Hitchcock on the Law: “The Paradine Case” (1947) starring Gregory Peck, Ann Todd, Charles Laughton, Charles Coburn, Louis Jourdan, & Alida Valli

Sir Simon Flaquer: [about Mrs. Paradine] You’ll find her a strange woman with an almost mystical charm.

London police charge a young woman, Maddalena Paradine (Italian actress Alida Valli), w/ the murder of her older/blind/British husband, retired Col. Richard Paradine. She’s a woman w/ a past, but became wealthy/glamorous b/c of her marriage. Her solicitor, Sir Simon Flaquer (Charles Coburn), refers the case to his friend/colleague, Anthony Keane (Gregory Peck). While spending time building her defense, Tony becomes infatuated w/ Mrs. Paradine, threatening his long/happy marriage to Gay (Ann Todd). Tony goes to the country estate where the Paradines previously lived; he sees the grand house and meets the valet, Andre Latour (French actor Louis Jourdan).

Mrs. Paradine: It won’t shock you, I assume, to learn that I am a woman, what would you say, a woman who has seen a great deal of life.

I’m sure there some readers who don’t want to take sleeping pills, so maybe this movie will do the trick (LOL)! How can such a great cast (incl. theater veterans) be wasted? While Sir Alfred Hitchcock (personally) liked the actors, he felt that Peck (w/ white streaked hair to age him up), Valli (one-note and lacking charm), and Jourdan (handsome/intense) were unsuited for their roles. Producer David O. Selznick insisted that the director use them. Judge Horfield’s (Charles Laughton) nervous/bullied wife, Sophie (Ethel Barrymore), had several scenes cut; this will be obvious to astute viewers.

Gay Keane [joking w/ Tony]: I wouldn’t like a woman to be hanged, any woman, just because my husband had a rendezvous with her. In jail.

This movie (part melodrama/part courtroom drama) was nearly as expensive as Gone with the Wind (1939)! Selznick constantly interfered w/ Hitch’s production, incl. having him do many re-shoots. Selznick supervised editing (the movie feels long) and the (over-the-top) musical score from Franz Waxman. This was Hitch’s last movie in his contract w/ Selznick; it’s not very suspenseful (though the trial was somewhat interesting). I liked some of the dialogue; the domestic scenes between Peck (only 30) and Todd (10 yrs. older than her leading man) were done very well.

Judy Flaquer: Men are such horrible beasts. I wish I were married to Anthony Keane for just one hour. I’d make him jump through hoops.

Sir Simon: I wish you were married to someone. Perhaps he could put up with your clap-clap better than I can!

Though The Paradine Case was a box-office failure, critics praised two performances. Time Magazine (January 12, 1948) wrote: “The only characters who come sharply to life are the barrister’s wife (Ann Todd) and her confidante (Joan Tetzel).” Also, Variety wrote: “Ann Todd delights as his wife, giving the assignment a grace and understanding that tug at the emotions.” Judy (Tetzel) could be thought of as the precursor to Barbara Morton (played by Hitch’s daughter- Patricia) in Strangers on a Train (1951); they’re both single, intelligent, and fascinated w/ crime (which could be considered “unfeminine”).

[1] Many viewers feel let down by the film because it lacks the energy and excitement found in most of Hitchcock’s films, and because the courtroom setting creates expectations that are not quite filled.

Many Hitchcock fans will not particularly enjoy this one…

[2] I like Peck normally, but in this film, he’s too young and never convincingly English, despite his accent. Even without the accent, he doesn’t suggest someone who is passionately and irrationally swept away, as the role calls for.

[3] THE PARADINE CASE is generally conceded as among Hitchcock’s lesser films. It’s most interesting parts of the performances of the leads (except for Alida Valli, who is quite dull), and the famous sequence of the portrait of Valli whose eyes seem to follow the camera (standing in for Gregory Peck/Anthony Keane) as it passes from one room to the next.

[4] It is not typical Hitchcock, and fails to fascinate the audience. The high point is the verbal clashes between Laughton and Peck (sometimes assisted by Leo G. Carroll as the prosecutor), Jourdan’s collapse in the witness box when Keane attacks him for secretly betraying his master with the defendant, and Valli’s final condemnation of Keane in court.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

“Brute Force” (1947) starring Burt Lancaster & Hume Cronyn

Gallagher [after learning that parole board hearings have been cancelled]: Those gates only open three times. When you come in, when you’ve served your time, or when you’re dead!

Joe Collins (Burt Lancaster) is a serving a life sentence at a maximum security prison (Westgate Penitentiary). After being held in solitary, then hearing of a friend’s sudden death, he has had enough! Collins and Gallagher (Charles Bickford), the prison’s newspaper editor, plan an elaborate escape. The men in his cell say they’ll follow along. The head guard, Capt. Munsey (Hume Cronyn in his only villainous role), suspects something is up; he has informants all over. Warden Barnes (Roman Bohnen) holds authority on paper only; Dr. Walters (Art Smith) is a decent man who has been driven to alcoholism. These veteran actors came from NYC’s Group Theater (1931-1940) which followed the principles of Stanislavski. The film ends in a huge fight between guards and inmates, w/ gunfire, explosions, and many deaths!

Dr. Walters: Yes, Capt. Munsey. I’m just a very ordinary man. I get drunk on whiskey but you sir – you get drunk on power.

The acting is top notch; this is Lancaster’s 2nd movie after his debut opposite Ava Gardner in The Killers (1946). He had height, looks (traffic-stopping), and screen presence; he was discovered by producer Mark Hallinger (who died at just 44 y.o. from a heart attack). Cronyn (who hailed from the theater, like his wife Jessica Tandy) chews up the scenery as a sadistic wanna-be dictator. In one standout scene, he interrogates and beats the prison reporter, Louie (Sam Levene), while the music of Wagner (Hitler’s favorite composer) plays in the background. The musical score (composed by Miklos Rozsa) is considered to be even more compelling than the one he wrote for The Killers.

Spencer: Driving along with such a dream doll beside me, I figured myself a pretty lucky guy. Flossie had looks, brains, and all the accessories. She was better than a deck with six aces.

Yes, there are women here (unlike most jail-related movies); they appear in flashbacks. Spencer (John Hoyt- best known as Dr. Boyce in the series pilot of Star Trek: TOS) recounts a story of picking up a beautiful gambler, Flossie (Anita Colby). A mild-mannered bookeeper is in jail b/c he stole to please his wife (Ella Raines- who appeared in several noir films). Becker (Howard Duff) is former soldier dreaming of going back to Italy, where he left his lady love (Yvonne De Carlo). She co-starred w/ Lancaster in Criss Cross, which is a can’t miss noir. The woman in Collins’ life, Ruth (Ann Blyth), is as far from a femme fatale as you can get! This movie is on Amazon and YouTube (can see for free).

[1] Director Jules Dassin is brilliant with light, and sets the example for the French “new wave” of cinema. Lighting Burt Lancaster from the side, or from underneath, makes him and the other actors look almost surreal.

[2] The violence is not explicitly disclosed like in the present days, but the cruelty of Captain Munsey can be understood even by the most naive viewer.

[3] This powerful drama is totally uncompromising and provides a convincing account of what life is like in a prison which is being run in a particularly brutal and autocratic manner. The consequence for the inmates is that they live in an oppressive and overcrowded environment where hard labour, poor quality food and harsh treatment are the norm. Furthermore, they are also subjected to a cruel system which leads to many of them being abused, tortured or even killed

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

“Kansas City Confidential” (1952) starring John Payne & Coleen Gray

Detective: … left school to enlist with the engineers. Pretty good soldier too! Bronze Star, Purple Heart!

Joe: Try and buy a cup of coffee with them!

A WWII vet working as a flower deliveryman, Joe Rolfe (John Payne- best known as the lawyer/neighbor in Miracle on 34th Street), becomes the fall guy for an armored car robbery worth $1.2M. Payne is very tall (6’4″), w/ an athletic body, and large/expressive brown eyes. When Joe is released for lack of evidence, after being roughly interrogated by the cops, he’s determined to discover who set him up and why. After 6 mos, he gets info which leads down to Tijuana, Mexico. There he meets a nervous ex-con, Pete Harris (Jack Elam), at a gambling house. Pete doesn’t have his share of the robbery money, but is flying to Barrados (a fishing village) to pick it up. He doesn’t know who planned it, or the other criminals (character actors Neville Brand and Lee Van Cleef). They all had to wear full face masks during the robbery!

[1] …Payne started off as a crooner and hoofer, a light leading man… he ended up one of the most convincing ordinary-guy protagonists in the noir cycle. He’s tough, all right, but still shows the flop-sweat of fear; and he’s smart, too, but because he’s forced to be what he’s trying to hang onto is all he’s got.

[2] The suspense in Kansas City Confidential is not about who did it. The three robbers are… three of the nastiest dudes in film history. The suspense lies whether Payne can put it all together. As he says to one of them, he’s flying blind in this one.

John Payne gives a riveting performance of a desperate man and one you don’t leave holding the bag without consequences. This is one of the best noir films ever done, not to be missed.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Quentin Tarantino said that Reservoir Dogs (1992) was inspired by this film noir. Kansas City Confidential was directed by Phil Karson (who also made Scandal Sheet); he worked steadily in small budget pictures. This film doesn’t shy away from violence (punching, kicking, and gunplay). The fights happen fast and don’t look slick; they’re a fact of life for shady men. Joe spent a year in jail, too; he can handle himself in rough situations. His love interest is pretty, but also smart (a law student); Helen (Coleen Gray) surprises her father (Preston Foster) by arriving at the resort for a vacation. Gray is perhaps best known as Fay, the loyal girlfriend to Sterling Hayden (another handsome tall drink of water) in Kubrick’s The Killing (1956). The romantic scenes were few, but played well; Payne and Gray became a real-life couple for some time. I noticed (on second viewing) that the editing is tight and well-done. Check out this film for free (since it’s in the public domain) on Amazon or YouTube!

“Boomerang!” (1947) starring Dana Andrews, Lee J. Cobb, Arthur Kennedy, Jane Wyatt, & Ed Begley

[1] This is a pretty good, taut, realistic, gritty film-noirish film

[2] Most of the film’s dramatic moments take place in the courtroom, but there is a backstory involving municipal corruption

[3] Boomerang is the story of how the man who eventually became U.S. Attorney General, Homer Cummings, used the prosecutor’s office to prove the INNOCENCE of an arrested murder suspect. How often do you see that happen?

[4] …Lee J. Cobb, as the cop who changes his mind, is excellent, and so is Karl Malden, who has less to do. I’ve always loved Sam Levene… the cynical wisecracking reporter was made for him. Playwright Arthur Miller lived near where the film was shot; in the police line-up, he’s the tall man in the dark coat on the far left.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

The film was directed by Elia Kazan who got the New York Film Critic’s Award for this and Gentleman’s Agreement. Boomerang! got an Oscar nom for Best Screenplay (adapted by Richard Murphy). The story starts off w/ narration re: life in a seemingly idyllic community, which could be any town in America. The peace is shattered when an elderly Episcopal priest is shot on a street corner. When the investigation stalls, pressure is put on the cops to come up w/ a suspect. A reporter, Dave Woods (Sam Levene), writes a series of articles criticizing the city government for inaction. Many men are picked up for questioning, just b/c they wear a dark coat and light hat (as the killer is alleged to have worn). In a police line-up, seven witnesses identify John Waldron (Arthur Kennedy), a former WWII vet w/ no job, as the murderer. Waldron (who was carrying a gun) denies the crime. After being questioned by Chief Robinson (Lee J. Cobb), Det. White (Karl Malden in an uncredited role), and a psychiatrist, the suspect confesses. District Attorney Henry Harvey (Dana Andrews) is put on the case. His friends urge him to win the case and run for governor, while facts lead him to believe the suspect may be innocent.

Kazan aims for realism, making it seem like we’re watching events as they unfold. This film was shot on location and features many locals (non-actors) in the crowd scenes. Fans of Star Trek will recognize Jane Wyatt (AKA Spock’s mom); she plays Madge Harvey, the wife to the D.A. She’s the loving/supportive wife, but also on top of things. This is the film debut of Ed Begley; he’ll later appear in 12 Angry Men (w/ Cobb). Begley is a small-time bureaucrat; he sweats and acts nervous. Kennedy plays an ambiguous character, the police interrogate him for two days, depriving him of sleep until he breaks down. Cobb carries Kennedy over to a cot, as you’d do w/ a sleeping child. The second act of the film is the courtroom drama. You can rent this movie on YouTube.


“Les Miserables in Concert: The 25th Anniversary” (2010)

The story is one we know and very simple: a former convict, Jean Valjean (Alfie Boe), tries to rebuild his life w/ adopted daughter Cosette after the death of her mother, Fantine (Lea Salonga). Valjean is pursued for years by a police inspector, Javert (Norm Lewis). Against the backdrop of student rebellions in Paris, a student named Marius (Nick Jonas) and the grown-up Cosette (Katie Hall) fall in love. The songs are also very memorable, incl. Who Am I? and Bring Him Home (sung by Valjean), I Dreamed a Dream (sung by Fantine), and On My Own (sung by Eponine). In a time when there are protests in cities (around the world) calling for racial equality and justice reform, this story still resonates.

Fans of the musical will notice that Salonga previously played Eponine in Great Performances: Les Misérables in Concert (1995)- the musical’s 10th anniversary. The petite (yet powerful) singer is the first full-blooded Filipina to have won the Olivier (1990), the Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, and Theatre World Awards (1991) for Best Actress in a Musical for Miss Saigon. In recent years, she was a guest star on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, a comedy w/ musical numbers. Most famously, Salonga was the singing voice of Princess Jasmine in the Disney animated movie Aladdin (1992). Not only is she an amazing singer, she also acts out every moment of her role here!

Samantha Barks (Eponine) played the same role in the 2012 film version. Jenny Galloway previously played Madame Thenardier (a crowd favorite) in 1995 and repeated her role in this production. Ramin Karimloo (Enjolras) went on to play the title role in The Phantom of the Opera 25th Anniversary Concert a year later opposite Hadley Fraser (Grantaire) as Raoul. Karimloo (who fled Iran w/ his parents when the shah was overthrown in the early ’80s) made his Broadway debut as Valjean in the 2014 revival and earned a Tony nomination for Best Actor in a Musical. Lewis is perhaps best known as Edison, a senator and one of the ex-boyfriend’s of Olivia Pope on the ABC TV series- Scandal. He became the first Black actor to play the phantom in The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway. Unlike most of the other phantoms, he has a baritone voice (which is rich and very impressive).

At the end of the concert, we see the original 1985 cast, the international tour cast, and the current cast. We hear Colm Wilkinson (considered the best singer to portray Valjean), John Owen-Jones, Simon Bowman, and Boe sing Bring Him Home. There is an appearance by Michael Ball (the original Marius in the London production; a big star in the UK), composers, lyricist, and producer (Cameron Mackintosh). You can rent this show on YouTube; it’s a must-see for fans of the theater (esp. since we’re stuck at home)!

The casting of Nick Jonas, of Jonas Brothers fame, is little more than a casting publicity stunt, and one which almost backfires catastrophically. Quite simply, Jonas is leagues out of his depth, and his voice has not the power nor range to do justice to the role…

So many excellent singers have brought such depth and strength to the character of Jean Valjean and Alfie Boe does an admirable job. His beautiful rendition of “Bring Him Home” really proves he has the chops to handle this role.

Norm Lewis, whose subtle facial expressions and genuine passion commanded the stage/screen, sang Javert with such power and depth that I actually, for the first time, empathized with his character.

No other musical has the power to raise hairs and bring goosebumps throughout, and at the same time bring entire audiences to tears…

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews