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Sunday, March 05, 2017

The Paradine Case

Alfred Hitchcock made so many films that there were bound to be a few duds, and 1947's The Paradine Case is one of them. It's a courtroom drama with a miscast Gregory Peck as a defense attorney following in love with his client, on trial for murder. While watching, all I could think of was the much better film that would come from Billy Wilder, Witness for the Prosecution.

I thought of that film both because the big moment in the film is a hostile witness, and Charles Laughton is in both. Here he is a lecherous judge who seems to enjoy sentencing people to death. His performance, so casually malicious, is the highlight of the film.

Alida Valli (here credited as just Valli) is a woman who is arrested for poisoning her much older, blind husband. Her solicitor, Charles Coburn, engages Peck, a brilliant barrister. Peck is married to Ann Todd, a perfectly good wife, but he is drawn in by Valli's exoticism. He will hear no aspersions on her character, especially by the dead man's valet (Louis Jourdan), whom he decides did it, and tries to prove it in court.

This was Hitchcock's last film for David O. Selznick, and Peck recalled that he seemed bored by the whole thing. That shows in the final product, as it simply chugs on with no real suspense. The main twist, so to speak, happens off screen.

There are a few great Hitchcockian moments. When Jourdan is called to testify, he enters behind Valli in the defendant's box. Hitchcock keeps the camera focused on her even while he tracks on Jourdan behind her, giving us an idea of their relationship. But too much of The Paradine Case is just soggy melodrama.

I've mentioned a few times that Peck appeared as British men without attempting an accent. He tries one here, and I now see why he didn't bother in other films.

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