Strangers on the Set

Alfred Hitchcock and David O. Selznick's mutual contempt somehow yielded a trio of classics--and one highly unusual case

Only a mogul would find the subject of a sexy chicklet stealing an old man's coin worthy of the gravitas of high tragedy. That may explain Hitch's clear befuddlement with this dialogue-heavy courtroom drama, which toploads an already muzzy story with acres of talkie-era character actors (Charles Coburn, Ethel Barrymore), and seems to take an eternity to get to the point. Clunky yet diverting in its slow-as-molasses vibe, Paradine is a curio of mogul lust that's fascinating in the same way as The Outlaw, producer-director Howard Hughes's valentine to Jane Russell. In both cases, the audience is rubbernecking at the scene of an accident. What made these fat cats think they could actually write--and, in the case of Hughes, direct--a motion picture? Hitchcock applies a splendid perversity to the scene in which the Peck character's wife appears to be aroused by her husband's lust for the criminal female--a twitchy, almost masochistic reaction that's nowhere in the script. But for the rest of the movie, poor Hitch seems to be loitering. This just isn't his scene.

But the best evidence that Selznick isn't the power behind the throne can be found in a glance at Hitchcock's acknowledged masterpieces of the Fifties and Sixties. Where Selznick was an unabashed lover of the written word, Hitchcock, like Spielberg, was always a far better shower than a teller. He could make ordinary dialogue scenes zing with 15 creepy subtexts (see Psycho's sickly meet-cute moment between Marion Crane and Norman Bates). But small talk and exposition weren't his cup of tea, and Selznick, for his part, was too enamored of Broadway glamour to let the Master run his mouth. Long after Hitch parted ways with Selznick, the studio execs at Paramount and Universal considered him a cheap brand name, the Wes Craven of the Eisenhower era--and so they pretty much left him alone. And that isolated independence, more than any mogul's secret sauce, is what made Alfred Hitchcock.

 

Coming off without a Hitch: Louis Jourdan and Gregory Peck in Alfred Hitchcock's (or David O. Selznick's?) The Paradine Case
Coming off without a Hitch: Louis Jourdan and Gregory Peck in Alfred Hitchcock's (or David O. Selznick's?) The Paradine Case

Oak Street Cinema's "Hitchcock Centennial Celebration Part II" starts Wednesday with a double feature ofMurder! andYoung and Innocent, and continues through November 23.

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