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It's Joan Crawford vs. the Nazis in Above Suspicion (1943). Now highly entertaining as a prime example of World War II camp, MGM's wartime espionage drama won withering reviews at the time of its original release. Howard Barnes wrote in The New York Herald Tribune that "There are so many floral, musical and cryptographical passwords in the film's plot that the whole show becomes a sort of super treasure hunt... Unfortunately, neither Joan Crawford nor Fred MacMurray looks quite bright enough to unravel the tangled skeins of this screen melodrama." Even Crawford herself described this one as "undiluted hokum" and "no prize -- although I must say that both Fred MacMurray and I tried to make the spy nonsense plausible. I really wasn't suitable to the wartime melodramas they were turning out, and if a script was bad I was worse."
The plot of Above Suspicion has Oxford professor MacMurray and his bride, Crawford, on a honeymoon in prewar Germany, where they are actually working as secret agents for the British and trying to gain information about a super weapon being developed by the Nazis. With Nazis hot on their trail, they bumble their way through Germany and Austria, following enigmatic clues involving music and a red rose. In the plus column, the movie boasts expert performances by Basil Rathbone as a sneering Nazi aristocrat who imprisons and tortures Crawford (while never cracking her impeccable MGM gloss), and Conrad Veidt in his final performance as an Austrian resistance fighter. (Veidt died at age 50 of a heart attack shortly after the film was completed.)
Crawford herself is surprisingly restrained in what proved to be the final film of her 18-year stay at MGM. Some felt that, with such scripts as Above Suspicion, studio head L.B. Mayer was forcing the actress to walk out on her contract. Crawford, however, had the last laugh; within two years she would re-emerge triumphantly as a revitalized Warner Bros. star and Best Actress Oscar winner for Mildred Pierce (1945).
Producers: Victor Saville, Leon Gordon (Associate)
Director: Richard Thorpe
Screenplay: Melville Baker, Patricia Coleman, Keith Winter, from novel by Helen MacInnes
Cinematography: Robert H. Planck
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Randall Duell
Original Music: Bronislau Kaper
Editing: George Hively
Costume Design: Irene, Gile Steele
Principal Cast: Joan Crawford (Frances Myles), Fred MacMurray (Richard Myles), Conrad Veidt (Count Hassert Seidel), Basil Rathbone (Count Sig von Aschenhausen), Reginald Owen (Dr. Mespelbrunn), Ricahrd Ainley (Peter Galt), Cecil Cunningham (Countess von Aschenhausen),
BW-91m. Closed captioning. Descriptive video.
By Roger Fristoe