Paradine Syndrome


A virtual clone of a short from REBECCA.

I must have tried to watch Hitchcock’s THE PARADINE CASE a half-dozen times. Now I can say that I’ve actually seen it, but I can’t say much more (proceeds to write several hundred words). The movie seems to slide off me.

Despite specialising more or less in crime thrillers, Hitch stayed out of the courtroom as much as he could (I can recall the divorce court in EASY VIRTUE, the inquest in REBECCA, but note how Hitch keeps the camera in the jury room in MURDER while the verdict is read out offscreen, and how he spies on the trial at the opening of NOTORIOUS, peeking through the door as if superstitious about entering. Hitch also, famously, avoided whodunnits, except here and in MURDER. I accept most of his arguments against them (the whodunnit us an intellectual game, like the crossword), and also observe one more uncomfortable fact — he’s not very good at them.

Gregory Peck is Anthony Keane, counsel for the defense, a notoriously passionate lawyer who falls in love with accused murderess Mrs Paradine ([Alida] Valli), jeopardizing his marriage and his career, while trying to pin the guilt on either her murdered husband (suicide), or the groom (Louis Jourdan0 with whom she may have been having an affair.

Hitchcock himself reckoned THE PARADINE CASE was miscast, with Louis Jourdan too suave to be a horny handyman (yet LJ is the most compelling figure in the film by a country mile) and certainly David O Selznick’s screenplay, written during the shoot, is a big problem, verbose and lumbering and devoid of sympathetic characters or dynamic momentum. Fascinating players like Charles Coburn and Charles Laughton are somewhat wasted, while less-than-fascinating players like Gregory Peck and Ann Todd are spread thin, and at their least appealing. And Selznick’s dialogue keeps on about how fascinating Valli is supposed to be, but the screenwriter doth protest too much. And when did Selznick decide he was a WRITER?

The dispiriting shoot consisted of Selznick’s new pages coming in sometime in the morning, so nothing could be shot until afternoon, and still Selznick would moan that the filming was going too slowly. Hitch had large, expensive sets built, and was marooned on them for ages, as the bloated production sweated money from every pore.


Clone of shot from YOUNG AND INNOCENT.

On the plus side, there’s Lee Garmes’ lustrous and lambent lighting, moody and noirish and serving up numerous striking shots, especially of Valli and Jourdan. I quite liked the tetchy, affectionate relationship between Coburn and his daughter, Joan Tetzel, which has a bit of energy, but they mainly discuss what everybody else is up to, until the trial, when JT sits in the public gallery explaining the events to Ann Todd, and to us in the audience, like some kind of benshi film describer. Actually, a huge amount of the film consists of descriptions of thing it might be nice to see. Nobody investigates the murder. When the trial finally starts, all at once we get a lot of plot information, which kind of adds up to a realization that the prosecution doesn’t really have any case at all.

Where was I? Oh yes, the positive side. Well, if Coburn and Tetzel = Hitch and Pat, then Peck and Todd could be Hitch and Alma. Their introductory scene does actually do a fair job of portraying a happily married couple approaching the danger zone where they take things for granted, and making us care about the relationship. But once the case begins, Peck’s baffling amour fou for the glum and uninteresting Valli robs him of all sympathy, and since he’s pretty inactive as a character, we can’t replace sympathy with intrigue.


I heard that a friend had postulated a gay subtext, in the form of a relationship between Peck and Jourdan, but I can’t see any narrative evidence for this — nothing makes sense unless we accept that Peck is smitten with Valli. But there is some hilarity in this theory, since every line exchanged between Peck and Jourdan becomes an obscene double entendre — “What was your object in entering by the back way?” “But you intended to come on me!”

Laughton is a (bitter) joy — Hitchcock complained that “Every picture with Laughton is a war,” but he must have realized that the actor enhanced any film he touched. But if you took out the scene where Laughton is rebuffed by Todd, then his character would be reduced to a standard high court judge, and he could still behave in mostly the same way in the courtroom: he’s showing bias, it’s true, but Peck is such a dick it’s hardly surprising. I’d favour Leo G Carroll too.


Clone of a shot from EASY VIRTUE.

But since we have Laughton’s unnecessary character, we get Ethel Barrymore as his wife, and their miserable relationship is one of the film’s most effective elements. I guess it’s a film about couples. Oddly, I’d just seen Ethel in MOSS ROSE, her previous production. Must write a little piece about that one. It has Peggy Cummins.

Hitch tried to film in long takes but Selznick objected, insisting on close-ups to break things up. No wonder Hitch indulged himself with ten-minute-takes as soon as he was free from his contract. Falling behind schedule, Hitch managed to save time by shooting the court scenes with multiple cameras, which upset the actors, who couldn’t see each other for equipment.

I always find Ann Todd rather cold and brittle, which isn’t bad per se, but I also get the impression that she’s an inherently savage actress who’s being held back by her directors. David Lean certainly held her down. I’d like to see her allowed to let rip.


Clone of a shot from NOTORIOUS, itself cloned from SUSPICION.

But nobody lets rip here. The movie is interesting for its resemblance to two of Hitch’s earliest, least successful talkies — MURDER, in which a woman accused of murder is defended by a high-class gent. In both films, the gent travels to the countryside and stays in a cottage overnight, although MURDER exploits this for humour. And Peck’s arrival at the country house made me think of THE SKIN GAME, in which a woman with a shady past is threatened with exposure. It’s not too promising that those are the films one is reminded of.

Hitch, diplomatically, was still negotiating for a possible renewal of his contract with Selznick, even as he attempted to set up his own production company with Sidney Bernstein. The desire for artistic control warred with a need for financial security, but the experience of THE PARADINE CASE must surely have decided him that his future lay elsewhere.

para6Clone of a shot from NO. 13.

41 Responses to “Paradine Syndrome”

  1. Still don’t know what all the fuss was with Ann Todd, maybe the Brits saw something that I don’t. Both her and Valli portray two humorless creatures, no real spark in either of their performances, unless you count Alida’s imperial pissiness. Jourdan’s also very dour here, but impressively handsome, and he has great posture. Glad you made mention of Garmes’ camerawork, possibly the one factor that redeems this film among all others. Much more visually interesting than, say, ROPE. I’ve always wanted to see MOSS ROSE, that and IVY. Both have great titles, and great female leads.

  2. I now have both, but haven’t watched Ivy yet. Would probably make a great double bill of horticultural noirs.

    One gets the impression from Paradine that Selznick had no sense of humour at all. Hitch’s jokes were often the things he objected to most, as in Rebecca. Did DOS ever make a decent comedy?

  3. Thinking of Hitch and stairways, stairwells, staircases. What would his films be without them? Try and imagine their absence, and elevators instead. Or escalators maybe.

  4. Selznick was trying to turn Valli (he dropped the Alida) into the “New Garbo” — forgetting that the Old Garbo was a figure of a particular era with which he was otherwise not in sympathy. David O was hot in search of “The Big O” — which he found in Duel in the Sun — again with Peck. As decorous and repressed as Ann Todd, Peck bears not a trace of the erotic about him. This forced Selznick and Jennifer Jones to work overtime — stoking a fire that never sparked, and turning this structuring absence into a functioning unit. They just about succeeded. But one well understands why Vidor sprang for Chuck Heston for his lower-budget semi-remake, Ruby Gentry.

    As for Alida Valli the glory of her furtive sexuality, and barely concealed menace, blossomed in The Third Man, and continued to resonate even into her later years with such outre items as Bertolucci’s The Spider’s Strategem, Dario Argento’s Suspiria and above all, Patrice Chereau’s Flesh of the Orchid.

    Louis Jourdan is still with us — but I gather just barely,

  5. Poor old Louis.

    Valli is very effective in The Third Man, where the fact that she’s really not into Cotten works perfectly for the story. Her amour fou with Welles is taken as read since they never share a scene. Her lack of interest in Gregory P is a bit more of a problem.

    The Paradine Case seems to have been conceived for Bergman, who wasn’t interested, and then actually offered to Garbo, who of course was even less interested. I’m glad both said no because the problems are so inherent in the writing, their presence would have been rather a waste.

    But it’s tempting to recast, mentally. Hitch thought the horny-handed labourer part should have been played by Robert Newton, but that’s just gross. There weren’t really many handsome working-class male leads in British cinema. Maybe Robert Mitchum could have don it with his Ryan’s Daughter Oirish accent.

    I guess Jean Simmons was too young for the Ann Todd part. Was Sylvia Sims a little older? Their relationship is a little like Dirk and Sylvia’s in Victim — only about a billionth as interesting.

    The marital aspects are the most intriguing thing in the film, perhaps reflecting both Hitch and DOS’s experiences? But Gregory and Ann kill that, aided immeasurably by the duff writing.

  6. David Boxwell Says:

    It’s a stiff.

    All the sensuality, emotion, pleasure went into the decor of Valli’s fab bedroom.

    Selznick was his own worst enemy, second-guessing everything in his relentlessly earnest quest for Perfection. Hitch was fortunate to get out from under his oppressive control.

    SENSO is unthinkable without Valli. (And she is fantastic in LES YEUX SANS VISAGE).

  7. Quite true. But interestingly enough Visconti’s first choice was Ingrid Bergman. And rather than Farley Granger he wanted Marlon Brando!

    Farley is of course a much better choice, and Valli is superb– especially in her climactic confrontation with him followed by her mad scene.

  8. Casting is a weird and wonderful thing, so often the second choice substitutions work out far better than the original ideas — except when they don’t. As Frank Capra, I think it was, said, cast against type and it will be interesting. Almost all the rest is luck, which is why I tell my students that if they can get a good actor, they’re ahead of the game. The chemistry between actor and role, and one actor and another, is hard to predict, and anything that you CAN predict is probably boring.

  9. Arthur S. Says:

    Ingrid Bergman turned Visconti down. It was one of the two roles offered to her during her marriage with Rossellini that he was okay with but she turned it down. Probably because the role was in a similar vein to her role in STROMBOLI only Visconti is more critical and less interested in identifying with her character than Rossellini was.

    Ingrid Bergman also refused to work with Hitchcock again after her marriage with Rossellini.

  10. david wingrove Says:


    Perhaps you can enlighten me? Is Alida Valli actually IN Chereau’s FLESH OF THE ORCHID? If so, who does she play?

    I’ve watched ORCHID several times, and her name certainly appears in the credits but I’ve yet to spot her anywhere in the film itself. Lots of other truly fabulous ladies…Charlotte Rampling, Edwige Feuillere, Simone Signoret, Eve Francis – but no sign of Alida.

    Mind you, my copy was taped off UK television in the ‘graveyard slot’ between 3 and 5 AM and may well have been cut to fit the time-slot. It IS atrociously dubbed, panned and scanned – so may well have been sliced to ribbons into the bargain!

    If you can shed any light on the mystery, do please let me know.

    PS: For me, the greatest Valli performance (apart from SENSO) is in a French film by Henri Colpi called UNE AUSSI LONGUE ABSENCE. In a script by Marguerite Duras, she plays a provincial ‘widow’ who picks up a tramp who may or may not be her long-lost husband.

  11. robert keser Says:

    We mustn’t forget that, throughout the 1940s, Selznick was a serious Benzedrine addict, which accounts for his babbling via notoriously lengthy 3 a.m. memos, his speed-induced logorrhea in fashioning dialogue, and his illogical demand for a faster pace from Hitchcock, even while he himself constituted a one-man stick who was slowing the production down to a molasses pace. (After Selznick’s similar shenanigans during production of DUEL IN THE SUN, King Vidor vowed never to work with him again, and in fact never did). Poor Valli , though, went from this farrago directly into the ghastly MIRACLE OF THE BELLS. In his autobiography, Farley Granger complains that Valli barely spoke to him throughout SENSO, although it seems she was busy with a lurid drug trial in Italy at the time! (To my mind, IVY is much more interesting than PARADINE, by the way).

  12. To David W.

    Regarding your query about Alida Valli in Flesh of the Orchid, according to the cast list she plays the crazy woman at the station (‘la folle de la gare’).
    Does this help?

  13. Graham Greene described a script conference with Selznick where, chewing benzedrine, the great mogul asked “What I don’t understand is, why does X do X?” referring to some incident that was nowhere to be found in the screenplay of The Third Man. “He doesn’t,” said Carol Reed gently, after an awkward pause.

    “Sorry, boys, wrong script!”

    But Reeb picked up the benzedrine habit to get him through the long hours of shooting in Vienna, and in his case it doesn’t seem to have robbed him of coherence. In fact, maybe it amped up his visuals a bit. Not really a sustainable approach though.

  14. I don’t see Senso as similar to Stromboli at all. As for Visconti, he TOTALLY identified with the heroine. She’s a left-wing aristocrat who betrays her moral and political principles when she falls for hot dude.

  15. I disagree with Hitchcock complaints about Alida Valli: I quite like her and, well, I think she makes Mrs. Paradine an ice woman, which I find fitting. She of course would have ample chances later to vindicate herself as an actress. I didn’t think that Jourdan was a bad choice either, he makes you feel there’s pain hidden within his hostility, plus, both him and Valli ooze an auteur that makes you think they’re together in something, regardless of their public statements… I don’t think that I would have preferred Robert Newton in the role.

    Hitchcock made a lot of comic remarks about Laughton and “Jamaica Inn”, and it’s said he only undertook that film only to be able to direct another book by Du Maurier (Rebecca), so, for all his complaints about Laughton, Pommer and the making of “Jamaica Inn”, the truth is, well, he used them to his own ends. It’s ironic that “Rebecca” put him under contract to David Selznick, specially in view of his troubles with this producer (which I think outweight all his troubles with Laughton by the loadful). Call it karmic retribution ;p

    About Laughton in “The Paradine case”, there were in fact more scenes with him and Ethel Barrymore in the script, but qere edited from teh final copy: that would explain the seemingly lack of necessity of their characters in the final film (I’ll try to post about it ASAP). In fact, the Hordfields could the older version of the Keanes… Are Charles & Ethel the actual film translations of Alfred and Alma? I have the suspicion that when Laughton played the scene where Hordfield fondles Mrs. Keane’s hand he’s actually lampooning his director.

  16. Laughton’s sly groping somehow does feel like the kind of creepy behaviour Donald Spoto pins on Hitchcock. But it’s clearly a scripted moment, so not something Laughton could have thrown in to spoof Hitch.

    I like the idea of Laughton & Barrymore as Peck and Todd grown old an bitter. It explains the parallel scenes at the end nicely. The sheer unpleasantness of Laughton’s scenes with his poor wife makes them the best stuff in the film. While there are a few odd things about Hitch and Alma, they seem like a much happier couple, on the whole, than that played in the film. And Horfield doesn’t depend utterly on his wife the way Hitch did on Alma — a reliance he was not ashamed to acknowledge.

    As I understand it, Hitch was already set for America when he made Jamaica Inn, simply because he found himself with the time to do it. It didn’t help him get Rebecca (and Du Maurier hated JI). He was originally going to make Titanic, then Selznick offered him R, which Hitch had tried to buy in Britain.

  17. You’re right… the director could have, after all cut the scene if he felt the actor was being unpleasant for him in some way, still, I think Laughton may have added his touch to the moment (I’m thinking now of the way he yawns) … This scene makes me think of Hitch and Tippi Hedren everytime I see it ;p

    Thanks for the info on Hitchcock’s work at JI and R… Could it be that Sleznick thought that he would be a good director for Rebecca after watching JI? regardless of Daphne Du Maurier’s low opinion of the film, it seems it was sucessful enough (not to grant the survival of Mayflower Pictures, alas).

  18. Off-Topic curiosity: Daphne’s father, geralf Du Maurier, was Laughton’s favourite actor since he saw him as a teenager on teh London stage.

  19. I wonder if Hitch, a keen theatregoer, ever saw Gerald DM. He claimed to have seen Lubitsch acting in the Max Reinhardt production of Sumurun.

    I can’t imagine Jamaica Inn getting Hitchcock any kind of work — I can only assume Selznick hadn’t seen it when he signed Hitch’s contract! Hitch would seem qualified for Rebecca on account of his Englishness and his experience with contemporary thrillers, I don’t think the very different Gothic yarn JI would have been a big factor, especially as it’s so flawed.

  20. David Boxwell Says:

    David E: what won’t we do, or how deeply abase ourselves, for a couple of nights of Farley? Especially Farley Italiano?

  21. Indeed! That was Farley at his most luscious. And in his recently published memoir, “Include Me Out,” he says that Franco Zefferelli — who was still Visconti’s semiofficial boyfriend at the time — was insanely jealous. He was certain the Maestro was going to annex Farley and give him the gate.

    Somehow Visconti restrained himself.

  22. Notice how Visconti uses space in that clip. It’s a medium-sized, amly-furnished flat. Yet it’s a theater stage as well. I love the moment when Valli lunges across the room like an enraged bat.

    The way great directors managed space is a subject in and of itself. Look at the way Hitchcock utilizes decor and shadow in the above stills.

  23. Christopher Says:

    that Visconti clip is delicious to the eyes..

  24. Tony Williams Says:

    David E, Thanks for supplying that extract. As well as the points you raise, these show two really good actors, one never really given the opportunity to show his full potential in American cinema (with a few exceptions, of course). I hope they eventually release this film on DVD.

  25. So do I. It’s an amazing piece of work.

  26. Available in the UK for a fiver!

    It’s extraordinary how the “stage” effect is created despite a mise en scene that reveals the room from multiple angles, with moves and pans that establish it as a real three-dimensional space. And then he creates an invisible proscenium effect…

    At times Valli has a quality of downright Barbara Steele-esque mania. Makes me think Hitch must have deliberately restrained her to get the Nordic iciness she projects in Paradine.

  27. Tony Williams Says:

    Unfortunately, 2 reviews mention that the color is faded and the copy is cut, probably non-scope.

  28. Arthur S. Says:

    I meant a similarity in the sense that it is an ambivalent portrait of a heroine and I meant the distance in identification from the perspective of the audience not from the film-maker. I felt that SENSO didn’t invite me to identify with Livia altough you certainly understood her even if you were able to see her romanticism and her breakdown objectively.

    SENSO was cut in its intial run, so maybe a longer version might be found and that would be restored and given the works by Criterion and MoC. Scorsese’s WFC has listed SENSO as a film they would like to restore. I think it’s one of Visconti’s best and in a way its remained my favourite Visconti even if I feel that The Leopard is his best.

  29. The faded Senso still looks beautiful, even though obviously what we require is the most faithful reproduction of the original colour. Optimum Releasing have a knack for locating the shortest, most messed-about version of anything they distribute.

  30. Arthur S. Says:

    Scorsese said in his documentary on Italian film that if Stendhal had a camera he would make SENSO and he’s right. SENSO marked the beginning of Visconti’s high modernist phase where neo-realism mixes with operatic elegance.

    That scene that David E. cites is one of the best that Visconti ever did.

    I have always treasured the opening title card of this film. The huge SENSO beautifully calligraphed framed in the proscenium of the La Fenice and then underneath the title you have “Colore della Technicolor”…the power of the Technicolor is especially stunning in that final confrontation between Alida and Farley.

  31. It’s definitely my favourite Visconti, though I confess to still having several to see. Amazing how versatile Technicolor could be, when you compare Senso to Le Mepris…

  32. Arthur S. Says:

    The misunderstanding people have over Technicolor is that they think of it as having very bright colours, making your eyes pop. That wasn’t the Technicolor doing it but the colours of the props and the sets. MGM musicals especially used bright vivid sets for their work.

    You could get softer and richer use of the Technicolor stock in films like HEAVEN CAN WAIT and LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN and all the British Archers films.

    By the way, is LE MEPRIS in Technicolor? I thought it was Eastman like PIERROT LE FOU?

  33. The technicians in the film wear Technicolor logos on their boiler suits. Not that that’s conclusive or anything.

    Nathalie Kalmus, the Technicolor consultant (basically the estranged wife of the inventor of the process) who worked in Hollywood and then was kicked over to Britain, argued for restrained use of colour in Hollywood movies. Gone With the Wind was the movie where she finally lost her authority. In Britain she tried to stop Jack Cardiff using diffusion in Black Narcissus.

    She’s kind of an interesting figure, a mass of opinions backed by zero know-how: an ancestor of today’s executive producers.

  34. Senso also boast the most tssrtling “additionla dialogue” credits — the Paul Bowles and TennesseeWilliams!

    Libby Holman had run off with one of Paul’s boyfriends, and they tracked then to Italy. So he set off with Tennessee to get him back (which he did.) While there they visited Visconti (who had staged several Willaims plays so they were good friends) and he asked them to help out with Farley’s dialogue as an english version of srts was being arranged ( called The Wanton Contessa. It doesn’t really work, as the film demands Italian.)

  35. david wingrove Says:

    I agree that the English-language SENSO doesn’t really work – but if anybody could write English florid enough that it SOUNDS like Italian movie dialogue, it was probably Tennessee Williams.

    Poor old Paul Bowles must have been totally at sea with the whole thing!

    BTW…Judy, my copy of FLESH OF THE ORCHID has no train station, with or without a madwoman raving in it, hence no Alida Valli. Does anyone know any more about the scene in question?

  36. Well it’s just her talking to Charlotte. The film is one Grande Dame after another: Edwige Feulliere, Simone Signoret — even old Eve Francis, a Marcel L’Herbier silent star.

    All that, plus the usual sprinkling of Chereau boytoys and Charlotte at her most deliciously demented.

  37. I bought The Paradine Case on DVD last year and it took me at least three attempts to watch it (I fell asleep a couple of times). It made so little impression on me that, watching it again after reading your review, I couldn’t remember whether Valli was innocent or guilty.

    This time around I saw more to admire than I had before, especially in the supporting roles. I particularly admired Ethel Barrymore, who starts as a light-relief dotty-aunt type, but towards the end reveals a wealth of sadness as a woman who has subsumed herself for so long that she has come to apologise for her very existence. Coburn’s performance, too, is very fine.

    That being said, it’s a failure. Not only did I forget whodunnit, I didn’t care. There’s nobody to root for. Peck is wooden, his emotions as fake as the “distinguished” grey streaks painted on his hair, and it’s impossible to believe that so weak a character could have risen to such heights in such a ruthless profession. Todd, as Gay (oh, so inaptly named – she’s as cheerful as a wet Wednesday) is a damp flannel. Valli does what’s required of her – i.e. she comports herself like Gale Sondergaard in The Spider Woman – but that doesn’t help us understand why she’s so irresistible.

    On first viewing I failed to spot the actor who, unspeaking and uncredited, was at Peck’s side in the Old Bailey scenes: John Williams, who went on to do sterling work for Hitchcock, Wilder and others.

  38. Given Hitchcock’s dislike of whodunnits, it’s not surprising that aspect of the film is unsuccessful, but what’s surprising is the failure of the emotional angles, for exactly the reasons you specify. If we take Peck’s character as a DOS stand-in, the whole movie would have been improved with a Jennifer Jones type as Mrs P, and the hero munching benzedrine as his mind unravels.

    John Williams went on to be in as many Hitchcocks as just about any actor (although there are some regulars in the British films who were practically omnipresent)/

  39. I feel rather lonely here. “The Paradine Case” is my favorite Hitchcock movie. I never liked Joan Tetzel as the courtroom color woman , like everyone is too dumb to figure out the dialogue. And Gregory Peck was woefully miscast in this one. Ann Todd would have been better opposite a better actor – an actor with a British accent to start. James Mason or Olivier would have been a treat as Keane. Let’s imagine Michael Hordern or Ralph Richardson in the role! Because it takes great acting chops to make that screenplay work. Louis Jourdan seemed too handsome, but his performance was great and one understands Mrs. Paradine’s great passion for him. And Alida Valli has the perfect blend of intensity and aloofness (I wish I could convey such an attitude half so well.) Except for Peck, the great ensemble really makes it work.. Just enjoy the melodrama.
    The original book has a great ending – Keane shot somebody when Mrs. Paradine was executed – probably the judge – and he and his wife go abroad until the scandal blows over, so she stays with him, but her challenge is greater than a wild infatuation, it’s an unhinged husband. Now that’s a melodrama. I’ll have to read it again.

  40. I can’t imagine preferring a Hitchcock film with problems in its central casting, when he made so many that are perfect in that respect.

    Still, there’s always something of interest in every Hitch film, so it’s natural that every Hitchcock movie should be somebody’s favourite. Interesting to hear about the novel’s plot: if Laughton’s character ended up shot, that would more fully justify the weight given to him. In the film, I find it a little hard to know why he’s an important character with so much screen time, although of course he’s hugely enjoyable as a villain.

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