Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
Released on November 14, 1941
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by Samson Raphaelson, Joan Harrison, and Alma Reville
Cast: Cary Grant, Joan Fontaine, Nigel Bruce, Cedric Hardwicke, Dame May Whitty, Isabel Jeans, Heather Angel, Auriol Lee, Reginald Sheffield, Leo G. Carroll, Lumsden Hare, and Alfred Hitchcock as ‘Man Mailing Letter’
I’ve seen Suspicion a handful of times since I became of fan of Hitchcock films in the mid-1980s, but I’ve always categorized it as one of his median efforts: it was no Rear Window, but it was far more entertaining than Jamaica Inn. But when I saw a revival screening at my local cinema not that long ago, I found a new appreciation for it. Now, I consider it a worthy suspense thriller, with solid contributions from director Hitchcock, a trio of screenwriters, and lead actors Cary Grant and Joan Fontaine. But sadly, it also contains one of the most ill-advised endings I’ve ever seen in a Hitchcock film…or a film, period.
Grant plays Johnnie Aysgarth, a happy-go-lucky playboy who meets Joan Fontaine’s bookish Lina McLaidlaw in the first-class compartment of a Sussex-bound train, and takes a liking to her. She doesn’t seem interested, but when they meet again by chance at a riding club, the ice begins to melt, and soon they’re married and off on a whirlwind round-the-world honeymoon, returning to live in a large country estate. It’s at this point that Lina finds out Johnnie is jobless and broke, and she soon discovers he’s also a gambler, a liar, a thief…and is quite possibly plotting to kill her.
Early on, Hitchcock kept the tone of the film carefree and rather refined, but it didn’t take long for the mood to turn dark and serious, as Johnnie’s intentions came into question, and Lina began wondering what she’d gotten herself into. I loved how so many of Johnnie’s indiscretions were eventually ironed out, only to have a small but impactful revelation take Lina by surprise, sending her on a downward spiral once again. I also liked the grisly conversation over dinner at the mystery writer’s house, which was my favorite scene of the movie, and of course the staircase shot with the glowing glass of milk, which was probably the most noir-infused moment ever seen in a Hitchcock film.
This was the first of four collaborations between Grant and Hitchcock, and both did a superb job of making Grant’s roguish character likeable, as well as forgivable, even though there were hints of something menacing always bubbling just below the surface. And let’s not forget the fine work of Fontaine, who took home an Academy Award for her performance; it was the only Oscar of her career, and she was the only actor or actress to win the award for a Hitchcock film. She was convincing in all aspects of her character’s arc, and her transformation from a lonely spinster to the stunning debutante at a society ball (with exposed ‘ucipital mapilary’ for all to see) was nothing short of jaw-dropping.
Which brings us to the film’s ending. Originally, Hitchcock wanted to use the one found in the novel, which had Johnnie bringing Lina another glass of milk…only this one was now poisoned. Before she drinks it, she hands Johnnie a letter to mail to her mother, which incriminates him as a murderer. The film then ends with Johnnie whistling cheerfully as he strolls to the mailbox and deposits the letter. Cool, right? Well, the studio heads (and apparently a test audience) didn’t think so; not wanting to see Grant as a cold-hearted killer, the ending was changed to the ridiculous mess we see today, one which pretty much negated everything that had transpired before it. Ugh!
If you’ve seen Suspicion once or twice already, and still consider it just marginal Hitchcock, I’d say try it again and pay closer attention to the many ways Hitchcock’s skills as a filmmaker shine through: his camera movements and framing, his use of glances and facial expressions to help tell a story, the number of times—and various ways—throughout the film you hear the Strauss waltz Johnnie and Lina first danced to, and of course, the dark and shadowy sequence where Cary delivers that ominous glass of milk. These reasons alone may be enough to change your opinion of the film, as they did for me; just try your best to ignore those final five minutes. (7/10)