A shy socialite, Lina McLaidlaw (Joan Fontaine, Rebecca), marries a ne’er-do-well womanizer (Cary Grant, His Girl Friday) to the dismay of her family and friends. After her husband’s friend (Nigel Bruce, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes) dies under mysterious circumstances, Lina begins to suspect that she might be next.
Reaction & Thoughts:
“If you’re going to kill someone, do it simply.”
Suspicion shows Alfred Hitchcock at his cagiest. It’s not immediately clear what the movie is trying to accomplish, partly because of considerations concerning censorship and partly because of Hitchcock’s own feelings of uncertainty. Suspicion, however, ends up being a truly fascinating study of female ambivalence.
Suspicion is a film that is difficult to categorize. While the movie has always been compared to Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940), I think Suspicion is too odd to be clumped together with the brooding 1940 classic. Yes, both films revolve around timid women married to deeply flawed men, but while Rebecca is a straightforward Gothic romance, Suspicion is less about romance and more about a cracked female psyche.
The film is based on the book Before the Fact by English mystery writer Anthony Berkeley. Hitchcock was allegedly intrigued by the book’s tantalizing but extremely offbeat central premise: a wealthy woman refuses to act after she finds out that her shady husband is trying to kill her. The idea that love may supersede self-preservation isn’t something easy to sell to casual moviegoers, so no one should be surprised to learn that Hitchcock had a terribly hard time adapting the book into a screenplay.
In later years, Hitchcock said that RKO Pictures forced him to make the film more mainstream-friendly, but this is apparently another one of the director’s many white lies. According to Patrick McGilligan’s Alfred Hitchcock: A life in Darkness and Light, the director knew that a straight adaptation of the book was out of the question. McGilligan provides compelling evidence that Hitchcock was solely responsible for the changes, including the now-infamous, much-discussed ending.
As the story goes, Hitchcock, with the help of writer Samson Raphaelson (Trouble in Paradise), came up with an alternate ending that was approved by both the censors and RKO executives. However, test audiences hated the ending and the director asked wife Alma Reville and assistant Joan Harrison to help him come up with a new ending. Although the last-minute changes deflated Hitchcock’s ego, the audience liked the movie: Suspicion was a box office and critical success. The film also received three Oscar nods, including Best Picture (Joan Fontaine won in the Best Actress category).
I have always loved the ending. I particularly liked how the ending reinforces the film’s main idea: romantic infatuation is the product of low self-esteem, something that hadn’t occurred to me before watching the film. I also admired the fact that Hitchcock, intentionally or unintentionally, forgoes the trappings of a murder mystery in favor of an in-depth analysis of both the mechanics of the main character’s psyche as well as the psychological maneuvers found in toxic relationships.
In the end, the movie works because Fontaine and Cary Grant are extraordinarily good, an example of opposites creating great chemistry. It was interesting to see Grant use his famous charm in a negative manner. Grant’s character is a man-child, a conman and a liar — he is exactly the kind of man parents warn their daughters against marrying. He is a “bad apple” from beginning to end. Grant is absolutely brilliant and kudos to the actor for eagerly embracing such a detestable character.
Joan Fontaine’s Oscar for the film was widely seen as a consolidation prize for not winning for Rebecca. While I do agree that she won the Oscar for the wrong movie, I thought Fontaine was superb as the well-to-do spinster who slowly realizes that she has married “a lemon.” The entire film is built around Fontaine’s cunning performance — she is in almost every scene — and the actress doesn’t disappoint. Fontaine vividly conveys Lina’s doubts, insecurities, frustrations, fears and anxieties.
Nigel “Dr. Watson” Bruce has a few good moments as Grant’s ill-fated buddy. Isabel Jeans, the star of Hitchcock’s Easy Virtue, plays a writer of mystery novels. Sir Cedric Hardwicke (The War of the Worlds) and Dame May Whitty (Mrs. Miniver) play Fontaine’s parents. Leo G. Carroll (The Bad and the Beautiful) has a small role as Grant’s boss.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
As strange as it may sound, mystery and suspense aren’t the things you will remember about the movie. It’s the odd relationship between the two main characters that makes this film interesting. In spite of the fact that Hitchcock more or less disowned this movie (he even hated the title!), Suspicion is a gorgeous-looking, wonderfully oddball quasi-thriller. Remade in 1988 with Anthony Andrews (TV’s Brideshead Revisited) and Jane Curtin (TV’s 3rd Rock from the Sun). B&W, 99 minutes. Not Rated.