[box cover]

Suspicion

Among the great director/actor partnerships in film history — John Ford and John Wayne, Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune, Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro — the collaboration between Alfred Hitchcock and Cary Grant is impossible to overlook. While starkly different in terms of outward appearances, from their famous profiles to their oft-imitated voices, both men shared a great deal in common. From a young age, both developed an interest in the theater and the arts. Their talents led them to America, and specifically Hollywood, where they became world-famous celebrities. Both somewhat affected (and somewhat accepted) an English gentleman's refined polish, despite the fact that they came from working-class backgrounds that afforded them few conventional opportunities. Deeply private men, they often shunned the spotlight, preferring to spend quiet nights at home rather than swanning about at Hollywood hotspots or parties. And both men were plagued by the self-doubt that often descends when public personas don't mesh with inward perceptions, causing them to live double-lives, perhaps at times wishing they could be someone else. It's not hard to imagine suave Cary Grant preferring to be regarded in intellectual terms, as Hitchcock so often was — but even today, few describe Grant's vast talent as "genius." And there is little doubt that Alfred Hitchcock frequently wished he could be Cary Grant, a rakish scoundrel who could convincingly romance beautiful women on film in a manner that Hitchcock could only match through his lens. Grant starred in four Hitchcock titles, opposite the director's best-known leading ladies (including Grace Kelly and Ingrid Bergman). But if his persona warmed in the Technicolor hues of To Catch a Thief (1956) and North by Northwest (1959), Grant's two finest performances in Hitchcock films came in stark black-and-white a decade earlier, with Notorious (1946) and his first effort for the director, 1941's Suspicion.

Grant stars in Suspicion as John Aysgarth, a handsome young English gentleman who has spent much of his life getting along in high society by virtue of his boyish charm and good looks. In fact, when Lina McLaidlaw (Joan Fontaine) first encounters him on a train, she immediately picks out his photo from a society page she's reading. But Lina is no stranger to the finer things in life as well — an educated woman, her family comes from a landed gentry that expects nothing but the best for her. Thus, eyebrows are raised when she starts dating John Aysgarth (after meeting him again, at a fox hunt). His charm is so seductive it's practically infectious, bolstered by the fact that he's brutally honest — at one point even admitting to Lina that he's had more than 70 girlfriends. Smitten with the handsome bachelor, Lina soon marries her "Johnny," despite the reservations of her parents (Cedric Hardwicke and Dame May Whitty). But she's unsure what to think after they set up housekeeping, learning that her husband has no job skills, no employment, and is deeply in debt. Matters aren't helped by the arrival of Johnny's old friend 'Beaky' Thwaite (Nigel Bruce), who tells Lina at every moment that Johnny is a rotten scoundrel, and loves him for it. Soon, Lina's distrust of her husband grows, even beyond her own expectations. She's never sure if he's honest with her. A series of events cause her to believe that he intends to murder Beaky. And in due course, she becomes convinced her adoring Johnny is plotting to poison her.

*          *          *

Like Rebecca (1940), Suspicion is a British film in every sense, save for location and funding. Adapting the source-novel Before the Fact by Anthony Berkley, Hitchcock immediately was attracted by a theme that would appear throughout his oeuvre: the idea of induced psychosis and its interchangeable fantasy and reality worlds. And which, it should be noted, doesn't always jibe with most official accounts of Suspicion and its controversial, tacked-on ending. While the original novel made it clear that the husband was a killer — indeed, from its opening line — RKO was unwilling to allow Cary Grant's image to be tarnished. At one point, an editor even removed so much material from an early cut (anything that could even suggest Grant to be a killer) that the run-time fell to a brisk 55 minutes. Cooler heads prevailed, but the compromised ending has never satisfied scholars, critics, and audiences in general. Nonetheless, it should be pointed out that there is nothing wrong with Suspicion when viewed as an acute case of paranoia — in fact, the film as it stands is much more "Hitchcockian" than the director, in later interviews, claimed he wished it had come off. Lina's psychosis has echoes in Hitchcockian characters from Joan Fontaine's paranoia in Rebecca to James Stewart's guilt-obsessions in Vertigo to Tippi Hedren's sexual repression in Marnie. Nonetheless, if the conclusion to be found here is unsound, simply because it so discordant with the entire story that's come before, there is no doubting Hitchcock's mastery of his material. While Cary Grant would tackle serious roles for other directors (such as in Penny Serenade and None But the Lonely Heart), it was Hitchcock who wanted to peer behind the charisma and find its darker, hidden self — and it was only for Hitchcock's camera that Grant would play men who bordered on villainy (and to great effect, at that). Joan Fontaine is splendid, earning both top-billing and an Academy Award. And in a tense film, Nigel Bruce provides the right comic relief as Johnny's best pal. Hitchcock once noted that a good director should be able to play an audience like a pipe organ — Suspicion is a textbook example of The Master's craft, lashing viewers to Lina's cresting and fading moods, scene by scene.

Warner's DVD release of Suspicion offers a solid full-frame transfer (1.33:1 OAR) from a restored black-and-white source-print that looks remarkably good, with little in the way of soft damage and solid low-contrast gradients — fans will not be disappointed, while the audio sounds pleasant on a monaural track (DD 1.0). Supplements include the featurette "Before the Fact: Suspicious Hitchcock," with comments from Patricia Hitchcock O'Connell and Peter Bogdanovich (22 min.) and the original theatrical trailer. Keep-case.
—JJB



Back to Quick Reviews Index: [A-F] [G-L] [M-R] [S-Z]

Back to Main Page