The Feminine Gaze in Notorious and The Paradine Case

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Mrs. Paradine (Alida Valli) is arrested in her home for the death of her husband in The Paradine Case.
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The Feminine Gaze in The Paradine Case

The co-existence of the male and female gaze reappears in The Paradine Case, but its manipulation of the gaze is quite complex. This film presents a unique perspective, as all female characters are unified in their vision instead of divided against each other by jealousy or their relationships to men: it could be argued that this underlying vision makes this more of a proto-feminist film than Cukorís The Women. The female characters of The Paradine Case are uniform in their personal integrity and strength--while having very individual personalities.

In the opening scene, Mrs. Paradine (Valli) seems aware of the male gaze even when she is alone in a room. She is always "on" and aware of the importance of manipulating and controlling visual impressions, particularly male. Even though her husband was blind, she nonetheless continues to feel his gaze. Referring to Col. Paradine's portrait, she says: "I think the artist has captured the blindman's look quite wonderfully." As his eyes, Mrs. Paradine could fully control the way the colonel saw the world and her.

Mrs. Paradine plays piano beneath the portrait of her husband in The Paradine Case.
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When Sir Simon (Charles Coburn) tells her that she will like her barrister, Anthony Keane (Gregory Peck), she replies: "That's not as important as his liking me, is it?" Mrs. Paradine has always controlled how men perceive her; when she confesses her past to Tony, she tells him she passed for older than she was. When he defends her by suggesting that she was taken advantage of in her youth, she clearly and honestly states, "He was married, respected; I took advantage of him."

Tony, predictably, falls under the spell of the captivating and enigmatic Mrs. Paradine. His obsession quickly goes beyond a barrister-client relationship. He exclaims to Sir Toby: "I want the whole world to see her as I do, as a noble, self-sacrificing human being that any man would be proud of." (This exclamation is overheard and seen by Tony's wife, Gay.) Tony does attempt to prove this image of Mrs. Paradine is true, despite the evidence and Mrs. Paradine herself. Making a trip to the Paradine country estate, Tony finds himself in her bedroom with her portrait over the bed, creating the illusion that he is in the bedroom with her. His image of her is as static, contrived, and idealized as her portrait and his experience of this moment.

Anthony Keane tells Sir Toby "any man would be proud of" Mrs. Paradine.
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While the male gaze directed toward Mrs. Paradine is central to the action, it is not the primary gaze of this film. The spectator of this film is feminine, comprised of numerous female perspectives. The men who are watched are not glamorized as objects; instead, they are understood, pitied, and loved. Gay watches Tony constantly, and she is aware that he watches Mrs. Paradine. She recognizes his fascination from the moment it begins. The scene where he proclaims his vision of Mrs. Paradine to Sir Simon is shot from Gay's perspective. However, Gay is surprisingly sympathetic to Mrs. Paradine. She exhibits none of the jealousy or pettiness that might be expected toward a rich, beautiful woman: "Her photograph looks nice," she says.

The importance of the feminine perspective can be seen during the dinner party sequence at the Horfields, early in the film. Though Judge Horfield (Charles Laughton) treats his wife Sophie (Ethel Barrymore) as if she were an idiot, she seems to have a better understanding of him and the world than he supposes. She tries to explain to Gay how a murder trial transforms a man, but she can't quite express what she knows. Later, Judge Horfield attempts to seduce Gay, literally behind Tony's unsuspecting back. Gay turns Judge Horfield's possessive gaze (at her ruby ring) back to Sophie's appreciative gaze: "Lady Horfield was admiring it. It pleased me so much because she has such good taste--in most things."

At a party, Judge Horfield attempts to hold Gay Keane's hand.
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Sir Simon's daughter, Judy, also demonstrates insightful perception. She guesses the extent of Tony's infatuation and the likely affair between the valet Latour and Mrs. Paradine. But her judgment of Mrs. Paradine, like Gay's, is tempered: "No, I don't hope they hang her. I don't like breaking pretty things." The prison matrons, the close-mouthed estate housekeeper, and Lady Justice herself are also established by Hitchcock as judiciously observing the action.

Though these women suffer in their watching, it is hard to categorize their behavior as masochistic. They wait passively while reserving judgment--until they receive a cue to act. Gay explains to Judy: "Just because a man, a husband, fancies another woman, you don't treat him as a criminal. It's very painful, but it's painful for him, too. He's very fond of me and I'd like to keep him so." The long-suffering Sophie Horfield still loves her loathsome husband. She possesses a kind, compassionate spirit. "Who needs pity more than a woman who's sinned?" she says to her husband while pleading for Mrs. Paradine's life. "Doesn't life punish us enough, Tommy, doesn't it? Why must we be cruel to each other?" These women do not enjoy their suffering or seek to increase it; they merely wait and love.

Gay, Judy, and Lady Horfield watch the trial from the gallery, watching the men, particularly Tony and Judge Horfield. They watch Mrs. Paradine and fight to determine the true image of her: murderer or saint. Judge Horfield sadistically enjoys sitting in judgment over a beautiful woman. Tony toils passionately before Mrs. Paradine's image, but he is chastised and unappreciated by Mrs. Paradine, especially for his attempts to implicate the valet Latour in the murder. When he interrogates Mrs. Paradine on the stand about her relationship with Latour, his manner becomes intimate and voyeuristic. When Tony's tactics lead to Latour's suicide, Mrs. Paradine publicly scorns him and then professionally humiliates him with her admittance of guilt. In choosing death, Mrs. Paradine reveals to Tony the truth about herself--and him.

Tony bows his head in shame as Mrs. Paradine assails him from the witness stand.
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In her book In the Realm of Pleasure, Gaylyn Studlar asserts that in a patriarchal society, masochistic sacrifice may be the most powerful choice available for a woman. Mrs. Paradine demonstrates Studlar's thesis, that death may be an active choice by a woman who refuses to submit to male judgment and control.

The final scenes show the women trying to rehabilitate and reclaim their husbands. First, Lady Horfield pleads for Mrs. Paradine's life, reminding her husband of her constant love for him--and that he used to be kind. The fact that Lady Horfield has remained loving and compassionate--and not become cynical or hard through her marriage to a brute--is a sign of her personal strength and integrity, not her passivity. In the last scene, Tony is hiding out in disgrace in Sir Simon's office. Gay comes to him, forcing him to see her belief in him: "My husband is the most brilliant man I have ever known," she says. She does not ask for his repentance. She asks that he return to the image of the great man that she has kept constant. To categorize Gay, Lady Horfield, and Mrs. Paradine as merely passive is inaccurate. They can and do act--but not until the appropriate moment.

Gay Keane finds her husband hiding in disgrace in Sir Simon's office.
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The male gaze that surrounds Mrs. Paradine, following Tony and Judge Horfield's perspectives, drives the action of the film. But in Hitchcock parlance, that's a McGuffin. The controlling perspective of the film is feminine, which is not surprising in a film where strength of both will and character resides in women. Mrs. Paradine proudly and bravely chooses death because her reason for living is gone. Tony merely goes from being a pawn of Mrs. Paradine to a pawn in the hands of Gay. In the movie's final shot (a close-up), Gay approaches Tony and holds his face in her hands: "Darling, you need a shave," she says.

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