’s aegis, one faultless aspect of The Paradine Case is its pictorial value; J. McMillan Johnson’s production design and Thomas N. Morahan’s art direction given Selznick’s approval to spend profligately. Thanks to Lee Garmes’ gorgeous cinematography, The Paradine Case has a very slick and stylish mantel of quality. Perhaps recalling how Hitchcock’s North American debut, 1940’s Rebecca, had been a resounding success, Selznick sought to introduce scenes reminiscent of the moment when the second Mrs. DeWinter (played by Joan Fontaine) explores the secret boudoir of the mansion’s former deceased mistress. In The Paradine Case we get Anthony Keane traveling to the Paradine’s country estate where the murder took place, exploring the Gothic trappings in a moodily lit bedroom decidedly overwrought in its homage to Maddalena; her portrait inlaid into the wood-carved headboard.
Partly because of all the back and forth between Selznick and Hitchcock, The Paradine Case had one of the longest shoots in Selznick’s tenure as an indie producer; begun shortly before Christmas 1946, ‘officially’ wrapping on May 7, 1947, though continuously in retakes and re-shoots thereafter until November of that same year.  Only a few stock inserts of the Lake District location shoot survived the final edit; the rest of the picture cobbled together from interiors shot entirely on Selznick’s backlot, including a slavishly accurate recreation of London’s Old Bailey. Selznick was, in fact, granted permission by the London High Court of Appeals to send unit manager, Fred Ahern to extensively photograph the real thing; J. McMillan Johnson building a thoroughly faithful facsimile in just 85 days and at a then staggering cost of $80,000, complete with cove ceilings; unusual for a set, since rigging and lights are typically strung from the open rafters, with matte work later inserted to fill in the gaping hole.
Hitchcock would later describe The Paradine Case as “…a love story embedded in the emotional quicksand of a murder trial” and that is probably closest to the truth of where its entertainment value is situated. If the picture has a tour de force moment, it remains the high stakes courtroom drama that unfolds and unravels Maddalena’s alibi. Indeed, in reviewing the picture today, Hitchcock’s criteria for generating taut and effective drama is working overtime here; utilizing four cameras in balletic choreography to capture the actors’ performances from every conceivable angle simultaneously, thus allowing them to play their scenes straight through. Later, Hitchcock would augment this continuity with a few inserted crane shots and skillful editing. When it was all over, The Paradine Case cost Selznick a whopping $4,258,000; a titanic sum when one compares its barely two hour run time to 4 hours of Gone With The Wind; costing only $46,000 more to make – and in Technicolor, no less!  Perceived from another angle, The Paradine Case is basically half the picture for double the cost. In the end it was Selznick’s fastidiousness, not Hitchcock’s craftsmanship that cost him dearly; Selznick unceremoniously removing Hitchcock from the picture during post-production when Hitch’ insisted on his contractual $1000 a day to supervise the editing and scoring.
After toiling on the picture for a record 92 days of principle photography Hitchcock had, in fact, delivered a 3 hr. crime epic; one with which Selznick was almost immediately displeased. To meet the Oscar deadline for submissions, Selznick’s hurried rough cut was prescreened for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences at 132 minutes. Rumor has it this version contained three minutes devoted to Ethel Barrymore’s half-crazed Lady Horfield; a sequence in a museum where she implores Keane to save Maddalena from hanging, and another moment where Lady Horfield frantically tries to conceal one of her nervous coughing spells from the penetrating glare of her vindictive husband. Presumably, these highlights were responsible for Barrymore’s Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actress; the statuette, instead forfeited to Celeste Holm for Gentleman’s Agreement. For better or worse, the public never had the opportunity to Judge Barrymore’s performance; her scenes mercilessly excised wholesale as Selznick reworked the picture to 125 minutes; its official run time for general release. For decades, rumors persisted Selznick could not decide upon a title for the movie; coming up with the rather lackluster ‘The Paradine Case’ literally hours before its Westwood premiere. Frankly, it doesn’t wash – since poster art, press and other promotion would have had to been carefully prepared weeks, if not months in advance; to say nothing of the theater marquee. Likely, Selznick consternated, as he usually did, on coming up with a title before settling on the one we have today. Selznick made several additional trims immediately following the premiere that brought the official run time down to 114 minutes for general release.
Viewed today, The Paradine Case is rather a perfunctory installment in the Hitchcock/Selznick library. At best, it is enjoyable for its stellar performances, despite the transient quality of both Charles Laughton and Ethel Barrymore’s appearances; the pair, simply floating in and out from the screen’s peripheries rather than becoming an integral part of another multi-layered subplot. Brit-born beauty, Ann Todd, sadly underrated as an actress, and even more obscenely underused and absent in American movies (what could Hollywood have been thinking?!?) gives a magnificently understated and empathetic performance as Gay Keane; the ever-devoted wife who clearly sees Maddalena Paradine’s feminine wiles have infested her husband’s heart. Tony is not the philandering type. Nor does he possess the opportunity to act upon his impulses, though he has been bewitched by the widow Paradine’s exotic charms. Gay’s fervent prayer is for her husband to spare Maddalena being hanged for the crime of murder, knowing that otherwise in death she will likely be etched into his heart. Nevertheless, Gay is accomplished, warm and self-assured; truly a mate to the mistress compared, and in this movie’s abruptly rushed finale, Tony realizes as much, to both their satisfactions.
The story that emerges on screen is rather threadbare and in viewing The Paradine Case 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 widow of a blind, aged Colonel whom she is accused of poisoning. It seems the widow Paradine has been having an affair with her husband’s valet, Andre Latour (Jourdan). On the advice of legal counsel, Sir Simon Flaquer (Charles Coburn) Maddalena hires handsome hotshot barrister, Anthony Keane (Peck) for her defense. But the trial is made problematic when the married Keane begins to invest in Maddalena’s innocence on the basis he has not-so-secretly become enamored by her and may, in fact, wish to pursue her outside the courtroom should an acquittal suffice. Keane’s wife, Gay (Ann Todd) is patient in her married love, allowing Tony his fanciful romantic daydreams. Secure in the overriding arc of Tony’s love for her, Gay recognizes his momentary infatuation as destined for heartbreak; for Maddalena is guilty of the charges.
Tony makes a pilgrimage to the Paradine’s country estate, intent on interrogating Latour, who has remained conspicuously absent. He discovers the house devoted to the Colonel’s excessive pampering of a much younger bride; compensation for her kindnesses towards him. The house is forlorn, and except for a sheepish housekeeper, seemingly unoccupied. Upon retiring to a nearby inn for contemplation Tony come face to face with Latour; young and fiery, yet presumably, pure in his intensions, or rather, grief-stricken because of his sustained guilty over conspiring with, or perhaps simply knowing about, the widow Paradine’s intent before the actual crime was committed. Hitchcock and Selznick are very cagey in keeping Latour’s complicity a secret right up until the climactic courtroom showdown. Even then, we are never entirely certain of Latour’s motives, despite his histrionics during cross-examination. Louis Jourdan gives a rather shockingly disturbed performance, fraught with emotional contradiction, anxiety and bodice-ripping, taut masculine charisma. It’s a great piece of play acting and it undeniably resonated with the female audience, enough to launch Jourdan on an amiable career as the exotic sophisticate in movies like Three Coins in A Fountain (1956) and Gigi (1958).
Given the severity of Selznick’s editing, the distillation of Hitchcock’s ambition into tepid melodrama, The Paradine Case hovers as far more a polite comedy of manners than a harrowing crime/thriller. There are no surprises, no great complexities to wade through and no rivalry between any of the characters, despite some last minute sexual tension between the wormy Judge Horfield and Gay; Tony and Maddalena, and Latour and the widow, brought forth by Keane’s badgering during his cross-examination. The courtroom finale is well worth the wait, but comes just a little too late to salvage the rest of the story from a sort of perfunctory ‘by-the-numbers whodunit. Bottom line: The Paradine Case is definitely worth a second glance. It may not be top-tier Hitchcock or Selznick, but second tier from these boys is pretty much top-tier from everyone else. Good stuff on tap, but nevertheless a letdown once you have seen their other collaborative efforts: Rebecca, Notorious and Spellbound.
In 2008, MGM/Fox Home Video debuted all three of the aforementioned titles on Blu-ray in a slim-case ‘collection; very slim indeed, since the set did not include The Paradine Case or any of Hitchcock’s British tenure offered in MGM/Fox’s more lavishly appointed Premiere DVD box set from 2006. This set in standard def also contained Young and Innocent, The Lodger, and, Sabotage, as well as a reissue of Fox’s Lifeboat, with extensive liner notes and extras on all of the movies. It has taken almost ten years since to get Lifeboat to Blu-ray; alas in a painfully underwhelming hi-def presentation. Mercifully, the results on this newly minted Blu-ray of The Paradine Case, via Kino Lorber’s distribution deal with Fox, are infinitely more pleasing in 1080p. The image is solid, with a supremely satisfying and highly textured gray scale, looking quite consistent and silken smooth in motion. Age-related artifacts are occasionally present, but never distracting.
The DTS 2.0 mono is adequate and free of hiss and pop. Kino has also ported over the 2008 audio commentary from film historians, Stephen Rebello and Bill Krohn; plus, a pair of brief, audio-only interviews; the first featuring Hitchcock and Francois Truffaut, the second with Hitch’ and Peter Bogdanovich; and, the hour-long Lux Radio adaptation from 1949, starring Joseph Cotten. There is also a succinctly produced 9 minute puff piece costarring Gregory Peck’s adult children, Cecilia and Carey affectionate wax about their dad. Finally, the old isolated score track showcasing Franz Waxman’s contributions is included. A word about this: MGM/Fox included ‘isolated’ score options on their releases of Rebecca, Notorious and Spellbound, but some of these cues have been substituted or otherwise do not contain original recordings: a genuine shame. Bottom line: Kino’s Blu is a quality affair. If you are a fan of The Paradine Case, you will want to upgrade to this disc. It bests your old DVD by miles.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)

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