Tuesday, April 06, 2021

The Paradine Case (1947)

The Paradine Case is quite a less known film within the celebrated director Hitchcock's work, which is strange, for it comes close in excellence to the 1958 film Vertigo, which I regard as his finest film. The two films have much in common, too: a mysterious woman (not just a crude femme fatale), a clever, upright man abandoning his reason in his obsession with that woman, a smart, slightly cynical but romantic, not very feminine girl or woman (a foil to the mysterious woman, to so speak) who acts as a friend to the man but probably has an unrequited love too at her heart. Now these features are often found in some other Hitchcock films, too, not just these two: it's amazing how many little-differing variations of them Hitchcock has tried them out in different circumstances. In the case of The Paradine Case, a film set in Britain, Hitchcock also throws in a third woman: feminine but with no mystery, devoted and loyal, loving, mother like. She plays the man's wife in this case.

So the man is Anthony Keane (played by American actor Gregory Peck), the mysterious woman is Paradine (played by European import Valli), the not very feminine, smart woman is Judy (played by Joan Tetzel) and the loyal and loving woman is Gay (played by Ann Todd). The film on the face of it is a very simple, tragic story of unfulfilled passion and its tragic consequences; it also serves as a social commentary, though not much emphasis has been put on that aspect, and rightly so. But the film also serves as a brilliant exposition on the difference between love and obsession. Keane, engaged to defend Paradine who has been charged with murdering her husband, is a highly celebrated barrister: and yet, he neglects even the most fundamental tenets of his profession, when he is repeatedly browbeaten by Paradine because of his obsession for her to not even get to know the full details of what really happened. Usually, one would assume the lawyer even knows whether the client did it or didn't, but Keane, it seems, doesn't even want to know the truth, rebuffing any attempts indignantly to enlighten him. He believes in Paradine, but tremulously so: he doesn't want his belief to shatter, so shuts his ears off to any possible warnings. This is quite different from, let's bring in a very different climate and character, the Jatil Yadav character played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui in Raat Akeli Hai: Yadav keeps on going and does not hesitate to accuse Radha of indeed being the murderess but still doesn't abandon her. For Yadav may also be a little obsessed by Radha, but he is also in love with her, whereas Keane is obsessed by the elusiveness of Paradine, rather than in love with the woman. He doesn't want to know the past so well, for it could break the idol he has made of her in his world of imagination.

Another highly significant meaning of love is brought to the film by Keane's loving and loyal wife Gay herself: one of the exchanges between the couple is one of the finest exchanges one would have seen between a couple on screen, at least certainly in a British or American film. Gay, unlike her husband, does not want to escape from reality or shut herself to it: she wants to take it on, for love cannot stand upon illusions and faked reality. She has the intelligence and courage to know and feel it. And it is Gay's character which indeed elevates the film above scores of films playing on the same theme: after all, there have been a lot of films with this very same story but focusing just on the man and his object of obsession, with either no wife or a silently suffering wife. Gay is neither non-existent nor a silently suffering, weeping one. To complete this portmanteau of men-women relationships, there is also the quite-underdeveloped (and understandably so) relationship of the womaniser, lecherous judge Horfield (played superbly by Charles Laughton) and Lady Horfield (also played brilliantly by Ethel Barrymore, though her role is very brief). And this another variety of a relationship doesn't detract or subtract from the film's main story: it adds to it and doesn't seem an add-on, unlike, to take another example of a recent Indian film, the clumsy attempts of Thappad. And then there is Judy: energetic, highly intelligent, not very feminine in habits or appearance and probably therefore often seen as a pal rather than a desirable woman by men. In Vertigo, there's Midge, more apparently in love with Scottie; in here, Judy doesn't have that possibility as Keane is already married happily, but she does allow herself the imagination to think so, if only to teach a lesson to the likes of Keane.

And finally, besides the brilliant character parts of the film, what really makes the film a great little gem is its marvellous editing and cinematography. In a nutshell, brilliant direction from Hitchcock. What a way to show Latour (played by Louis Jourdan) the first time! Or can it even be called showing? Neither a jealous Keane, nor the smug trap driver and nor the curious viewer will ever be sure of who this man is. The lecherous gaze of Judge Horfield on Gay's nakedness: the camera also looks covetedly. The respective first entries of Paradine and Latour the first time in the court room: the world burning its judging looks onto Paradine, while Paradine, even without daring to turn her face, burning to look at Latour with every fibre of her consciousness. And the portrait of Paradine following Keane, unable to leave him at rest: the man's obsession evident. All this executed by a cinematographer who did what he was asked to, the director who had the vision to think of this and the editor who cut out the unneeded where needed.

A fine film that deserves to be known more and better.

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