He was her man, but did she do him wrong?
In this Hitchcock mystery, a happily married barrister falls for his client, who may have murdered her husband putting his marriage and career in jeopardy.
Paradine Case (1947) Trailer, historycomestolife and photos © Selznick Releasing Organization
In a wee change to a technicoloured retro reel review, I’m reviewing a black and white film that united both the courtroom and film noir styles. This film, The Paradine Case (1947) was the last of producer, Selznick and director, Alfred Hitchcock’s collaborations.
Selznick – and an uncredited Ben Hecht – rewrote the story from an adaptation written by Alma Reville and Hitchcock himself. Alma Reville was Alfred Hitchcock’s screenwriter wife and confidante.
The Paradine Case is set in London (although filmed in California), in the late 1940s. This was a time of steam trains, Trilby hats, petrol rations, ponies and traps and capital punishment. These all set the scene for this part Film Noir and part courtroom drama film where the innocence of a young, enigmatic, pretty brunette is in doubt. This is after her much older and blind Colonel husband has been murdered.
The story starts after the death (by poisoning) of Colonel Paradine. His widow, a pretty young Italian woman in black, Maddalena Anna Paradine (Alida Valli) is arrested at her London home. A police inspector tells her that she is to go on trial for the murder of her blind, retired Colonel husband.
The family solicitor, Sir Simon Flaquer (Charles Coburn) attends the police station and reassures her and he believes her arrest is a terrible mistake. He recommends Anthony Keane (Gregory Peck), a young barrister to take her defence case stating he’s full of “charm and cunning”. She’s taken to Holloway Prison to await her trial.
All in the Keane household is rosy, after 11 years of togetherness, barrister Anthony Keane (Gregory Peck) and his wife Gaye (Ann Todd) are still very much in love. However, on meeting Mrs Paradine, Keane is immediately infatuated with Mrs Paradine, a sultry, brunette and enigmatic woman. Mrs Paradine is a complete contrast – both physically and emotionally – to Keane’s blonde wife who seems more caring, affectionate and open about her feelings.
On meeting Keane, Mrs Paradine doesn’t fall for him. Mrs Paradine is cold, distant and concerned others will think she married the Colonel for his money. Keane immediately jumps to her defence seeing her as a selfless and caring person who was a carer to her older blind husband – “you were his eyes” – and that she loved her husband, he calls it “a sublime sacrifice”. Keane’s speech and actions, show his bourgeoning affection for this possible femme fatale.
Over time, Keane’s intense and lovesick feelings become obvious to his wife, Flaquer and Flaquer’s daughter Judy (Joan Tetzel). Judy tells her father that Keane “relishes” cases where he can come “to the rescue of beauty in distress.” She is also concerned that Lord Horfield will be tough on Keane if he’s a judge at this trial.
The Flaquers and Keanes go to a dinner party held by the Judge presiding over the case, Judge Lord Thomas Horfield (Charles Laughton) and his wife, Sophie (Ethel Barrymore). The Flaquers are running late and Judy fears Horfield will “take it out” on his wife, Sophie (Ethel Barrymore).
In contrast, to the loved up Keanes, Horfield taunts his wife with his tales of other women during the dinner party. He talks about when he swam with another woman who was around 70 years of age and how he had “sad thoughts about the impermanence of beauty”.
Sophie – of a similar age to this woman – appears upset by this talk. When Horfield openly mocks her for her response, Sophie stutters an answer and appears nervous. After dinner, Horfield even insists on man talk (with cigars and brandy), and his nervy wife ushers the women out of the room dutifully.
During the “man talk”, Horfield insults Keane, telling him he brings too much passion to his arguments in court. Meanwhile, Sophie confides in Gaye. Sophie says that Horfield is clever but she’s “not sure if likes it”. Sophie adds “I shouldn’t tell you this…but I dread it when he takes a murder trial. He comes home looking so…”. Gaye interrupts and immediately emphasises with her hostess.
Both understand the strain that capital punishment cases have on their respective husbands. This reassured her hostess. The men join them. After distracting his wife and the others, Horfield shows himself as a lecherous and quite loathsome man (even more) and makes a blatant pass at Gaye, despite the others’ presence in the room.
Gaye initially tells her husband that she thinks Mrs Paradine appears to be a nice woman and she doesn’t believe she’s a murderess. But after seeing her husband fall in love with her this feeling towards her turns to hate. She tells Judy her hopes that Mrs Paradine will be freed, fearing if Mrs Paradine’s sentenced to death by hanging that she won’t be able to compete with her for her husband’s love.
She fears if Mrs Paradine is hung, that he’ll always see her as a lost true love. However, to clear Mrs Paradine’s name (and to win her heart), Keane visits the Paradine family home in Cumbria (Northern England) by steam train. This means he will miss his anniversary with Gaye. Gaye presses him to go on with the case after he says he will give it up.
The next day, Keane visits the Paradine’s mansion by pony and trap (as petrol rations were still in force at the time of filming). There he hopes to meet the family valet, Andre LaTour (Louis Jourdan in his English speaking debut). Keane looks around the house, his eyes are drawn to Mrs Paradine’s portrait above her bed and then he spots her lacy undies. His prolonged gaze at both shows his increasing passion for his client.
However, LaTour avoids meeting him at the house. Instead, the French valet visits his guest room, in the dead of night. He warns Keane, that Mrs Paradine is “evil and bad to the bone”. Keane won’t hear a word against her and tells him he doesn’t believe him.
Keane then returns to London with thoughts of using a defence argument with LaTour as a scapegoat or as an accomplice to the Colonel’s suicide. He then puts this suggestion to Mrs Paradine who is adamant that LaTour is not to be implicated in the case… and that’s all I’ll say and if you want to learn m the remainder of this film tale including the trial, it can be found in the usual ways.
This was an interesting story with only the barrister falling in love with his client. This one way feeling was apparent to everyone but him. Keane was a passionate barrister and he went to all lengths to prove that his client was a selfless, giving woman who helped and cared for her husband, rather than a heartless wife and murderess.
He was blind to notice Mrs Paradine’s lack of affection for him throughout all their interactions. Valli’s character seems quite cold and emotionless towards him, only showing strong emotions when Keane told of his thoughts about LaTour’s involvement. When her lack of romantic feelings towards him becomes apparent to Keane that he has a one-sided love, this revelation leads to tragic scenes for all.
Gaye was portrayed wonderfully by Ann Todd, in all her scenes appearing a contrast to Mrs Paradine. Gaye supported her husband, his career and his participation in this court case. Gaye bravely watched as her husband fell in love with Mrs Paradine, knowing the outcome of the court case – either way – would put her marriage at risk.
You hoped for Keane to see Gaye’s love rather than face up to Mrs Paradine’s true feelings towards him. Keane was reported to be a passionate lawyer, with Judy hinting about him “relishing” these damsels in distress cases made me wonder if he’d fallen for a woman in a previous court case.
However, I felt the most sympathy for Lady Sophie Horfield. Her husband seemed to bully and taunt her both alone and with others. His hurtful story at the dinner party, followed by his blatant pass at Gaye – after glimpsing her bare shoulder – shows how little he respected his wife and Keane.
The distance between Sophie and Horfield was seen in a later scene, as the two dine together still sitting at opposite ends of the dining table that they had shared with the four others earlier at their dinner party. This symbolises the great physical, emotional and psychological distances between them.
In looking at Ethel Barrymore’s performance in her role as Lady Horfield, Barrymore gave an appropriately more timid and petrified performance. Here you felt her anxiety and fear through her small, wavering voice and her nervous behaviours when with her husband. You are left with the impression that she was a frightened wife, nervous and apologetic about the now monster she married.
She justified his rude behaviours and explains his men’s talk as being a traditionalist, rather than a man who doesn’t like women to express themselves. More of Horfield’s abusive behaviour was also hinted at in Sophie’s confiding chats with Gaye. This psychological abuse was also suggested in a scene with Sophie and Keane, which was sadly cut from the final film.
This cut scene also shows her fears of her possibly abusive husband should Mrs Paradine be found guilty. In Barrymore’s short scenes, she reveals her husband now loves the power to hang people, but that he once had more noble beliefs. This makes Lord Horfield a frightening character both in and outside of the courtroom.
A later scene in the film has Sophie, more outspoken and stating to her husband her hopes for a not guilty verdict. Her husband disregards her opinion and hopes. He states she feels pity for everyone and he dismisses her passionate speech, Lady Horfield adds:.
“Doesn’t life punish us enough? Doesn’t it? Why should we hurt each other? We’ve no right to be cruel. If I’m certain of anything, it’s of that.”
He then points out (his perceptions) her faults. He tells her she has spoken too much, knocked over a glass, and she’s tired and should go to bed. This seems like he’s treating her like a child, and it is unclear what his reasons are for dismissing her passionate argument. Is it because she is a woman (after all he was keen on “man talk”) or has her thoughts on this matter shaken him.
I felt on hearing Sophie in this speech, in her own small way seems to speak up for the argument against capital punishment. In the above quote, she appears to believe capital punishment is a strong measure for anyone. In 1947, a sentence of death by hanging still occurred in British Courts, Ruth Ellis was the last woman to be sentenced to this, in 1955), yet the powers of the judges still enforce this punishment.
Horfield calls this his “duty” as a judge. He talks of the powerlessness that one has to change this and he’s emphatic this is part of his role as a judge. It is apparent that the thought of her husband advocating hanging instead of a custodial sentence frightens her, as the younger Lord Horfield was a more benevolent man.
However, the story behind the scenes of The Paradine Case is an interesting one. The opening credits credit this film to Selznick as the film’s producer and the screenplay writer (of the Robert Hichens novel). It’s widely reported Selznick wrote and rewrote this screenplay whilst the movie was being made (even after scenes were filmed, thus adding to the film’s budget).
He reportedly reduced the final running length of the Hitchcock film from around 3 hours to 2 hours and 5 minutes. The latter time includes the extra Ethel Barrymore scenes. This version of the film was reportedly shown to the Oscar selection panel. It also led to Ethel Barrymore’s Oscar nomination for this film, after this the film was then cut again – now without the Barrymore and Peck scene – when released to the public.
Selznick also – as studio head – chose the leading cast, with only Ann Todd, Hitchcock’s casting choice as Gaye remaining. The choices of Valli, Peck and Jourdan were all different to Hitchcock’s preferences, with Hitchcock advocating Ingrid Bergman (or Greta Garbo) as Mrs Paradine, Sir Laurence Olivier or Ronald Colman as Anthony Keane and Robert Newton as LaTour.
It’s also suggested that both the creative and written visions for Selznick’s film also differed from Hitchcock and Reville’s version of the film. Selznick also apparently removed many key scenes directed by Hitchcock from the final film. These films had two different interpretations of events and see the different creative approaches to staging of this source material.
It would be interesting to compare the two versions. As with this film version we only can imagine how Hitchcock and Reville had envisaged this film’s plot and its execution. This is from piecing the evidence together from Reville’s screenplay, and Hitchcock’s written notes and spoken interviews on this film. However it’s reported many of these cut scenes were accidentally destroyed, so we’ll never see how the Hitchcocks would have had their day in Court.
Weeper Rating: 😦 😦 😦 😦/10
Handsqueeze Rating: 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 /10
This film was added to For The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and Pale Writer’s Fifth Annual Barrymore Trilogy Blogathon. Other films with this cast on this blog include Ethel Barrymore in Ethel of the Barrymores by Michael B Druxman and Young at Heart. Ann Todd and Joan Tetzel both starred in Thriller and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Alida Valli starred in The Cassandra Crossing. Louis Jourdan starred in Hotel and Columbo. Leo G Carroll in North by Northwest, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Thriller and Suspicion. Gregory Peck starred in The Omen.