The Paradine Case

The Paradine Case

A happily married London barrister falls in love with the accused poisoner he is defending.


The Paradine Case (1948) was the last film Alfred Hitchcock directed under his contract with David O. Selznick. It was, as Donald Spoto puts it, 'a pet project for Selznick' who had been planning to make it since the publication of Robert Hitchens' novel in 1933. Spoto describes a bleak and tension-riven production process:

From the start the project was in disarray, and it engaged no-one's interest very passionately. That it was finished at all was little short of miraculous, for it was certainly a lame-duck enterprise, a work assigned to a departing director by his increasingly neurotic and un-self-confident producer.

We know that Selznick determined the major casting, ordered many retakes, overruled Hitchcock's intention to shoot extensively in long takes and re-edited after previews, so that conflicts of intention are built into the fabric of the film. Problems with the script also contributed to the fraught production experience, with Selznick himself taking over the writing of it and re-writing it as production proceeded. Hitchcock's lack of interest in The Paradine Case, Spoto reports, 'was ... an open secret ...', the only thing that significantly engaged him was 'the technical challenges he set for himself - four cameras would simultaneously film the courtroom scenes so that the emotional exchanges between the actors could be maintained in simultaneous takes'.”

Douglas Pye1


“It's easy for a cinephile or film critic to recognize the accomplished audacity of, say, the shower scene from Psycho. But The Paradine Case revels in the quiet brilliance that defines Hitchcock's cinema: its geometrically fluid rendering of power. The film's first act might've been regarded as exposition by a conventional director and tossed off in a series of over-the-shoulder shots that would live or die by the actors' performances. For Hitchcock, such scenes are at the core of his very subject, as The Paradine Case is a study of neurosis, in which a murder trial comes to stand as a pretense for influential men and women to argue their statuses vis-à-vis each other. Hitchcock utilizes faces as pivot points throughout The Paradine Case, most famously when a witness's entrance into a courtroom is staged entirely from behind a close-up of Paradine's head. This witness will prove to have a great deal of meaning to Paradine, which is clouded in a fog of class, sexual instinct, and romantic longing. The film is concerned with how class dwarfs our sexuality, conditioning men to resent an inability to procure women to whom they feel their station entitles them. This stifled hunger runs throughout Hitchcock's filmography as his master theme: In his comedies and light thrillers, sex and its corresponding acceptance are freely experienced by goodlooking and charismatic people; in his existential thrillers, these are forbidden fruits to the emasculated male protagonists. In The Paradine Case, men and women talk almost entirely of sex via legal euphemisms-conversations which Hitchcock frames in tableaux that evoke the ebb and flow of one-upmanship, dramatizing a series of checks and checkmates as women grapple for the agency that men cruelly deny them.”

Chuck Bowen2

  • 1Douglas Pye, "In and Around The Paradine Case: Control, Confession and the Claims of Marriage,” Rouge, 2004.
  • 2Chuck Bowen, "Review: Alfred Hitchcock's The Paradine Case on Kino Lorber Blu-ray," Slant, 9 June 2017.
UPDATED ON 02.03.2024
IMDB: tt0039694