Hitchcock introduces us to Mrs. Paradine.
His camera slowly revolves around her. He gives her a breathtaking close-up which brings us closer to her than personal decorum or propriety would allow. Alida Valli plays Mrs. Paradine, this cool, beautifully austere, unapproachable looking woman. And she is being charged with murder.
“Mrs. Paradine, I have to use some formal words at this point. I have a warrant for your arrest. And it is my duty to warn you that you need not say anything. But that what you say will be taken down and may be used in evidence upon your trial. The warrant charges you, for that on the sixth of May, nineteen hundred and forty-six, you did willfully or cause to be administered some poisonous substance to one Richard Patrick Irving Paradine, and did murder him.”
There are Alfred Hitchcock thrillers which are wham-bam pieces of cake for me, and when his world goes mad, I gladly go mad with it. But then Hitch had some crises-of-conscience films which are a little tougher for me, and require several viewings before I really get them. I tackled a tough one last March: “I CONFESS” which I now understand and admire the bind Hitch puts his protagonist in. For my co-hosting duties for our “ORDER IN THE COURT!” blogathon with Lesley of Second Sight Cinema, the courtroom drama I try to make sense of is one of Hitchcock’s little-heralded films…“THE PARADINE CASE.”
My verdict? I like it!
Now don’t get yourself all bogged down in the details of trial procedures in this movie. If you let that be the reason you don’t like this film, you’ll miss the forest for the trees. The trial is merely a metaphor for everything. Simply put, the movie is about a lawyer who becomes obsessed with his client; a man who becomes obsessed with a woman. He loses all reason to be able to help her effectively because of his obsession.
This 1947 film is a slow-moving, methodical, procedural affair and I can see why it might present difficulty or boredom to some. It doesn’t for me. I also know Hitchcock had a different cast of actors in mind for this film. But I’m playing with the hand that Hitchcock was dealt and I think this cast ( *A-hem* ) “acquits” itself nicely. I’m finding it so interesting in movies to watch someone make bone-headed moves…listen to no one…and not get out of his own way. You learn from other people’s mistakes. In this case, it’s Gregory Peck who is going down for the count.
I confess I do have one teensy weensy quibble…why Gregory Peck? I love him but I have a slight hiccup of concern he is not 100% the right fit for this. They’ve put gray in his hair …he’s a barrister in the British court system…are you American or a Brit. Wassup Greg?
Of course, that being said, I like him in the role of Anthony Keane. I think Peck brings with him the gravitas of integrity his screen persona has cultivated up to now with his movie characters. ( Well…“Duel in the Sun” notwithstanding. ) We get a picture of Keane through his encounters with other characters in the film. The judge is not impressed with his tactics, his colleague tries to talk sense into him in their defense of a client, his wife gives him the benefit of the doubt when she finds he’s falling for that client, and her best friend sees through his bravado and longs to make him jump through hoops. Keane’s a hot shot lawyer whose hit by a ton of bricks for Mrs. Paradine; it builds slowly his revealing his growing affection for her…after the proverbial ton of bricks drop on him. It’s interesting to watch his legal vision become clouded. And get this…he also, basically, goes AGAINST his client’s wishes as to her defense. Whew! Keane’s got it bad, and that ain’t good. I liked seeing Keane with each investigative visit become more and more a pseudo-paramour and less and less a lawyer. What do I mean? Just watch as Keane visits the Paradine country manor in Cumberland. He looks about her bedroom …looking at her personal items.
How “Laura” is that? Or better yet, is he the possessive Mrs. Danvers in “Rebecca”?
* * * * * * * * *
MEN TALK ~ Keane is held in slight disdain by Judge Horfield.
JUDGE HORFIELD: “Sometimes I wonder how good you really are Keane.”
KEANE: “Good enough. Or lucky enough.”
JUDGE HORFIELD: “Come, come. No false modesty.”
SIR SIMON: “Not many better, shall we say.”
JUDGE HORFIELD: “Perhaps perhaps, but I’m a Legalist myself and you my dear chap have this habit of overcharging yourself with emotion when facing the jury. I must confess it does not appeal to my sense of what is proper.”
Hitchcock has some interesting representations of Womanhood in “The Paradine Case.” Some are mere satellites of the men in their lives and some, clearly are not. We have The Wife, The Independent Woman and The Femme Fatale.
* * * * * * * * *
Ann Todd plays Peck’s wife, Gay Keane. She is ever ready with the back rub and the perfect martini. She’s the Perfect Hostess. A little too cool, a little too perfect. Dry. Predictable. Not exciting. BUT…she is fiercely loyal. She’s got his back, as a mate should. She gives him enough rope when she begins to suspect that this case becomes a little too personal for him. She teases him about it:
GAY: “I thought it might please you to know I can be jealous.”
KEANE: “It isn’t that. How could you think that I’d be interested in a woman who—”
GAY: “Well of course you’re not interested. But I hope you’re not getting so old that you can’t admire an attractive woman.”
Do you know the moment in movies when a husband or wife suggests they go away for the week-end “just the two of us” and the spouse doesn’t want to go?? You know the marriage is in deep trouble, right? Hitchcock shows us a marriage on shaky ground.
GAY: “But I’ve come to a conclusion Tony. I want her to live. I want very much for her to live. And I hope she gets free. Scott-free. Free to kill. Or to take other wives’ husbands. Or anything else that comes into that beautiful head of hers. I do hate her because I want all this business over and done with and an end to being all mixed up. Part lawyer, part-lover.”
KEANE: “What nonsense. Nonsense!”
GAY: “Alright. Frustrated lover, then. Yes and part-husband still because you’re not finished.”
Gay is nervous about the temptation, but doesn’t want to him back by playing the ‘Marriage Card’. She wants him to come back because he wants to. Ultimately she trusts their love.
* * * * * * * * *
THE ‘DUTIFUL’ WIFE:
This is the great Barrymore. Ethel Barrymore. ( Yes, my screen crush from this post ). She’s the Judge’s wife Lady Sophie, and she is as old school as it gets. She’s pretty much wholly subjugated by her husband, suffering from the slings and arrows of his slights and condescension She’s The Wife of the early century. Obedient, does as she’s told. You know…the good old days. It’s tough to watch. She’s so gentle, and is like a beaten-down dog. Think of Patricia Collinge in “The Little Foxes.” I understand this kind of wife in movies; married a strong forceful young man who moves up in his profession and becomes as overbearing as he can be.
The ‘girls’ are sent out of the room while the men talk. Look at Judy on the right. She’s all covered up from neck to toe, not in a frilly feminine outfit. Does she mean business or what? There’s no one there for her to impress or keep interested. And she doesn’t fit in with the wives either. She is off to the background playing piano while the wives talk about their husbands. This moment between the two wives is a bit unsettling to me. Lady Sophie looks like she is in la-la land, but the poor dear has perfected that faraway look, listening to her own thoughts buried deep inside. There’s a bond between these two women. Or at the very least, an unspoken understanding. Sophie’s said as much as she dares say, without speaking. Could this be Gay Keane’s future?
I think Judy is allowed to straddle both worlds, because she is an Independent Woman. She herds the men back into the drawing room and 20th century. But more on this gal in a little bit.
* * * * * * * * *
Interesting and skeevy is Charles Laughton as Judge Horfield. He treats wife, Sophie,
( Barrymore ) very poorly.
Judge Horfield ( hmmm…there‘s something IN that name, don’cha think? ) spirits away the group to the other side of the room with a diversion in order to be alone with Keane’s wife …but notice WHO is the last one to join the group and sees what the Judge is up to. I love that Hitchcock throws that in:
Horfield makes a ham-handed attempt to make a pass at Keane’s wife. He’s such a distasteful loutish man. But Gay manages to get out of the icky sticky situation. Ever been in one of those…with your husband’s boss?
Here’s the thing. He’s a good judge. During the trial he sees Keane go off the beam as a lawyer. He tries to put him back on track; at one point even questioning Keane’s own witness in a fair way when he sees he’s getting railroade. Hitch shows the dichotomy of a jurist with somewhat questionable character but IS able to do his job and follow the Law.
* * * * * * * * *
THE FRIEND & COLLEAGUE:
JUDY: “What’s she really like?”
SIR SIMON: “Fascinating. Fascinating. I’m an old ruin but she certainly brings my pulse up a beat or two.”
I’ve had my ups ( “The More the Merrier” ) and downs ( “Kings Row” “In This Our Life” ) with Charles Coburn. In “The Paradine Case” I just adore him. He is Sir Simon, the solicitor. He has such a wry delivery. He’s playful with his daughter Judy, and shows plain objective common sense with his friend, Anthony Keane. He clearly sees the position they should take in handling Mrs. Paradine’s case. And here…here is where we see Hitchcock twist the knife in Keane’s heart:
SIR SIMON: “Why not let the Crown have the burden of proof of its accusations.”
KEANE: “But Simi, what possible objections can you have to us proving suicide?”
SIR SIMON: “It’s dangerous. Remember, if we have Horfield on the bench—”
KEANE: “Oh you all have such an unholy fear of Horfield.”
SIR SIMON: “What’s in your mind, Keane? I don’t understand you.”
KEANE: “Blind men have commited suicide before. We have only to decide who helped Paradine to do it.”
Sir Simon wants to try the case the Crown has set up. He makes a good argument for it:
SIR SIMON: “Let’s face it. This wasn’t suicide. It wasn’t assisted suicide. It was murder.”
KEANE: “Are you trying to imply Latour might have murdered him?”
SIR SIMON: “I’m not talking about Latour.”
KEANE: “Who then?”
SIR SIMON: “I’m talking about our client.”
KEANE: “Oh, so you think she killed him.”
SIR SIMON: “It’s what the Crown thinks and what it’ll try to prove. There’s no sense going into court, hurling other names into the case. We have to prepare to answer the Crown on Mrs. Paradine.”
KEANE: “I’ll have an answer.”
SIR SIMON: “With facts?”
Keane is saved by the bell when his wife offers to make the men some late-night drinks. But when she leaves, the argument continues. Objectivity falls on deaf ears and Keane’s true intent comes bubbling out:
SIR SIMON: “I was under the impression that she’d been a woman of very low estate and rather easy virtue.”
KEANE: “Why you’re an insufferable snob, incapable of recognizing genuine character. I only hope the Crown tries to foul her name once…just once!”
SIR SIMON: “I’m sorry. I hadn’t realized the extent to which she had impressed you.”
KEANE: “I’ve talked to her for hours and I’ve done more than hear her words. I’ve seen the decent, lovely woman behind them, and I intend the rest of the world shall see her as I do…as a noble, self-sacrificing human being any man would be proud of.”
Keane is caught hook line and sinker, by his wife and his friend. And he knows it too.
* * * * * * * * *
JUDY: “So you think Tony was taken with her, ey father?”
SIR SIMON: “Let’s not go on one of your fishing expeditions.”
JUDY: “Alright, don’t tell me. You know, Tony may be as good a lawyer as you think he is, but how he loves anything dramatic…can’t you just see Tony giving another of his great performances? Riding to the rescue of beauty in distress. How he must relish this.”
SIR SIMON: “Not if the case comes up before Horfield. He’d better not try one of those performances or he’ll be sat upon and properly.”
Smart. Opinionated. Questions. And pretty. This is Judy, played by Joan Tetzel. ( I want to see more of her in movies. ) When I watched the movie with my friend, ( Hey friend! ) she thought Hitch was going to go someplace with the Judy-character plot-wise. He doesn’t.
And for me, that’s ( sort of ) okay. We just need to see her Type in movies. Attractive and smart; a keen mind. She is not the bitter old maid, not desperate for a Significant Other.
( You just know he’ll come. ) She also serves to help us, the audience, get through the intricacies of trial when that time comes in the movie. She pals around and kibbitzes with her Dad ( Charles Coburn ). She’s allowed to think for herself, even if he gibes about her getting married and settling down:
“I don’t know how you came by this decidedly unfeminine interest in things. Your mother was a simple old-fashioned woman who’d shutter at the thought of…well, I’m glad you’re not going on with this game. You nearly had me.”
I like them together. She knows the score and has marriage…and Keane’s situation all figured out.
JUDY: “I’ve never seen it to fail. Men who’ve been good too long. Get a longing for the mud and want to wallow in it. The best men always end up with the worst women. He’s after her boyfriend. That’s why he’s going to Cumberland ….men Are such horrible beasts. I wish I were married to Sir Anthony Keane for just one hour. I’d make him jump through hoops.”
SIR SIMON: “I wish you were married to someone. Perhaps he could put up with your claptrap better than I can.”
JUDY: “I hope….no I don’t hope they hang her. I don’t like breaking pretty things. But I do hope they send her to prison for life.”
I think she’d be a very worthy opponent for Mrs. Paradine. I’d love to see that match-up.
* * * * * * * * *
KEANE: “You call him Andre? The servant?”
MRS. PARADINE: “I’m not too well-trained in the subtle snobberies of your class.”
She calls him Andre. And I call him drop dead grorgeous. Yes, let me get that out the way first. Louis Jourdan is drop dead gorgeous as Andre Latour, Colonel Paradine’s fiercely loyal valet. I love Hitchcock’s presentation of Latour, keeping him obscured in shadows initially. And then…
…the full reveal when Hitch has Jourdan step into the light. Goodness gracious, is there nothing more comforting than to see that your ( perceived ) rival is an impossibly beautiful Adonis? Keane tries to keep his cool when questioning Latour but his clenched jaw is a dead giveaway no matter his fancy words and upper class bearing. Keane thinks he can kill two birds with one stone:
( 1. ) Make him the fall guy in the Paradine case.
( 2. ) Get rid of a rival.
Latour’s not intimidated and brokers a quid pro quo exchange of information. He’s direct, unvwavering in his gaze. Interesting how Hitchcock has that lamp between them. Is Latour shedding light on the situation for Keane?
Latour fairly spits out his contempt for Mrs. Paradine:
LATOUR: “Excuse me Sir. You have only known Mrs. Paradine since she was in prison. Is it not so?”
“Then how CAN you know her. If you did I should not need to tell you that only almighty God or only the black Devil himself knows what’s going on in that head of hers. I know what I’m talking about. What I say is true. I know her and I will tell you one thing more. I will tell you about Mrs. Paradine. She’s bad, bad to the bone. If ever there was an evil woman she is one.”
Keane has no answer but to ball up his fists, clench his jaw and throw Latour out like a petulant child. It looks like Keane is going to have to learn the hard way, in court…and from Mrs. Paradine herself.
* * * * * * * * *
“You’ll find her a strange woman with an almost mystic calm.” ~ Sir Simon
Well she’s the raison d’etre of this whole story, isn’t she. She’s everything a Wife is not…to men not married to her. Jane Greer said Jacques Tourneur’s direction to her in “Out of the Past” was for her to be “em-pas-seeve.” ( Impassive. ) Well Alida Valli is like that in spades as Madelena Paradine. She is like a sphinx come to life. Her stillness, quietness, silence only serves to bring men closer to her. You’d have to look for any little sign that she’d let you in. But you won’t see it if she doesn’t want you to.
SIR SIMON: “You’ll like him.”
MRS. PARADINE: “That’s not as important as, his liking me, is it.”
And they meet. The meeting goes along okay. Nothing out of the ordinary. I love how they
coach her. The nuances of the Law require just the right parsing and coaching to keep their client from being hanged:
MRS. PARADINE: “Saying I married a helpless blind man for his money. Saying I killed him for his money. And what will they say of Dickie, who makes him out for a fool for marrying me.”
KEANE: “We’ll have answers for whatever they say. You loved him and he needed you.”
MRS. PARADINE: “You know that?”
KEANE: “Weren’t you his eyes?”
MRS. PARADINE: “I was, of course. I had to be.”
SIR SIMON: “Had to be, Mrs. Paradine? HAD to be? Dear dear you must find your words?”
KEANE: “What Sir Simon means that it was a piece of voluntary service. You devoted your whole life to this splendid fellow….freely, gladly.”
MRS. PARADINE: “Yes. Yes, I see what you mean?”
KEANE: “It was a sacrifice. A sublime sacrifice.”
SIR SIMON: “Yes I think it would be better to regard it in that light.”
I love watching how her lesson in Semantics slips into the moment Keane becomes smitten…with Franz Waxman’s musical help.
KEANE: “The more tremendous that Paradine could not understand, could not possibly understand the sacrifice you were making. He’d never seen you. He never, as I say, seen you.”
We see him see her. And she sees this…with those devastating eyes.
I’m reminded of Madeleine Elster in “VERTIGO” when Mrs. Paradine leaves the meeting and Keane watches her:
You don’t think she knows she is being watched? Yeah, right. The fish is on the hook.
I love how Hitchcock has an ever watchful guard in the scene, looking so disapprovingly at Mrs. Paradine in several background shots. ( Check out the initial interview between Keane and Mrs. Paradine to see her stand guard. ) Mrs. Paradine is direct, forthright but a withholding mien, a bloody lethal combination that keeps one’s attention. This next interview is more tense. She holds herself tightly and bristles when Keane questions her pointedly about her life BEFORE Paradine:
MRS. PARADINE: “My past is no affair of anyone but my husband and myself. And my husband is dead.”
Keane presses her to talk of her past. She gives him one last warning:
“It will not shock you I assume to learn I’m a woman, what would you say, who has seen a great deal of life.”
He hides behind needing information so as not to be blindsided by the prosecution. He may lie to himself. But we know that’s not true. She knows that’s not true either. I can’t help but think she piles it on…this past of hers. I think she knows it will keep him intrigued. Keane presses, not as her lawyer but as a man infatuated. Listen, what Preston Sturges made funny in “The Lady Eve” ( having Stanwyck give her laundry list of lovers to Fonda on their wedding night ) takes on a different tone more when Mrs. Paradine recounts her past. Keane tries to make excuses for her during her tale. She won’t have it…and he’s uncomfortable:
MRS. PARADINE: “When I was still at school in Naples, it began. I was sixteen, or so I said. Actually it was younger.”
MRS. PARADINE: “Yes, perhaps. But I didn’t think so then. I ran away with a man. Istanbul. Athens. Cairo.”
KEANE: “He was much older, of course. Rich. He took advantage of your youth.”
MRS. PARADINE: “He was married, respected. I took advantage of him. Then as suddenly as it began, it ended. He wearied of me, I wearied of him. What difference does it make.
KEANE: “There were others?”
MRS. PARADINE: “Of course there were others. We cannot hide these things. You said we cannot hide them Mr. Keane. Lets drag them out. Let them hang me for the past and be done with it.”
And get this folks, her husband knew it all. Every detail of her past. How many men would want to know:
“I kept nothing from him.”
To be honest, he can’t really take it. He deflects:
KEANE: “I‘ve tortured you enough. We’ll get you free. Trust me.”
MRS. PARADINE: “I shall. I do.”
HA! Yeah. She’s got him.
THE TRIAL: It’s time for Mrs. Paradine to face the music…her trial.
Anticipation’s been built up in the courtroom. She ascends the stairs and faces the audience. All the players are in place: The Judge, Jury, Solicitors, Spectators, Matrons, Employees, Friends…Wives. They all get a good look at the woman accused of her poisoning her blind war hero husband. Keane is the only one who does not look at her. Hitchcock perennial, Leo G. Carroll is the prosecuting attorney and makes his opening remarks. The trial begins.
I’ve done the hard part for you. I’ve given you the characters, their agendas and motivations. I really hope you see for yourself how all this weaves and wends it’s way through this trial. Is Mrs. Paradine getting the best defense possible when her lawyer doesn’t do as she’s asked? And the wife sitting in court watching her husband flail into every trap in the Crown’s book because he is not following the Law but following his heart. How about the Crown who is a bit confused by their opponent’s legal tactics. He’s practically winning their case for them. Look folks, this is Alfred Hitchcock. He’s subverting the law the same way he subverted religion. He shows us once again, what happens to women when men don’t do their job.
subpoenaed invited to co-host the “ORDER IN THE COURT! The Classic Courtroom Movies Blogathon” by Lesley, writer of the outstanding blog: Second Sight Cinema. This topic is her idea and we’ve had some marvelous court entries from pre-code to modern-day to The Three Stooges!! You can find the complete roster of all the entries by clicking on either banner above. Now before I adjourn your leaving my courtroom, I present to you below…“The Paradine Case” :
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