Skip to main content

I'm an old ruin, but she certainly brings my pulse up a beat or two.

The Paradine Case
(1947)

(SPOILERS) Hitchcock wasn’t very positive about The Paradine Case, his second collaboration with Gregory Peck, but I think he’s a little harsh on a picture that, if it doesn’t quite come together dramatically, nevertheless maintains interest on the basis of its skewed take on the courtroom drama. Peck’s defence counsel falls for his client, Alida Valli’s accused (of murder), while wife Ann Todd wilts dependably and masochistically on the side-lines.

Hitch seemed hung up on his ideal version, understandably so since he suffered so many mandates from producer David O Selznick, not least screenplay rewrites (having been adapted by Alma and Hitch, then James Bridie): “He would write a scene and send it down to the set every other day – a very poor method of work”. Further, he believed the instances of miscasting were “very detrimental to the story”. He wasn’t keen on Peck playing an English lawyer (although I thought there was a touch of Timothy Dalton to his cadence). Hitchcock wanted Olivier or Ronald Coleman, and hoped to woo Garbo for Valli’s Mrs Paradine. Selznick dictated Valli, and Louis Jordan as the valet and lover; Hitch favoured Robert Newton, as he “should have been a manure-smelling stable hand”.

Certainly, Jordan is never that, but his is nevertheless a compelling performance as Andre Latour; victimised by Peck’s Anthony Keane, who is blind to Mrs Paradine’s guilt, he is suitably tortured, indignant and defiant. It is Keane who kills his case by proceeding to “prosecute” Latour over Mrs Paradine’s protestations. Finally, she confesses to her culpability in court, so as to make it clear that Latour was not involved (mirroring Keane’s infatuation with her, she murdered her husband to be with Latour, who hates her for what she did, and for succumbing to her wiles).

The chief problem with the picture is that Keane’s blinkeredness is too extreme to be believable. Ultimately, that’s down to both Valli and Peck, but since the picture hinges on his obsession and refusal to hear common sense in respect of her and the case, it’s a significant shortcoming. Maybe Hitch was right, and a more experienced actor could have added layers (Peck merely adds whitened sideys). Pauline Kael complained, “Talky and stiff, the film never finds the passionate tone that it needs”. Which is true, but the talky and stiff courtroom proceedings of the second half are considerably more engaged than the rather faltering first, in which Keane does his own detective work while others recite opinions on his smitten-ness.

Todd’s Gay Keane is especially curious. Hitch referred to her as “too coldly written” but I wouldn’t quite characterise that as the issue. If she were coldly written she might sensibly have thrown her husband out. Instead she over-empathises with his every response, comforting herself in the knowledge that nothing can truly come of his mental liaison yet coming across as a self-flagellating doormat in the process. It’s probably symptomatic of the picture being so brazen with Peck’s infidelity of intent, if not deed, that the yo-yo is a paragon in the form of his wife; ultimately, she’s no more believable than her husband.

Nevertheless, Charles Laughton is dynamite as Judge Horfield (Laughton was by a considerable distance the best thing about Hitch’s earlier Jamaica Inn). He’s introduced as a dining partner of Keane, forthright in his views of any and everyone (“I do not like to be interrupted in the middle of an insult”) and shockingly lascivious towards Gay when he gets her alone-ish on the sofa. It’s the kind of moment Hitchcock excels at, emphasising the minutiae of Gay’s discomfort (the director’s technical showboat moment, however, finds Latour entering the courtroom and round behind Mrs Paradine, achieved in two takes). During the trial, the back and forth between the dismissive Horfield and Keane, attempting to force in his agenda, makes for the best material in a picture that needs as many fireworks as it can get. Later, Horfield dispassionately relates to his wife that Mrs Paradine will be hanged, picking his teeth as he does.

Also of note are Leo G Carroll as the prosecuting counsel, Charles Coburn as a solicitor friend of Keane, and Joan Tetzel, overwritten as Coburn’s inquiring and instantly astute daughter (referring to “Men who’ve been good too long get a longing for the mud and want to wallow in it”). Ethel Barrymore is also very good as Laughton’s oblivious wife.

Hitchcock complained “I was never too clear as to how the murder was committed… I never truly understood the geography of that house, or how she managed the killing”. That aspect, however, is small potatoes, since the hows are never as important to the picture – which in any case eschews flashbacks – as motive. As usual too, he was interested in the individual at the mercy of the system, of someone who had never been in such a situation subjected to the harshness of the prison system; little of that translates in Valli’s impervious performance. The Paradine Case definitely isn’t helped by Peck’s presence, which serves to button the material down, but there’s enough going on around the edges to make this at least diverting.



Popular posts from this blog

Your Mickey Mouse is one big stupid dope!

Enemy Mine (1985) (SPOILERS) The essential dynamic of Enemy Mine – sworn enemies overcome their differences to become firm friends – was a well-ploughed one when it was made, such that it led to TV Tropes assuming, since edited, that it took its title from an existing phrase (Barry Longyear, author of the 1979 novella, made it up, inspired by the 1961 David Niven film The Best of Enemies ). The Film Yearbook Volume 5 opined that that Wolfgang Petersen’s picture “ lacks the gritty sauciness of Hell in the Pacific”; John Boorman’s WWII film stranded Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune on a desert island and had them first duking it out before becoming reluctant bedfellows. Perhaps germanely, both movies were box office flops.

If I do nothing else, I will convince them that Herbert Stempel knows what won the goddam Academy Award for Best goddam Picture of 1955. That’s what I’m going to accomplish.

Quiz Show (1994) (SPOILERS) Quiz Show perfectly encapsulates a certain brand of Best Picture nominee: the staid, respectable, diligent historical episode, a morality tale in response to which the Academy can nod their heads approvingly and discerningly, feeding as it does their own vainglorious self-image about how times and attitudes have changed, in part thanks to their own virtuousness. Robert Redford’s film about the 1950s Twenty-One quiz show scandals is immaculately made, boasts a notable cast and is guided by a strong screenplay from Paul Attanasio (who, on television, had just created the seminal Homicide: Life on the Streets ), but it lacks that something extra that pushes it into truly memorable territory.

Other monks will meet their deaths here. And they too will have blackened fingers. And blackened tongues.

The Name of the Rose (1986) (SPOILERS) Umberto Eco wasn’t awfully impressed by Jean Jacques-Annaud’s adaptation of his novel – or “ palimpsest of Umberto Eco’s novel ” as the opening titles announce – to the extent that he nixed further movie versions of his work. Later, he amended that view, calling it “ a nice movie ”. He also, for balance, labelled The Name of the Rose his worst novel – “ I hate this book and I hope you hate it too ”. Essentially, he was begrudging its renown at the expense of his later “ superior ” novels. I didn’t hate the novel, although I do prefer the movie, probably because I saw it first and it was everything I wanted from a medieval Sherlock Holmes movie set in a monastery and devoted to forbidden books, knowledge and opinions.

You ever heard the saying, “Don’t rob the bank across from the diner that has the best donuts in three counties”?

2 Guns (2013) (SPOILERS) Denzel Washington is such a reliable performer, that it can get a bit boring. You end up knowing every gesture or inflection in advance, whether he’s playing a good guy or a bad guy. And his films are generally at least half decent, so you end up seeing them. Even in Flight (or perhaps especially in Flight ; just watch him chugging down that vodka) where he’s giving it his Oscar-nominatable best, he seems too familiar. I think it may be because he’s an actor who is more effective the less he does. In 2 Guns he’s not doing less, but sometimes it seems like it. That’s because the last person I’d ever expect blows him off the screen; Mark Wahlberg.

Piece by piece, the camel enters the couscous.

The Forgiven (2021) (SPOILERS) By this point, the differences between filmmaker John Michael McDonagh and his younger brother, filmmaker and playwright Martin McDonagh, are fairly clearly established. Both wear badges of irreverence and provocation in their writing, and a willingness to tackle – or take pot-shots – at bigger issues, ones that may find them dangling their toes in hot water. But Martin receives the lion’s share of the critical attention, while John is generally recognised as the slightly lesser light. Sure, some might mistake Seven Psychopaths for a John movie, and Calvary for a Martin one, but there’s a more flagrant sense of attention seeking in John’s work, and concomitantly less substance. The Forgiven is clearly aiming more in the expressly substantial vein of John’s earlier Calvary, but it ultimately bears the same kind of issues in delivery.

Say hello to the Scream Extractor.

Monsters, Inc. (2001) (SPOILERS) I was never the greatest fan of Monsters, Inc. , even before charges began to be levelled regarding its “true” subtext. I didn’t much care for the characters, and I particularly didn’t like the way Pixar’s directors injected their own parenting/ childhood nostalgia into their plots. Something that just seems to go on with their fare ad infinitum. Which means the Pixars I preferred tended to be the Brad Bird ones. You know, the alleged objectivist. Now, though, we learn Pixar has always been about the adrenochrome, so there’s no going back…

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989) (SPOILERS) There’s Jaws , there’s Star Wars , and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws ’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy , to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “ more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie ”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “ mainly boring ”. Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the

In a few moments, you will have an experience that will seem completely real. It will be the result of your subconscious fears transformed into your conscious awareness.

Brainstorm (1983) (SPOILERS) Might Brainstorm have been the next big thing – a ground-breaking, game-changing cinematic spectacle that had as far reaching consequences as Star Wars (special effects) or Avatar (3D) – if only Douglas Trumbull had been allowed to persevere with his patented “Showscan” process (70mm film photographed and projected at 60 frames per second)? I suspect not; one only has to look at the not-so-far-removed experiment of Ang Lee with Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk , and how that went down like a bag of cold sick, to doubt that any innovation will necessarily catch on (although Trumbull at least had a narrative hinge on which to turn his “more real than real” imagery, whereas Lee’s pretty much boiled down to “because it was there”). Brainstorm ’s story is, though, like its title, possibly too cerebral, too much concerned with the consciousness and touting too little of the cloyingly affirmative that Bruce Rubin inevitably brings to his screenplays. T

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991) (SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.