A happily married London barrister falls in love with the accused poisoner he is defending.A happily married London barrister falls in love with the accused poisoner he is defending.A happily married London barrister falls in love with the accused poisoner he is defending.A happily married London barrister falls in love with the accused poisoner he is defending.A happily married London barrister falls in love with the accused poisoner he is defending.
If you recall the lingering distress which Rebecca, the apparition femme fatale of that film, set off all the other characters, albeit she herself was dead, that's the kind of shadowy trouble that the poised Mrs. Paradine affects all the characters in this narrative, except she's quite alive. Nevertheless, her husband, a blind man, is dead and she's on trial for his murder. The story itself has much prospective tension, especially putting Mrs. Paradine at the hub of the drama. It's never cut and dried what she's up to and though the seductive effect of a woman under suspicion on a man with influence is and was nothing new, the plot progresses on its own distinctive path, as she is a distinctive character. The issue is that, unlike Hitchcock's British films, this American Hitchcock film set in Britain dulls the blade of the dramatic elements and turns. Hitchcock's camera has a way of acting like an adept trial lawyer, whirring calmly along with customary material and swiftly punctuating with fluent theatrics, and also unsurprisingly, the movie's furnishings have a lush David O. Selznick guise. However, despite Hitchcock's simplistic mastery of when and how to move the camera, each scene is a dialogue piece that I, to my own surprise, found would be much more impactful in other, perhaps grittier and more contemporary hands.
Slowly, overemotionally, but gracefully enough, this picture files the potentially much more intriguing story of the eponymous widow's swaying lure over many who are impinged on by her trial, in addition to a predetermined eye-opener to the nature of the character herself. It makes a pale wink at the covetousness she provokes in the officiating judge, a typically sharp-tongued Charles Laughton whose urbane hostility has altogether sent his wife over the edge, another powerful narrative element that seems to have been glossed over. There's also disquieting suggestion of Mrs. Paradine's clutch on her husband's valet, a man upon whom keen suspicion is aimed before and during the trial, though mainly it follows the zeal she rouses in the stiff-postured man appointed as her defending counsel and of the torment this causes his wife.
Gregory Peck is fervent as the prominent young London barrister who lets his heart, callously ensnared by his client, control his head, while Ann Todd would be much more persuasively grief-stricken as his wife were it not for Franz Waxman's gushy score being poured on her every word like syrup. Italian import Alida Valli makes the confined Mrs. Paradine a composite of inscrutability, ambiguity and sensuality, and Louis Jourdan is pretty intense as the harassed valet.
It isn't a momentous Hitchcock effort by a long shot, save to the degree that it infers the cave dweller beneath everyone's practiced etiquette and concrete integrity and barristers' wigs. And it isn't a momentous script either, for the intent of cinema that is, developed by Selznick himself from Robert Hichens' novel. After a hazy buildup of evidence and of passion in the lawyer's heart, the story finally goes into a static but enthralling courtroom and thankfully remains there for most of the second hour.
- Nov 30, 2010