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So as you know, I stopped writing lengthy reviews on this site this year, keeping the blog as more of a film diary of sorts.  Lo and behold,...

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Hitchcock Month - The Paradine Case

The Paradine Case (1947)
Starring Gregory Peck, Ann Todd, Charles Naughton, and Valli
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

A genuine courtroom drama by Alfred Hitchcock -- something that we really haven't seen before.  Sure, several of his movies feature courtrooms, but in The Paradine Case, the whole film essentially revolves around the trial of Maddalena Paradine (Italian actress Valli) who is accused of murdering her husband.  We never witness the murder (or the planning of it), but instead are introduced to Mrs. Paradine as she is being arrested for her accused crime.  She is met at prison by Tony Keane (Gregory Peck), a lawyer (or barrister, if we're going all British which is where this film takes place) who takes on her case and begins to fall in love with her.  This is bad news for Tony's wife, Gay (Ann Todd), who begins to see her husband slowly slipping away from her and must decide whether it is worth it fight for him or succumb to letting him go.

The romantic love triangle could have been utterly corny, but it shockingly works here.  Courtroom dramas can veer towards the boring side and, surprisingly to me, the love story actually helps ease any type of ennui we're experiencing from the courtroom.  I was actually quite pleased with how Hitch and the screenwriter managed to balance the scenes of the romance and the courtroom to great effect. 

While there's nothing special camera-wise in The Paradine Case, Hitch actually makes the courtroom scenes seem anything but static (which can often be the case in films like this as we often see the repetitive shot of the lawyer, shot of the witness, shot of the lawyer, shot of the witness, and so on and so forth).  Possibly aiding in this is the fact that Hitchcock actually shot ten minute-long scenes using multiple cameras running at the same time, having each camera shooting one of the main characters.  This allowed the actors to create some genuine tension by playing off of each other and not having to go line-by-line waiting for cameras to be moved between shots.  This technique works quite well and impressed me quite a bit.

Of course, that shooting technique wouldn't have made a bit of difference if the actors weren't aiding the director.  In this film's case, the acting really is top notch.  The best performance is from Ann Todd as Tony's wife, Gay.  Her character could have easily been a throwaway, but she adds surprising depth to the role of the typical scorned wife and certainly helps what could have been a painful subplot become the most interesting part of the film.  Gregory Peck (who I disliked quite a bit in Spellbound) is also quite good here as a lawyer torn between two woman, feeling passion for the accused Maddalena and guilt towards his wife.  Once again, this role could have been overly melodramatic, but Peck manages to create a completely believable character, one whose actions I never once doubted over the course of the film.  The third side of the triangle, the single-moniker starlet Valli is serviceable, but it's not really a surprise that this, her first American film, didn't launch her to success.

The Paradine Case is a courtroom drama and it can't escape the confines set up by the genre.  Because of that, it's not as interesting a film as it could be.  The final outcome isn't all that surprising and there's really no tension in the moments leading up to the finale.  That being said, this is a little sleeper from Hitchcock that is certainly worth a watch should it ever stream on Netflix or show up on Turner Classic Movies.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

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