Recently released on Blu-ray and DVD by Kino Lorber, what do you get if you combine mariticide with gaslighting? This Alfred Hitchcock double feature.
The Paradine Case
Did Mrs. Paradine (Alita Valli) poison her blind husband (and no, that wouldn’t be how I’d address him, but the film does constantly)? Her lawyer, Anthony Keane (Gregory Peck), thinks not, but is that because she’s innocent or because he’s fallen in love? Valli plays Mrs. Paradine like Carol Burnett plays Norma Desmond. While everyone in the movie seems to realize Keane’s smitten (including a wonderful Charles Coburn as the lawyer who picked Keane for the case), there’s nothing telling about their interactions on screen. In an interview for Kino Lorber’s DVD release, Peck’s daughter, Cecilia, mentions her father didn’t think there were enough scenes to convey his character’s growing affections. This aligns with a point film historians, Stephen Rebello and Bill Krohn, make in their commentary, about Keane’s wife, Gay (Ann Todd), having the larger female role.
Gay’s ability to see things from her husband’s “tortured” perspective gets over the top but at the same she doesn’t feel inhibited from telling him every concern she has about his new client in great detail. The movie even ends on their marriage, putting higher value on their relationship surviving than Mrs. Paradine, who’s likely to hang if Keane doesn’t get her off.
As soon as they began talking about fonts, I knew I had picked the right commentary. Rebello and Krohn make some great observations about Hitchcock’s long takes, his relationship with David O’Selznick (who wrote the screenplay and had final cut), his use of portraits and lamps, and the role the patriarchy plays in this picture.
A radio play of The Paradine Case makes for welcome comparison. Recorded in 1949, Valli and Louis Jourdan reprise their roles while Joseph Cotten fills in for Peck. The story sounds identical at first but give it time: certain scenes and characters are cut (the horndog judge and his dazzled wife, played in the movie by Charles Laughton and Ethel Barrymore) while other lines are changed (Keane’s unintentionally laughable, “no one else can” save you becomes the more reserved, “I don’t think anyone else can”). The commercial breaks give the play a time capsule feel, with stars promoting their films and unconvincingly plugging the play’s sponsor, Lux Soap. It’s a treat to listen and realize what the film can convey visually.
Where I enjoyed Paradine Case but wouldn’t rank it as one of Hitchcock’s best, Under Capricorn‘s negative reputation stumps me. Set during the 1800’s, when Sydney was a penal colony, this is a period in Australian history that’s fascinating and matters to the film’s plot, since many of the characters are ex-criminals or working through their sentences.
The film opens with the arrival of the new governor and his cousin, Charles Adare (Michael Wilding). Charles is from Ireland and strapped for funds but has no ambition to work. When Sam Flusky (Cotton) proposes a plan that would allow Charles to make a profit, he hesitates to sign the dotted line.
With almost all of the characters in this movie there’s a lazy way they could’ve been played or written. Adare could’ve been foolish and gullible. Ingrid Bergman‘s Mrs. Flusky could’ve been helpless and woozy, but when Adare encourages her to retake control of her household, she’s the one who rises up. She doesn’t need handholding through the whole process, but someone to be in her corner and Adare (if not entirely selfless) is that guy.
Her husband’s not that guy, and Wilding really should’ve gotten top billing, as his character brings viewers into the Flusky home (and in one, smooth long shot, the room where his cousin’s taking a bath). This is a Hitchcock film. Sinister intentions are per the course. Pessimism’s not, so if takes a while to figure Sam out, it’s because you think he’s going to be the bad guy. Adare’s essentially Gatsby, but then he’s also not and as far as the love triangle goes, Capricorn doesn’t stick to what’s predictable.
Film historian, Kat Ellinger, talks about the colors in the film and how Ingrid Bergman felt about Hitchcock’s long takes (Bergman may not have been a fan, but her monologue is a tour de force). She also compares how Mrs. Flusky’s maid, Milly (Margaret Leighton) was portrayed in the book, and how the film might’ve been different if she’d been written closer to the source material.
Last but not least, there’s no bigger Hitchcock fan than Claude Chabrol, who talks about writing for the magazine, Cahiers de cinéma, with François Truffaut.
Both The Paradine Case and Under Capricorn are available on Blu-Ray and DVD from Kino Lorber.