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Suspicion

Suspicion(1941)

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Cary Grant is the charming but irresponsible playboy Johnnie Aysgarth and Joan Fontaine the prim, intellectual, sheltered Lina McLaidlaw who falls hard for his rakish charms in Alfred Hitchcock's revered romantic thriller Suspicion (1941). Though it was his second Hollywood film (after Rebecca, 1940) Hitchcock joked that "you might say Suspicion was the second English picture I made in Hollywood: the actors, the atmosphere, and the novel on which it's based were all British." The picture's success with both critics and at the box office also helped secure Hitchcock's newly christened status as a bankable Hollywood director.

Kept close to home by her protective parents who anticipate a life of spinsterhood for their only daughter, Lina is whisked up in a whirlwind romance when she meets the notorious lothario Johnnie, who everyone warns her is after her fortune. One minute the couple is waltzing at the hunt ball (which Johnnie has crashed) and the next moment the pair have eloped, stealing away from Lina's beloved, watchful parents. But their European honeymoon and new life together ensconced in a luxurious country house are merely a clever facade for a well-lived life. Almost immediately Lina learns that her new husband is a gambler and a loafer who would rather pin his future on a fast horse than on honest labor. When an old chum, the jolly Beaky Thwaite (Nigel Bruce) comes onto the scene of growing marital distrust, tensions increase. Lina learns Johnnie is involved in an embezzling scheme and begins to suspect that her husband will stop at nothing - possibly not even murder - to secure his fortune.

Suspicion was Grant's first film with Alfred Hitchcock in what proved to be an interesting expansion of Grant's usual pattern of playing charming, mischievous leads. Rather than reverting to the consummately gentlemanly polish that served him so well in past and future roles, Grant brought a touch of darkness and untrustworthiness to his debonair, joking, but manipulative Johnnie. Fontaine, on the other hand, who had worked with Hitchcock once before on Rebecca, a film that made her a star, reverted to type in Suspicion playing yet another timid, vulnerable, distrustful wife convinced her husband is up to some unsavory business. Though some felt her Academy Award win for Suspicion was compensation for losing the award previously for Rebecca, Fontaine's believably frightened performance carried the film. Fontaine may have been unwittingly helped along by Hitchcock's unique "divide and conquer" strategy in directing actors. Grant disliked what he saw as the preferential treatment Hitchcock gave to Fontaine and reportedly commented that Fontaine's "bitchy behavior made it perfectly understandable that her husband could murder her." Grant was said to be so put out that Fontaine was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar while he was overlooked that he avoided the actress for the rest of his life. Fontaine in her autobiography No Bed of Roses was more generous, calling Grant "fascinating to work with," though she tartly noted "the only mistake he made on Suspicion was not realizing that the part of Lina was the major role."

The most notorious aspect of the film's production, however, was not the tensions between Grant and Fontaine but the much-contested ending to the film. Adapting a work by Anthony Berkeley Cox (who wrote under the pseudonym Francis Iles) called Before the Fact, Hitchcock worked from a script written by playwright Samson Raphaelson (who had worked on some of Ernst Lubitsch's early talkies), longtime collaborator Joan Harrison and Hitchcock's wife Alma Reville. Hitchcock had initially intended to end the film just as Cox's novel ended, with Johnnie poisoning Lina. But the studio considered Grant far too glamorous and popular a star to allow such a conclusion. And so, despite Hitchcock's resistance, the studio insisted that Lina's suspicions prove unfounded in the end.

That ending proved a disappointment to many caught up on the wave of gripping, sweaty suspense about Johnnie's true intentions for the terrified Lina. The New York Times and Variety both remarked unfavorably on the ending, with the latter calling the studio-imposed ending a "most inept and inconclusive windup." All the more remarkable, then, was Hitchcock's finesse in momentarily convincing audiences that matinee idol Grant could indeed wind up to be a murderer. Nevertheless, as testament to Hitchcock's abilities to work his taut brand of suspense around even studio interference, Suspicion was nominated for Best Picture, and Best Score, though How Green Was My Valley (1941) and The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941) both won those categories.

The Warner Video DVD of Suspicion sports a sharp black and white transfer of this well-known Hitchcock standard though Franz Waxman's score sometimes threatens to overwhelm the actor's dialogue in a few scenes. This may not be a problem with the DVD mastering but the original negative. As for extras, the disc only includes the theatical trailer and a featurette produced for this DVD release, "Before the Fact: Suspicious Hitchcock," which discusses Hitchcock's original ending which was nixed and other fascinating trivia about the film.

For more information about Suspicion, visit Warner Video. To order Suspicion, go to TCM Shopping.

by Felicia Feaster