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Thursday, 24 August 2017

On Blu-ray - David Hare reviews a new edition of Alfred Hitchcock's THE PARADINE CASE (USA, 1947)

Louis Jourdan, The Paradine Case
Lee Garmes was the greatest photographer of close-ups in the history of the movies and here are two of the most gloriously beautiful faces from The Paradine Case (1947), in the process of their own self destruction, dragging Gregory Peck, a third very beautiful face down with them. The whole meaning of the movie increasingly seems to me to belong in the close-ups. Indeed, the central act of the film is 20 minutes within nearly two hours of useless non-expository talk, little action and you can hear Hitchcock tapping the camera waiting for something interesting to do.

The movie often lurches with the brakes on during narrative sections. But it then becomes transfixing in its meditative and confrontational sequences, largely shot in Close. It's like two movies at war with each other, one personal and "abstract", the other, literal and wide. The camera movements Hitch stages around Valli are also some of the most lyrical and expressive in his career. They look forward to the ten minute takes of Rope (1948) and the serpentine cranes and dolleys he got Cardiff to execute for the totally wonderful Under Capricorn (1949) and I think The Paradine Case needs to be seen as one of that trio of late forties, high mise-en-scene based works.

Alida Valli, The Paradine Case
Whether or not you think similarly the new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber is one of the first Selznick 40s titles out of the MGM library to be released on Kino Lorber and has always presented as a "problematic" Hitchcock. A big part of the problem is the whole British class malarkey thing upon which Hitch himself overly relies for the setting, and all its idiotic balderdash, especially with Charlie Coburn as Senior Counsel, "Sir Simon". Hitch takes the malarkey over the top of absurdity in the first sequence he shares with Alida Valli in which she repeatedly addresses him with the honorific. "Yes, Sir Simon, No Sir Simon... I think so Sir Simon. " The one interesting aspect of this class nonsense is the way the men from the higher orders fetishize a sexually active woman like "Maddelena Anna Paradine" and her Neapolitan past. Even on the bonus material during audio grabs Hitch keeps referring to her as "the nymphomaniac."

Nympho or not I was pleasantly surprised to see how much more I liked Peck this time around. I think Hitch is all wrong about him, and certainly about Jourdan whose own performance is without blemish, and a very fine one indeed. Maybe Louis and Peck don't fit Hitchs relatively comic book stereotypes for the Chatterley-esque project he had in mind. In any case Hitch does reign in some if not all of the usual Selznickian excess and the longueurs and slabs of totally redundant diversions the producer interposed into everything he touched. And often ruined.

Gregory Peck, The Paradine Case
One outstanding impression from this viewing is the phalanx of incredibly compelling women the film presents. Every single female part and its actor is a great and moving character, even Ann Todd whose part is written dangerously close to near simpleton. But Hitch and Garmes throw everything they have into building her up visually. In fact, Garmes gives her more close-ups than Alida. Also wonderful to watch, Ethel Barrymore as the appalling Laughton's suffering fragile wife whose heart is obviously broken by everything she sees in life, and Coburn's feisty daughter, Judy, a terrific Joan Tetzel.


The new Blu-ray transfer is presumably taken from the same element used for the older Artisan Pal DVD releases of the movie. In those low-rez versions a number of visible flaws in both the source and the scan were less obvious. In the new Blu some sequences show what looks like but isn't aggressive grain, more likely high frequency noise from attempts to "sharpen" and give depth to weaker sections of the reel. Overall the image quality for the new Blu is fair to good, but this is definitely a Hitch title I would like to see given full cleanup restoration with a new 2K if not 4K scan. Meanwhile buy and enjoy with pleasure. Region free.

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