Sunday, November 18, 2012

Tonight's Movie: Suspicion (1941)

SUSPICION was one of the very earliest Alfred Hitchcock films I ever saw; I'm sure TO CATCH A THIEF (1955) was my first, but I think SUSPICION came second, even before seeing longtime favorites like NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959) or REBECCA (1940). My childhood exposure to SUSPICION included a screening at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, probably as part of a huge RKO retrospective when I was a teen in the late '70s.

Truth to tell, although I've seen it multiple times I never liked SUSPICION that much, finding Joan Fontaine dull and the infamous ending hard to understand in light of the rest of the film. Consequently, I've avoided it for a number of years, to the point where my memories of the movie were quite vague. Having seen so many Hitchcock films in the intervening years, I decided it was time to give SUSPICION a fresh appraisal.

This time around, some impressions changed, some didn't. My respect for Joan Fontaine's performance as the initially mousy bride of a wastrel (Cary Grant) increased greatly; I think some of the subtleties in her acting were lost on me as a younger viewer, but tonight I found myself much more interested in her layered, detailed performance as a woman who ignores the warning signs and grabs her first chance at love -- not terribly hard to understand when the man looks like Cary Grant!

Fontaine is quite splendid in the role, even selling the viewer on her willingness to remain with her husband after learning the depths of his faults. As noted in a prior review, she inhabits her characters so fully that even her body language and voice tend to change from role to role. It's hard to believe the same actress played the childlike waif in THE CONSTANT NYMPH (1943) or the young, optimistic American bride from a boisterous family in FROM THIS DAY FORWARD (1946).

The film's problems, however, remain ever the same. First and foremost, other than appreciating the performances, it's not much fun to watch a marriage unravel because the husband constantly acts like a louse. In fact, it's downright depressing. Even when he does nice things, he enjoys toying with her and worrying her first. Bad enough that he's a ne'er-do-well gambler with zero sense of responsibility -- the moment when she learns from Leo G. Carroll that he's also an embezzler is heartbreaking.

Hitchcock does a masterful job building suspense, including the scene where Fontaine learns of the death of her husband's friend Beaky (Nigel Bruce) and then the famous glowing glass of milk. Is Grant a murderer or isn't he?! And then we come to that ending -- and even if the viewer accepts that Grant is not actually a murderer, what is his wife left with? A crook who uses people and steals instead of finding a job. As he says in the final minutes, he's not likely to change...

I suppose the bottom line is this is a beautifully made film, within the confines of the script required by the Production Code, but it's tough to watch Fontaine's steadfast love disappointed at every turn. She deserved much better than she got.

The supporting cast is excellent. In addition to the aforementioned Carroll and Bruce, Fontaine's parents were played by Sir Cedric Hardwicke and Dame May Whitty. Isabel Jeans, Heather Angel, Auriol Lee, Reginald Sheffield, Aubrey Mather, Billy Bevan, and Lumsden Hare are in the cast. Perennial movie butler Leonard Carey plays, what else, a butler.

The screenplay was written by Samson Raphaelson, Hitchcock's wife Alma Reville, and longtime Hitchcock associate Joan Harrison. It was based on the novel BEFORE THE FACT by Francis Iles. The movie was shot in black and white by Harry Stradling Jr., with a score by Franz Waxman. The running time is 99 minutes.

I watched the 2004 DVD which comes with the trailer and a featurette. It's an excellent print but I found the sound levels unusually variable. The DVD can be rented from Netflix.

The movie is also available on VHS. Amazon Prime members can stream the film at no extra cost.

April 2016 Update: SUSPICION is now available on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive. My review is here.

Previous reviews of Hitchcock films: MURDER! (1930), THE 39 STEPS (1935), SECRET AGENT (1936), YOUNG AND INNOCENT (1937), THE LADY VANISHES (1938), FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (1940), MR. AND MRS. SMITH (1941), SABOTEUR (1942), SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943), ROPE (1948), STAGE FRIGHT (1950), STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (1951), I CONFESS (1953), DIAL M FOR MURDER (1954), TO CATCH A THIEF (1955), VERTIGO (1958), THE BIRDS (1963), and MARNIE (1964).


Blogger ClassicBecky said...

Laura, I have always felt very reserved in my opinion of Suspicion. I am a die-hard Hitchcock fan, but this is not one of his best, in my eyes. Of course, part of it may be that I never liked Joan Fontaine all that much. She was good in Rebecca, although too pretty to truly be a mousy wife. I just think she is too stiff and has a lack of expression in her face that bothers me.

As for Cary, well I love him, but I didn't think he realistically fit the part. There were great scenes, such as the glowing milk (wonderful) and the part where he looks like he is pushing her out of the car, but I think it would have been much more effective with another actor, i.e Robert Montgomery, who showed in some of his movies a real menace disguised by charm.

Loved your review about a movie which is one which viewers probably really like or really don't like! LOL! It does make me feel rather un-American not to like it, not to mention disloyal to the great Hitch! LOL!

8:49 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Becky, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. Your idea of casting Robert Montgomery is definitely intriguing, particularly as I just saw him recently in RAGE IN HEAVEN. That film made me wish he'd done more with Hitchcock than just MR. AND MRS. SMITH!

Fortunately Hitchcock has such a rich filmography, there are plenty more titles left for those who don't care much for this one to name as favorites!

Best wishes,

9:44 PM  
Blogger ClassicBecky said...

Laura, when I was a kid I had only seen Montgomery in screwball and edited precode stuff -- then I saw him in "Night Must Fall." He was so weirdly scary in that one!

8:25 AM  
Blogger grandoldmovies said...

Coming late to the discussion, I confess I have rather a fondness for 'Suspicion,' because it may have been the 1st Hitchcock I saw, and because I liked Fontaine's performance, which I thought subtle and beautifully done. You make valid points on its flaws, however, chiefly having to do with Grant's character and the bad (in a narrative sense) ending. my Mmother once read the novel and told me that Fontaine's character is killed in the end, with her foreknowledge! - hence the book's title, Before the Fact. Apparently Hitchcock wanted to keep the original ending, but was prevented by studio interference. On subsequent viewings recently, I noted that Hitchcock's direction is rather stodgy, with little sense of the camera telling the story and almost none of psychological exploration in Grant's character. Which, since the story is told through Fontaine's eyes, does make her own character seem passive by comparison.

10:43 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

It's interesting SUSPICION was one of the first -- or the first -- Hitchcock film we each saw!

I think Fontaine was a little too subtle for me when I was a kid, when I found her dull, but in recent years I've come to appreciate her nuanced performances tremendously.

Thanks for stopping by and leaving your thoughts, they're welcome at any time! :)

Best wishes,

10:53 AM  

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