Suspicion: Hollywood versus Hitchcock




Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

RKO, 99 minutes, Not Rated (pre-ratings code)



Suspicion has long been a beloved offering from Alfred Hitchcock. It was nominated for Best Picture and Best Score, but it was Joan Fontaine who carried away the hardware (Best Actress), the only Academy Award ever won by a Hitchcock picture. Hitchcock is now considered an auteur and the Academy’s slighting of him is viewed an injustice. Ironically, Hitchcock wasn’t overly fond of the only film Hollywood lionized.


Go with Hitch on this. Suspicion is a good film, but not a great one.  There was, however, wonderful chemistry between Fontaine and Cary Grant and the score should have won an Oscar for Franz Waxman. As was the case of a lot of movies of the period, this one begins with a train. That’s where the debonair Johnnie Aysgarth (Grant) first meets Lina McLaidlaw (Fontaine). It was an encounter that, if it happened off the screen, would have set off alarm bells. Johnnie is dashing, handsome, and suave, but we know pretty quickly that he’s not on the level. Still, the plain looking serious-minded Lina is swept off her feet, even though her parents (Cedric Hardwicke and Dame May Whitty) think Johnnie is shady. Nonetheless, following a brief courtship Johnnie and Lina tie the knot. 


Lina should have listened to mom and dad. Johnnie plays the part of a rich man of aristocratic bearing, but he has no title, no job, and couldn’t rub together two ha’ pence of his own–all of which Lina discovers on their honeymoon. He is lovable, but unemployable, as his only real talents are sponging, borrowing, losing money on horse races, and hanging out with his thick chum Cochrane “Beaky” Thwaite (Nigel Bruce), one of Johnnie’s benefactors. But not even Beaky can keep Johnnie in the manner to which he’d like to become accustomed. Then things get weird. Johnnie hocks anything not nailed down and a few that are, he tries his hand at work, but it doesn’t take, and Beaky dies on a trip to Paris. All circumstantial evidence suggests the elusive Johnnie might had a hand in his demise. Johnnie, though, flies into a blind rage whenever Lina questions him.


The movie’s title is the crux of the film. Lina agrees to take out a life insurance policy and promptly falls dangerously ill. It has all the earmarks of a poisoning plot as it could have been outlined by Johnnie’s friend, mystery writer Isobel Sedbusk (Auriol Lee). Suspicion morphs from a tale of a good-natured rogue into a psychological drama. Is Johnnie the sort who would do anything to get his hands on ready cash, or is the “suspicion” all in Lina’s head? Waxman’s score enhances our experiences as viewers. He uses bright music when things are lighthearted, but switches to minor keys when something ominous might be happening.


The good? Cary Grant is, as usual, utterly charming and that disrupts our expectations. On one hand, Johnnie is an obvious heel, but he’s still Cary Grant so we don’t wish to believe him capable of homicide. Fontaine is convincing as an egghead swept off her feet by someone with experiences that don’t come out a book. She is like a frightened rabbit and even looks like one at times. This, of course, is an old-fashioned view of women as the weaker and hysterical sex. If you’ve ever seen The Man From U.N.C.L.E. you might enjoy seeing Leo G. Carroll in a bit role.


The bad? Some might find Fontaine hard to take from today’s perspective. She is Johnnie’s intellectual superior on all levels, yet she can’t see what is patently obvious. But let’s get to reason Hitchcock didn’t like the film. He was forced to abandon a script from Nathanael West and accept one from three lesser-known writers. He was then told to change the film’s ending and I’ll say only that it pulls more punches than a washed-up prize fighter taking a dive. What’s left is a film worth watching, but also one that makes us imagine how much better it could have been.


Rob Weir


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