Hitchcock omissions: The Paradine Case
Depending on how you count, Alfred Hitchcock completed 53 features, 52 of which still exist in one form or another. (As far as anyone knows, his second film, 1926's The Mountain Eagle, is lost forever, but Hitch never expressed much regret about that.) The master's output makes him a daunting figure for completists, even those who, like me, have been crossing off one title after another since the age of eight.
Hitchcock would have turned 110 on August 13, and this milestone has inspired me to fill in the gaps in my viewing. None of these are embarrassing; I've seen 43 of Hitch's films, and almost all of the ones I'm missing are poorly regarded silents like Champagne and The Farmer's Wife. Still, aided by the public-domain box set I bought for $5.99 at a Michigan rest stop last weekend, I plan to spend his birthday week inching toward a clean sweep. I'm not sure all of these films will be worth writing about (and I doubt I'll get to all of them), but you never know—there might be a masterpiece in there. There's much to admire even in the films Hitchcock himself dismissed—Downhill, say, or Waltzes from Vienna—and even "lesser" Hitchcocks often turn out to be more interesting than their reputations would suggest. Although few will argue that either Torn Curtain or Topaz is the equal of Vertigo or Psycho, they've both got flashes of brilliance, and are, at the very least, as entertaining as you'd expect.
I recently watched The Paradine Case, by far my guiltiest omission and the only one from 1940-1976 (essentially Hitchcock's Hollywood period, although 1972's Frenzy, his return to England, needs an asterisk). Like another hit-and-miss effort, Stage Fright (1950), The Paradine Case finds the silent-trained master in an unusually verbose mode. British barrister Gregory Peck defends a beautiful social-climber (Alida Valli) from a murder charge. She probably did poison her husband, but Peck's Anthony Keane remains willfully oblivious to that fact. What's really on trial is Keane's fidelity to his wife (Ann Todd), who stands by silently while he suffers professional disgrace.
The conceit is fascinating, but much of the film—which bogs down in weirdly drawn-out pre-trial strategizing—is as plodding as Hitchcock gets, perhaps deliberately, as if Hitch were attempting to explore erotic fixation in the most clinical and dispassionate manner possible. Critics have noted a thematic similarity to Vertigo, which lends the movie retroactive interest; even so, there's no sense that Peck's obsession with Valli remotely equals the intensity of feeling that James Stewart harbors for Kim Novak's Madeleine, and part of the blame must go to Peck's weirdly mannered performance (he had starred two years earlier in the superior Spellbound, which led François Truffaut, in his famous interviews, to complain that he wasn't a particularly Hitchcockian actor).
Up next: Rich and Strange, my second-guiltiest omission, if that one should indeed inspire guilt.