Hitchmania: Suspicion (1941)
Suspicion is another odd duck from Alfred Hitchcock. It seems to represent the trouble he has colliding with the Hollywood system and with meeting its desire for the prototypical “happy ending.” In this instance, the 1941 picture is based on the 1932 novel Before the Fact by Francis Iles.
For the film, Hitchcock takes several detours from the book and winds up letting the air out of the tires for the last scene or two. This is because of a diversion from the original storyline, something done to preserve the image of Cary Grant. “Well, I’m not too pleased with the way Suspicion ends,” the director tells François Truffaut. “I had something else in mind.”
Joan Fontaine stars as Lina, an allegedly drab woman who meets the charismatic Johnnie Aysgarth (Grant) on a train and becomes infatuated with him. They marry despite the objections of her father (Sir Cedric Hardwicke) and Lina finds herself swept into Johnnie’s world of deception, embezzlement and deal-making.
When Johnnie’s friend Beaky (Nigel Bruce) arrives, Lina discovers more information about the extent of her husband’s lifestyle. Other issues crop up, mostly related to Johnnie’s gambling, but when the idea of murder plants its seed in Lina’s consciousness the tension becomes almost unbearable.
Again, the issue here is that the conclusion disrupts the suspense process almost entirely. While Hitch does salvage some of the intensity with a rip-roaring scene inside Johnnie’s car, the subsequent exposition really does leave a lot to be desired. It also makes a weaker character out of Lina in that her relief excuses the clear wrongs committed by Grant’s character.
Lina does indeed have reasons for her wariness about Johnnie. He commits several sins in the movie and, together with Beaky, attempts to infantalize her so that it all goes away. The scene in which Johnnie and his pal try to make Lina laugh as they would a baby is an example of how the characters treat each other like children.
This is perhaps the way the characters downplay the more serious wrongs in favour of living in a murder fantasy. Lina indeed seems to look for the bigger wrongs and sweeps Johnnie’s gambling and attempts at getting at her money aside when the truth is discovered.
There’s a lot of interest in Suspicion and it really is quite a good picture, but there’s no telling how much better it could’ve been had Hitchcock been able to do the ending he wanted. A snappier twist at the end of the flick would’ve crafted a better character out of Lina and Johnnie.
But Hitch, in his collision with America’s “purification,” still manages to find a way to fuel his movie with enough ambiguity and humour to make it work well. Some of the touches are blink-or-you’ll-miss-it funny, like the address of the life insurance place on Old Broad Street, while others are fascinating in their technical prowess, like the light in the milk when Grant famously ascends the stairs to do god knows what.
In the end, Suspicion is a clever movie of finding impressions and pulling away from that. It is, in that way, a fascinating and exhausting psychological exercise. Hitchcock aptly puts Fontaine through the ringer and she would win the Oscar for it, perhaps making up for the Oscar she didn’t win for Rebecca, and Grant makes for a good what’s-he-up-to cad.
This isn’t Hitch’s finest American work by any extent, but it’s a step in the right direction and a hell of a lot better than his other compromise pictures (think Mr. & Mrs. Smith or Foreign Correspondent). It exudes tension and manipulates the audience gamely, delivering a witty and twisted tale of a relationship that feels damned from the beginning.