stifled by the restrictive legal process

Film One of the problems with the recent London Law & Order series was that although it was filmed in the UK, with British actors and was about the UK justice system with its wigs, the pacing of the material, shooting style and general structure constantly reminded the viewer that they were watching adaptations of older material, almost to the point that you could hear a hammer thumping away trying to flatten the script to work in a different context. The underrated Basic Instinct 2 similarly brought the Hollywood aesthetic to the streets of London, director Michael Caton-Jones offering his best Verhoven-alike.

I had much the same impression of The Paradine Case; that the story might have been served better by being set in the US; I appreciated that some of the point is about watching Gregory Peck’s lawyer slowly becoming stifled by the restrictive legal process, unable to right for wrong, unable to confirm when he needs to what evidence or witness statements he’ll have to deal when in court. And we might have been denied Charles Laughton’s delicious performance as the Judge, whose permanent expression of disgust ranging against anyone who doesn’t share his world view is, I’m sure, the image of what many people now expect some MPs to be like now that we know how they’ve been spending our money.

But compare Peck’s performance here with his tour-de-force as Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. Granted the material in the later film is more electric and relevant and the overall approach is towards creating a work of prestige, whereas Hitch as ever is more interested in entertainment, yet his actor looks uncomfortable; Hitch himself says to Trauffaut in no uncertain terms: “I don’t think that Gregory Peck can properly represent an English lawyer” he wanted Lawrence Olivier or Ronald Coleman. But the production had been rewritten by his then producer David O. Selznick and he had his own ideas about who should cast to say his words and so, like many of his earlier British silents, he was working with elements that were not of his choosing.

Perhaps the curious sense of dislocation also from the film actually having been shot in the US with Selznick rewriting the script in the UK and sending the pages to Hitchcock who was meant to try his best with them. I had assumed it was the other way around. The directors says he lost track of the shape of the piece. He’s talked about how he was never entirely sure how the original murder was committed, the geography of the house, and that is confusing, though I did think whilst watching that this was a deliberate choice to show how our memory can play tricks and reshape events to fit our point of view. Now and then, I wonder if Hitch was adding layers to his work that even he wasn’t aware of.

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