These are the Siren's final thoughts on The Paradine Case, at least for these purposes. If you haven't already, please go to Some Came Running to read the Mighty Glenn Kenny's Part 3.
|David O. Selznick's foreign discoveries stick together.|
Since you’ve covered the formal beauties of this movie so well, I thought I’d use my last go-round to talk about Hitchcock's second- or third-choice actors and their performances. I adore her, as longtime readers know, so I’ll start with Alida Valli.
Here, as in The Third Man and Senso, she’s madly in love with a man who doesn’t love her back. (You could also make a case for Eyes Without a Face in that vein.) It’s an odd pattern for such a beautiful actress. Interesting, too, that after Alida Valli herself suffered greatly during the war in Italy, she often played women scarred by the past, although it’s also pretty plain that Mrs. Paradine was bad news from the start. Valli was still learning English during filming, but her voice and intonations are beautiful; I love to hear the consonants roll off her tongue when she looks at Gregory Peck and says, speaking of Louis Jourdan as Latour, “You are not to destroy him. If you do, I shall hate you as I have never hated a man.”
|A bit overdressed for the occasion|
In the very beginning, when the Scotland Yard men arrest Mrs. Paradine in a deferential way that suggests they're escorting her to the theater, she asks the butler to bring her “black lamb." That turns out to be a coat so lavish it could keep all of Mayfair warm. Once it’s fastened, she turns and checks herself in the mirror: Even on her way to prison, Mrs. Paradine is, at all times and in all ways, conscious of the effect she is having. That little mirror-check may be her one moment of true human weakness. Her love for Latour is not weakness, but a Wagnerian fire.
|This is pretty much the same look he trains on Coburn.|
|Sexual harrassment, 1947-style.|
|Just out of frame is Tetzel's cigarette holder, with which she prevents Coburn's monocle from upstaging her.|
Joan Tetzel as Judy Flaquer sees it too; she tells her father, “Men who’ve been good too long get a longing for the mire and want to wallow in it.” For that reason, I don’t think she is going to have her own Paradine. She’s far too clearsighted, an audience surrogate who says what everyone else is thinking. I like her confidence and her chic, the fact that she’s still living with her father, doesn't seem to resent him a bit, and wipes him out at chess. Charles Coburn as her father is Charles Coburn, monocle twinkling away, sage and amusing, amusing and sage, but that is no bad thing, at least in my book. He gets a wonderful line about photographs: "The social footsteps of time."
|Jourdan's first American close-up was a honey.|
I like Robin Wood’s brief musings:
Jourdan worked in only two other distinguished films in the 1940s, both quite central to their respective directors' work, and both underrated by most critics: Minnelli's Madame Bovary and Hitchcock's The Paradine Case. The former inflects Jourdan's persona in the direction of aristocratic decadence, while retaining the sense of vulnerability. The latter, far more remarkably (especially in the 1950s), eliminates the decadence altogether yet defines the character, at least by implication, as gay. We are informed that Jourdan as the valet has no interest in women, has totally resisted the advances of Mrs. Paradine (Alida Valli, no less), and has been completely dedicated to his master, Colonel Paradine. The valet's dedication is the moral center of this remarkable film, and is combined very disturbingly with Valli's erotic dedication to Jourdan — although Hitchcock later felt Jourdan's character should have been rougher and more "manly" to account for the frustrated Valli's fixation upon him.
Now that I think about it, Wood may well be right that Jourdan, whose character's end is by far the most tragic, is the moral center here, and not Todd. The evidence that Latour is gay leaped out very strongly at me during the last couple of viewings, and was reinforced by another line, spoken to Alida Valli by Leo G. Carroll, playing the prosecutor: “As soon as you learned of his indifference to women, you determined to overcome that indifference.”
I’ll close by noting the excellence of the penultimate scene, in which we learn Mrs. Paradine’s fate. It’s dinner time chez Lord and Lady Horfield, where the table is the length of a subway car and husband and wife deliver their lines through candelabra that would not disgrace the Hall of Mirrors. Laughton (who, remember, disliked “toffs”) throughout the trial scenes plays Horfield as an Olympian autocrat, amusing himself with bon mots while pushing the jury to a foreordained conclusion. Ethel Barrymore reportedly had her best scene cut, but she is very touching here, even if her Oscar nomination remains something of a mystery. (Stephen Whitty points out that the longer version seen by Academy voters that year may have had that scene.)
Here, Laughton delivers possibly the most macabre line in all Hitchcock: “It’s surprising how closely the convolutions of a walnut resemble those of the human brain.” As he inspects a walnut he just cracked, even though it is not a close shot, we see that indeed it does, horrifyingly, resemble what a brain would look like if you sawed open someone’s skull. Ethel Barrymore timidly tries to get a bit of feeling out of him (“Doesn’t life punish us enough, Tommy?”) And he snaps back, “Must I listen to more of your silly pity for every scoundrel, man or woman?” Thus is raised the question of whether the worst sociopath in the entire movie has been the one on the bench.
I want to be clear that I don’t consider The Paradine Case top-flight Hitchcock, but I’d place it solidly in the middle tier, as one of the best examples of what he could do outside his comfort zone. There is no way The Paradine Case deserves to be ranked dead last and dissed as hard as it was in a recent Indiewire rundown of Top 25 Hitch. I hope that at least we may persuade some people to take another look.
The sum of the Paradine parts: