evening at the Egyptian Theatre for the 17th Annual Noir City Film Festival!
I was joined by my friend Blake to watch Charles Laughton and Ella Raines in Robert Siodmak's THE SUSPECT (1944).
Also in the audience were several members of the late Raymond Severn's family; Raymond played Merridew, the young delivery boy employed by Laughton in the movie. More on that below!
I enjoyed THE SUSPECT very much. It was an interesting and suspenseful drama, which left this viewer wishing that perhaps this could be one time when a good guy wouldn't have to pay for doing bad things.
One could never tell from the posters that THE SUSPECT is set in Edwardian era London. I wonder if audiences of the day were surprised? Charles Laughton plays Philip, a mild-mannered tobacco shop manager married to an evil harridan, Cora (Rosalind Ivans).
The spiteful Cora nonetheless threatens to ruin both Philip and Mary, financially and socially. Next thing you know, Cora has tripped going down the stairs and dies.
Then Philip's nasty alcoholic wife-beating neighbor, Mr. Simmons (Henry Daniell), perhaps encouraged along by the Inspector, attempts to blackmail Philip, telling Philip he'd heard him arguing with Cora just before her death...and Philip feels he has no choice but to poison the man and find a way to dispose of the body, in an excruciatingly suspenseful sequence.
Philip then prepares to move to Canada with Mary and his grown son John (Dean Harens). But then he hears that the Inspector is going to charge his neighbor's kind, long-suffering wife (Molly Lamont) with her husband's poisoning...
Laughton plays perhaps the most sympathetic murderer in movie history, as the people he bumps off are so evil, and his love for Mary so well-intentioned and pure, that you can't help rooting for him despite knowing you really shouldn't.
It's to the credit of both Laughton and Raines that their relationship is completely believable. It's very delicately played, with her eyes lighting up when she sees him; she radiates kindness and decency, being everything that Cora is not. Philip's tender comment to Mary when she anxiously asks if a new outfit for the seaside is ladylike enough is sweetly memorable and makes her love for Philip all the more plausible.
Raymond Severn is charming as the little boy Philip ironically counsels on honesty and one bad decision leading to another. Raymond's other film roles included playing Paul Muni's son in WE ARE NOT ALONE (1939) and voicing Baby Weems in that cartoon sequence in Disney's THE RELUCTANT DRAGON (1941).
After the movie I had the wonderful chance to connect with Raymond's wife and son (third and fourth from the left below), as well as chat once more with his brother Winston Severn (rightmost below), who I had the pleasure of meeting last month. Here's a group photo of the Severn clan outside the Egyptian Theatre after the movie:
Raymond Severn died in 1994, and I was especially touched when Raymond's son said that he could bits of the adult father he knew in the child he'd been watching on the screen. It was wonderful they could be there tonight, and I loved the cheer that went up from the Severns' section in the audience when host Alan Rode mentioned Raymond's family was present.
Last month I wrote more about the extended Severn family and their classic film legacy in my post on HER SISTER'S SECRET (1946). I hope to share more about the family in future posts. Together they share a unique and fascinating classic Hollywood history.
THE SUSPECT was written by Bertram Millhauser, adapted by Arthur T. Horman from a novel by James Ronald. It was shot in black and white by Paul Ivano. The movie runs 85 minutes.
Hopefully this Universal Pictures film will have a DVD release at some point. It deserves it.