Friday, January 1, 2010

1947 - THE PARADINE CASE, Hitchcock's least favorite film

Alfred Hitchcock vs. his producer David O Selznick.


Hitchcock had been brought over by Selznick in 1939 to direct Rebecca.  Hitchcock already had a considerable reputation with his British films, particularly The 39 Steps and The Man Who Knew Too Much.  By the late 1930's Hitchcock was well on the way to developing his unique visual and storytelling style as can be seen in his film Saboteur.

David O. Selznick was Hollywood's leading independent producer of very classy motion pictures.  He had also established a considerable reputation of adapting novels into successful films.  This was to climax with his super production of Gone With The Wind.  Selznick was a very hands on detail oriented producer, who felt it was his job to be involved in every aspect of his film productions from the script to casting to the final editing.

At first Selznick and Hitchcock got along relatively well.

Selznick was occupied with finishing Gone With The Wind, and pretty much left Hitchcock alone while he was filming Rebecca but by the late 1940's things had changed in their relationship.

Hitchcock was making more interesting and successful Hitchcock type films away from Selznick and Selznick had become obsessed with the actress Jennifer Jones which lead him to make a series of overblown big budget dramas.

Hoping to recapture the success of Rebecca. Selznick had Hitchcock under contract for one more film.

Selznick chose a British courtroom mystery novel called The Paradine Case, and assigned Hitchcock to direct it.  The story was about an upper class English woman accused of murdering her rich husband and the criminal defense lawyer who takes her case and falls in love with her during the murder trial.

Things went wrong almost immediately.  Selznick had commissioned a number of scripts which he was unsatisfied with, so Hitchcock's wife Alma Reville a script editor,  attempted to put some structure and order into what was apparently a small mountain of scripts.  While filming Selznick would review each day's results and then rewrite the script to his satisfaction and have Hitchock reshoot the same scene the following day, this apparently went on for six long months.

Selznick also had strong input on the casting of the film, Hitchock had hoped to use British actors for what was essentially a British story.  Selznick instead insisted on Gregory Peck who he had under contract who gave his usual competent but dull performance.

Finally, Selznick the control freak, insisted on approving all of Hitchock's camera and lighting setups before each scene was shot.  This had the effect of taking away any ability that Hitchcock had to give it his special look.  Hitchcock became so frustrated with the situation that he frequently took naps on the set in front of the cast and crew.

Hitchcock finally walked away from this train wreck of a movie and left Selznick to edit it into a three hour courtroom drama.  The movie was poorly received by the critics and the public when it was released  and Selznick ended up recutting the film to under two hours.  The result of Selznick's obsessive screwing around was a movie that cost more than four million dollars and made about half of that.

Watching The Paradine Case is a major undertaking.

A good looking and expensive production, Selznick's dialog and the stiff acting by most of the cast make the movie a real effort to sit through at under two hours.  One can only shutter thinking about what the three hour version of this very very boring movie would have been like.

If you have a need to see all of Hitchcock's films I suppose you can sit through this, but keep in mind that Alfred Hitchcock didn't consider it worth the money, time and effort spent on it.

A pretty bad film.

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