Hitchcock-a-thon: The Paradine Case (1947)

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In 1934 Hitchcock went from his worst film of the decade to one of his best. Now in the ’40s he reverses the trend. Straight off the back of the magnificent Notorious, Hitchcock began work on his final collaboration with Selznick – The Paradine Case. While it’s still miles better than the string of crap Hitch produced in the early ’30s, it’s a ponderous film that doesn’t live up to the potential of the premise.

In his second and final film with Hitchcock, Gregory Peck plays Anthony Keane – a London attorney hired to defend Mrs. Paradine (Alida Valli) against accusations that she murdered her husband, a blind war-veteran. Keane starts to fall for his mysterious client which threatens both his career and his relationship with his wife, Gay (Ann Todd). Is Mrs. Paradine as innocent as he believes, or is she playing him like a chump?

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The Paradine Case cost over $4,000,000, a monumental sum for the time. It ended up nearly as expensive as Gone With the Wind,  which was on a huge blockbuster scale. But this is a low-key courtroom drama; where the hell did all the money go?

Not on the script, I hope. The screenplay (which Selznick constantly rewrote much to Hitch’s annoyance) hints at some interesting relationships and themes, but feels over-stretched and flabby.

At least some of the acting is strong. Especially from Ann Todd as Keane’s love-suffering wife and Charles Laughton turns in a surprisingly underplayed performance as Judge Horfield.

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I’m very sad to say that it’s Peck who sticks out as the weak link. Based on other Peck films- not least of all his phenomenal performance in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) – we know the man can do much better, but here he feels awkward and stilted. Initially Laurence Olivier was signed on to play Peck’s part before dropping due to other commitments. It would have been great to see him work with Hitchcock once again and he light have been able to add some va-va-voom to the role. Unlike Peck, he would have certainly been able to give a convincing English accent.

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Overall, The Paradine Case is bland and forgettable, but isn’t as awful as many critics make it out to be. The fact it stands as Hitch’s weakest film of the decade only goes to show how great the ’40s were for Hitchcock hits.

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Hitchcock-a-thon: Spellbound (1945)

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In 1944 Hitchcock headed back to England to help with the war effort. In collaboration with The British Ministry of Information he made two short propaganda films in support of the French Resistance, Bon Voyage and Adventure malgachel, before heading back to the States to fulfill his contract with Selznick. By the time production finished on his next project, Spellbound, the war was over.

Dr. Constance Petersen (Ingrid Bergman) falls in love with Dr. Edwardes (Gregory Peck), the new chief psychiatrist at the mental asylum where she works. But he’s not who he seems. Indeed, he’s not Dr. Edwardes at all. He’s an amnesiac with no knowledge of who he really is other than the initials JB. The real Dr. Edwardes has been murdered and JB quickly becomes the top suspect. Constance sets out to help him recover his memory and prove the innocence of the man she loves.

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Then she can work on his vampiric tendencies

The introduction of plot-convenient amnesia adds some new spice to the now overused Hitchcock formula. We’re used to stories of the innocent man on the run, but in this case we’re not so sure he’s innocent. In fact, neither is he.

See, JB has psychotic episodes when he sees black lines upon a white surface. This creepy element to the character cranks up the tension in the mystery and in the romance. “Will he kiss me… or kill me?” ran the poster’s tagline. That actually sums up the drama rather well.

The film contains some great visual moments such as one of my favourite Hitchcock POV shots as the delirious JB downs a glass of milk, slowly overwhelming the screen with whiteness or the famous psychedelic dream sequence designed by Salvador Dalí in his unmistakable surrealist style.

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Shouldn’t have asked Dalí to reinvent the wheel

Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman do a pretty good job as the leads, although we’ve seen far stronger performances from both of them even before this early stage of their in their careers in Keys of the Kingdom and Casablanca. You’d be forgiven for expecting more from this supremely talented duo. I’m sorry, Ingrid. But even you can’t make the word “liverwurst” sound romantic.

Regardless, Spellbound has a compelling mystery at its core told to us with some striking visuals. If you can overlook the absurdly the improbable plot details (even by Hitch’s pulpy standard) it’s an entertaining romp.

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I too feel like this at train stations

Hitchcock-a-thon: Foreign Correspondent (1940)

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After the success of Rebecca, Hitchcock struck up a movie deal with producer Walter Wanger who allowed him more free reign than Selznick had done, essentially dishing out a large budget and letting him go nuts. The result was Foreign Correspondent, a big-budget spy thriller that serves as an early blueprint for North by Northwest.

The film kicks off with American reporter John Jones (Joel McCrea) getting packed off to Europe write a story about the growing risk of war. But after a leading Dutch diplomat (Albert Bassermann) is assassinated in a crowded street by a gun concealed by a camera, Jones finds himself caught up in the middle of international disaster that’s spiralling out of control.

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Much of the film’s enjoyment comes from the scale. We encounter plenty of nail-biting sequences framed against large set-pieces any of which could have served as a superb climax, but Hitchcock seemed determined to top himself each time.

There’s also bucket loads of witty banter, often from the suave, deadpan delivery of fellow reporter Scott ffolliott (George Sanders) who provides a gloriously silly explanation for his name: “One of my ancestors had his head chopped off by Henry VIII and his wife dropped the capital letter to commemorate it.”

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That’s not to say the film is pure escapism, though. Filmed during the early stages of World War II, Hitchcock was extremely concerned about his friends and relatives back home in Britain under the shadow of growing Nazi threat.

The final scene ends with London under siege by bombers and happened to be released in the US in the midst of the Battle of Britain and only a week before Germany began actually bombing London on August 24. Propaganda it may be, but given the circumstances of the production it smacks of historical urgency.

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Good as it is, there are a few flabby bits holding the film back from being one of Hitch’s absolute best. The story takes rather a long time to get going and the romance subplot between Jones and Carol (Laraine Day) is clumsily shoehorned in for plot convenience.

However, Foreign Correspondent still excels because of Hitchcock deeply personal concern for the European crisis. Plus it shows off the great director’s talents when he’s allowed creative freedom with a large budget.