Thursday, April 09, 2015

Tonight's Movie: The Suspect (1944) at the Noir City Film Festival

It was another great 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).

Philip develops a close friendship with Mary (Ella Raines), a poor young woman he meets when she is looking for employment. Philip doesn't tell Mary he's married until Cora catches on that he's spending his free time with a lady; since Cora won't divorce him, Philip nobly breaks off his relationship with Mary and tries to recommit to a peaceful marriage.

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.

Inspector Huxley (Stanley Ridges) wonders if perhaps Cora was helped along to her doom by her husband, but he can't prove it, and Philip eventually marries his beloved Mary, who tells her friends that Philip is so thoughtful and caring she can't help loving him. They may seem a bit of an odd May-December "Beauty and the Beast" match, but they're very happy together.

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.

Stanley Ridges is good in a tough role, playing a nominal hero who is viewed by the audience as a bit of a "bad guy" because of his persistence in staying on Philip's case.

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 see 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.

January 2021 Update: Kino Lorber will release THE SUSPECT on Blu-ray in February 2021.


Blogger Kristina said...

Looks like a fascinating movie, the combo of Raines and Laughton really sounds great to me. Also enjoy reading about the Severns being present at these recent screenings, such a nice bonus!

5:34 PM  
Blogger Blake Lucas said...

" can't help rooting for him despite knowing you really shouldn't. "

I feel comfortable rooting for him. After all, your "most sympathetic murderer" tag is so on the mark, and this is a movie so rooting for him has no real world consequences in allowing anyone to get away with a crime--the screen is a privileged space for us in which we can look at things in another and perhaps deeper way. One thing I love about "The Suspect" is that it is such a full humanistic portrait and I believe one walks out of it thinking more of Philip's decency and loving heart than the murders. Even the Inspector acknowledges his decency and perceptively bets on it.

By the way, I find Inspector Huxley sympathetic enough, doing his job dispassionately enough but he does see Philip as he is. Mary is also richly sympathetic; so is Mrs. Simmons. But that doesn't make this a movie of all sympathetic people! The two who are not are so deeply unsympathetic--of course, I mean the two murder victims.

Another thing that's wonderful for me in this movie is well-acknowledged in your review. If one were told that Charles Laughton and Ella Raines would be the romantic couple here, one might doubt it could work. But the two actors make it completely believable under Siodmak's wonderful direction--for me they are more empathetic and real than most screen couples, very affectingly so.

Of so many good things in it, I especially liked Siodmak's direction of the scene in which the Inspector imagines the murder of Cora as Philip looks on, so well visualized that it almost seems to be happening though it is only being evoked. Then there is the final overhead shot of Philip first walking forward toward us and then the camera rises to see him from behind as he walks away from us and we contemplate this sad ending..

I really think there is a touch of genuine tragedy in "The Suspect."

Reading your review, I felt you responded to it much this same way that I always have and enjoyed this account by someone seeing it for the first time. Good to share seeing the movie with you, Laura and thanks for introducing me to the Severn family. I looked up all their credits when I got home. There's a real piece of film history there.

7:22 PM  
Blogger Jerry E said...

For quite a few years (1969-82) I was a member of The National Film Theatre in London. It is comparable to something like the TCM festival in CA but runs 365 days each year. Around the late 70s they ran an extensive season of the films of Robert Siodmak over a 2 week timespan. I attended many of the showings, becoming a devotee of Siodmak in the process, including "The Suspect" which I found a rich experience. I never saw Laughton so understated and therefore effective and Ella Raines was always a delight. A good choice for both a viewing and a fine review, Laura.

1:26 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Kristina, I suspect (ha) you'd like THE SUSPECT! Good stuff. And what a lovely treat it's been getting to meet the Severns and learn more about their family.

Blake and Jerry, thanks so much to you both for your thoughtful comments. Blake, I agree, there is definitely a touch of tragedy to this film -- and "what might have been." I also agree that it's Philip's decency which dominates the story.

Ella Raines is always so good, whether in this, PHANTOM LADY, or IMPACT -- and she's in one of John Wayne's best non-Ford Westerns, the very amusing TALL IN THE SADDLE.

Does anyone know if her TV series JANET DEAN - REGISTERED NURSE is available? That's one I'd love to get my hands on.

Best wishes,

12:45 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Laura, Thank you so much for the lovely, simpatico review of Siodmak's THE SUSPECT. Plus I really appreciated the very thoughtful comments of your readers. Also it was great to learn about young Master Severn --AND his wonderful family. I am old enough to have seen the original release of the movie albeit I was a boy at the time. I grew up in NYC. After a first-run engagement on Broadway, it was paired on a "Thriller" double bill (both pictures receiving equal billing)on the Loew's vast neighborhood circuit with another Universal picture, THE CLIMAX, in Technicolor starring Boris Karloff and Suzanna Foster. Laura, you made the interesting point that the ads for THE SUSPECT gave the impression that it was a contemporary story but I don't think audiences at the time complained. (Similarly, Warner Bros. posed the actors in THE WOMAN IN WHITE in modern clothes for special publicity stills. They too were apparently concerned that audiences weren't going to "period" pictures at the time.) As to Ella Raines... I also love her and John Wayne together in TALL IN THE SADDLE. Glad you do too! She was very good at comedy as well. I am quite fond of THE RUNAROUND (done in the mode of IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT)during the Universal years, where she was teamed with Rod Cameron and Broderick Crawford. I could go on and on. Ha!! But I'll shut up now. :) Regards, David Johnson

12:29 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi David,

Thanks for your note, I'm so glad to know you enjoyed my post and the very interesting comments by Blake and Jerry which followed. What a wonderful memory you have of seeing this as a first-run film -- I love that you recall the rest of the bill! I have a copy of THE RUNAROUND thanks to a kind friend and hope to see it not too long after the Noir City Fest draws to a close. I've heard good things about it and your comments certainly underscore that -- especially as I also like Rod Cameron.

Hope you will visit again and share more of your memories with everyone.

Best wishes,

2:02 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Hi, Laura.
Oh, I am so pleased that you have a copy of THE RUNAROUND. I think it's a delightful comedy. Hope you will agree when you finally get to watch it. :) If you like Rod Cameron, I believe you will really like him in this one. He was very adept at contemporary comedy too. I gather you like Westerns. :) I think he and Ella Raines made a very good "romcom" team.
There's a great cast of terrific character actors featured in it too, including Frank McHugh, George Cleveland, Samuel S. Hinds, Nana Bryant. Also -- please indulge me -- my dear friend, Joan Fulton (later, Shawlee), and Dave Willock have fun parts as honeymooners met along the way of the cross-country chase. (As I said previously, it IS very much in the IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT style.)
As you have a good friend who made you a copy of THE RUNAROUND, I too had a good friend who made me a VHS copy when the movie aired years ago on the late, lamented AMC before it unfortunately changed hands. I treasure my copy.
All the best, David
PS I need a proofreader. Ha!! Previously, I should have written Susanna (not Suzanna) Foster in THE CLIMAX. :)

12:14 PM  
Blogger Jerry E said...

I also have a copy of "THE RUNAROUND" but have also yet to view it! Based on David's solid recommendation I must push it to the top of my 'to view' pile. Like Laura, I am a big fan of Rod Cameron.
I very much enjoyed David's interesting contribution.

11:13 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Hi, Jerry.
Thanks very much for the vote of confidence! :) Hope you and Laura will both enjoy THE RUNAROUND. Regards, David

9:45 AM  
Blogger KC said...

This sounds fascinating. The Edwardian time period surprises me. You definitely wouldn't expect that from looking at the posters. Despite the May December aspect, I can see how Raines and Laughton could be plausible as lovers.

1:06 PM  

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