The first of these films is Robert Siodmak's The Spiral Staircase, a gothic-style thriller about a serial killer who preys on girls with disabilities. Although there's plenty of dramatic flair about the proceedings the nature of the story (six people in a house seemingly waiting for the threat of death to besiege them) reads as very uninspired. Add to that a frustratingly vague old woman and a romance that stutters but never really starts and that's pretty much that. A film much too reliant upon its thrilling aesthetics.
The other film is Alfred Hitchcock's The Paradine Case, which begins with a woman arrested for the murder of her blind husband, and eventually leads to her trial, conducted by lawyer Gregory Peck, who himself is smitten with the alleged murderess. What struck me most about the film is its resounding feminist stance -- a point which I realise is contradictory of Hitchcock's reputation in general, but one that nevertheless is undoubtedly valid. Essentially though, The Paradine Case is very predictable, and, similarly to The Spiral Staircase doesn't really have enough avenues in its narrative borough to sustain interest.
The comparisons between the two are evident. Each of their titles ends in "case", both are forties pictures -- 1945 and 1947 respectively -- and each of them are essentially about murder. But their sole Oscar nominations, both for Supporting Actress Ethel Barrymore, is the comparison I want to discuss.
But for Barrymore's kick-ass moment her nomination would be for very little indeed, but there are no kick-ass moments in her Paradine Case turn, which makes Beatrice Straight's efforts in Network look titanic. As wife of Laughton's grumpy judge, she features in just three scenes (only two of which she speaks), which equates to a meagre four minutes of screen time. Her contribution in these few moments comprises mainly of a scene at the very end, in which she's berated by her husband for showing compassion towards a questionable figure. This, coupled with an earlier scene which marks her as slightly loopy (if totally unrelatable and again, erratic), tars her with the sympathy brush. But the role is such a non-statement, and the performance isn't even memorable in an over-the-top sense, altogether constituting probably the least amount of ability I've seen in an Oscar-nominated performance.
- A) It was a weak year, and the fact that it ended in "case" reminded them that they'd thought her worthy before.
- B) That this piece of information (taken from IMDB Trivia) holds the key:-
In Hitchcock's rough cut and 131 minutes version, Ethel Barrymore can be seen as a half-crazed wife of Lord Horfield played by Charles Laughton. But David O. Selznick removed these scenes in the final editing and the final runtime was only 114 minutes.