Friday, March 27, 2009

While Watching "The Paradine Case"...

...it became obvious to me that Alfred Hitchcock became known as the "master of suspense" not only because of his huge, fairly famous setpieces (think "North by Northwest" or "Rear Window" or the entire "Vertigo"), but also because he was able to create mystery in the smallest of moments.
In "The Paradine Case" Gregory Peck plays Anthony Keane, a London lawyer defending a woman, the seductive Mrs. Paradine (Alida Valli), accused of killing her husband.
During one scene Keane visits her house, interested in meeting the late Mr. Paradine's valet, Andre Latour (Louis Jourdan) who might be a key witness in the trial.
Everybody in the town where the house is mentions how odd Latour is and when we're going to see him for the first time, Hitch plays it out like this:

We never get a good look at his face, we can even assume Keane himself didn't see him well. He asks one of the servants "is Latour coming back?" she coldly answers "he might, he might not."
The film features a fantastic, innovative system of cinematography (Lee Garmes was DP; he photograhed the breathtaking train yard scene in "Gone With the Wind" but remained uncredited for his work in it) and the game of light and shadows Garmes uses in this sequence is perfect.
This mystery just makes us instantly assume Latour obviously is hiding something and we become desperate to see his face.
A few minutes later Keane spot his again and calls out his name from a window on the second story,

Only those with superhuman vision can make out Jourdan's mug from that distance.
Keane never gets to see Latour on that first visit and goes back to his inn.
Later at night while the wind blows, the tree branches hit the window and Franz Waxman's score swells, Keane proceeds to close his window.
We are sure he'll see something, but it doesn't happen.
A few seconds later he hears a knock.

And voilá!
It's interesting to note that while Jourdan became world famous for his matinée idol looks and that certain "je ne sais quoi", "The Paradine Case" is the movie that first introduced him to English speaking audiences.
The opening credits announce the introduction of both Jourdan and Valli (who just went by her surname back then) so for modern audiences wtaching the film it's obvious that someone named Latour can't be anyone other than Jourdan.
But back then, when people were seeing him for the first time Hitch made sure they were left with an unforgettable first impression.
The rest of the film is excellent as one would expect (the fact that in the end it has nothing to do with the "main" trial is yet another of the master's incredible nuances) but the first scenes with Jourdan and Peck are the definitive highlights.
I also asked myself what was it in the 40's with Hitch and sinister, loyal house servants?
The scene in the Paradine manor practically screamed "Manderlay!" and Latour felt a tad like Mrs. Danvers, including a bizarre love triangle of sorts between two living people and a ghost.
"The Paradine Case" was Hitch's last collaboration with David O. Selznick, one that had began almost eight years before with "Rebecca".
Can it be that Latour was Mrs. Danver's bookend?

1 comment:

Matt said...

As I make my way through many of the great directors, progressively getting through filmographies, its overwhelming how accomplished Hitchcock is. I haven't even heard of this one, but i'd love to see it. I keep finding movies of his i've never heard of, then watch and the portrait of his accomplishments grows again and again.