B&W, 1947, 114 mins. 27 secs.
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Starring Gregory Peck, Alida Valli, Ann Todd, Louis Jourdan, Charles Laughton, Charles Coburn, Ethel Barrymore, Joan Tetzel, Leo G. Carroll
Kino Lorber (Blu-ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC), MGM, Anchor Bay (DVD) (US R1 NTSC)

The Paradine Case

The Paradine CaseFilmmaker Alfred Hitchcock’s turbulent but fruitful off-and-on collaboration with legendary Hollywood producer David O. Selznick had started with a bang with 1940’s Rebecca and then led to the lovably overripe Spellbound in 1945. The two men joined forces a final time for their least known and most frequently dismissed film together in 1947, The Paradine Case, which found Hitchcock mounting his only bona fide courtroom thriller with results that seemed to please few when it opened. Coming right after one of the director’s most ingenious films, Notorious, the film seemed especially underwhelming with star Gregory Peck seeming ill at ease as a tempted barrister, an odd bit of casting for a role originally intended for such names as Laurence Olivier. The film had been in various states of pre-production by Selznick for years since the original 1933 novel was published, posing numerous problems with the Production Code and going through several different line ups before finally landing in Hitchcock’s lap. Despite the strife involved by the time the film went before the cameras, it’s still an interesting oddity in the director’s career with a few flourishes that still betray the hand of a master.The Paradine Case

When a murder charge is leveled against immigrant socialite Maddalena Anna Paradine (Suspiria’s Valli) in the death of her older husband by poisoning, barrister Anthony Keane (Peck) is brought on board by solicitor Simon Flaquer (Coburn) to defend her in court. Keane’s immediate infatuation with his new client puts a huge strain on his marriage to Gay (Scream of Fears Todd), and though he can’t be sure of Paradine’s innocence, he decides to investigate the possible culpability of the family’s French manservant, André Latour (Jourdan).  Soon Keane comes to realize that he may be in way over his head, both emotionally The Paradine Caseand professionally.

Though few viewers will be terribly shocked by any of the plot twists on display here, there’s plenty of fun for old Hollywood fans to be found in the limited but juicy supporting performances including an Oscar-nominated turn by Ethel Barrymore and Hitchcock veterans like Charles Laughton (Jamaica Inn) as a scenery-chewing judge and Peck’s Spellbound co-star, Leo G. Carroll. Joan Tetzel has a field day in what should have been a thankless role as Flaquer’s daughter, and character actor John Williams turns up early in his career here as another attorney years before he would reunite with Hitchcock for Dial M for Murder (which features Hitchcock’s most stylized and chilling courtroom scene) and To The Paradine CaseCatch a Thief.

The theatrical release of The Paradine Case is more mysterious than the film itself, with Selznick wresting control of the project from Hitchcock after the director had complete a three-hour rough cut. The premiere version clocked in at what sounds like a bloated 130 minutes and wasn’t well received, which spurred Selznick to trim it down to 125 minutes and then 114 minutes for the version we have now. The earlier cuts have since been lost; unlike Spellbound (whose deleted scenes have become the stuff of legend), it doesn’t seem that anything spectacular was removed but Hitchcock's growing penchant for long, elaborate single takes was a major casualty.      

In 2008, MGM issued this film as part of its Alfred Hitchcock Premiere Collection in a new transfer with extras including an excellent commentary by film historians Stephen Rebello and Bill Krohn (who focus on the fraught relationship between director and producer and the rocky process of getting the very expensive project to the screen), a 15m52s audio interview with Hitchcock and Peter Bogdanovich about his dissatisfaction with two key casting choices, audio from the director’s legendary interview sessions with The Paradine CaseFrancois Truffaut (12m57s), a 1949 Lux Radio Theatre production of the story with Joseph Cotton (56m37s) who would The Paradine Casego on to star with Valli in The Third Man, the theatrical trailer, a still gallery, a restoration comparison, and an isolated music and effects track highlighting the score by Franz Waxman. The DVD was later issued separately, and all those extras have been ported over for the 2017 Blu-ray edition released by Kino Lorber (with a new DVD at the same time). The HD presentation is largely impressive and definitely the best the film has looked to date, though the increased resolution also accentuates some pretty harsh grain in some of the scenes with lower lighting or second unit exterior footage; that's baked into the film itself though, and that's preferable to scrubbing and smoothing all of the texture away. The DTS-HD MA English mono track with optional English subtitles seems to be flawless. In addition to all of the preexisting extras, the release also adds a new 8m36 interview with Cecilia and Carey Peck (recorded separately) about the actor's growing box office clout at the time, his adoption of the "well-dressed continental style" of the time, Hitchcock's lack of engagement with the project, and a really hilarious story about (not) blinking involving Peck and Jourdan.

Reviewed on May 24, 2017