“If you’re going to kill somebody, do it simply,” says Johnnie Aysgarth.
Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 Best Picture Oscar winner Rebecca was the first film he directed in the U.S. after having spent over 15 years making films in the U.K. The following year brought two new Hitchcock films: first was a marriage comedy called Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and then the second one, Suspicion, would reteam him with Joan Fontaine, his leading lady from Rebecca, and mark the first of four fruitful collaborations with Cary Grant. I got a chance to see Hitchcock’s Suspicion on the big screen at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York City 12 years ago as part of a Cary Grant retrospective with each weekend highlighting a different director collaboration (Howard Hawks, George Cukor, Leo McCarey, Stanley Donen, and Hitchcock), and it was a suspenseful picture that I enjoyed very much. This review of Suspicion is my entry in the Film Noir Blogathon hosted by The Midnite Drive-In.
1941’s Suspicion follows a young heiress who marries a charming gentleman but, after a number of bizarre events, soon becomes convinced that he might be planning to kill her. Hitchcock brought together a terrific cast that included Grant (as Johnnie Aysgarth), Fontaine (as Lina McLaidlaw), Cedric Hardwicke (as General McLaidlaw), Nigel Bruce (as Beaky), May Whitty (as Martha McLaidlaw), Isabel Jeans (as Mrs. Newsham), Heather Angel (as Ethel), Auriol Lee (as Isobel Sedbusk), Reginald Sheffield (as Reggie Wetherby), and Leo G. Carroll (as Captain Melbeck). Grant brings enough charm and shadiness as Johnnie, who may or may not be a killer. Best Actress Oscar winner Fontaine is timid, paranoid, and distrustful as Lina, who believes her husband might be a killer. Bruce is a delight as Johnnie’s old friend Beaky, who acts as comic relief and accidentally feeds Lina’s paranoia.
The screenplay by Samson Raphaelson, Joan Harrison, and Alma Reville adapts Anthony Berkeley’s 1932 novel Before the Fact (a crime novel that tells its story from the perspective of the victim), lightening the tone of the dark novel while making several changes (the changing of the book’s ending may have been studio-mandated, but the new ending still works). Despite all the changes, Hitchcock’s style still flourishes through (my favorite sequence is Grant bringing up the illuminated glass of milk). It also successfully transitions from light romance to psychological thriller. Harry Stradling’s black-and-white cinematography reflects the tone of the film, mixing the lightness with a nourish look. William Hamilton’s editing moves the film at a suspenseful pace that slowly builds towards its surprising climax. Franz Waxman delivers an Oscar-nominated score that emphasizes romance and dramatic tension. Hitchcock’s Best Picture Oscar nominee Suspicion is another early film of his where a leading character may or may not be wrongfully accused or suspected of a crime, and it also holds the distinction of being the only Hitchcock film to feature an Oscar-winning performance (Fontaine).