Review: Suspicion (1941)


Director: Alfred Hitchcock | 99 minutes | thriller, romance | Actors: Joan Fontaine, Cary Grant, Cedric Hardwicke, Dame May Whitty, Nigel Bruce, Isabel Jeans, Heather Angel, Auriol Lee, Reginald Sheffield, Leo G. Carroll, Billy Bevan, Faith Brook, Leonard Carey, Clyde Cook, Alec Craig, Carol Curtis-Brown, Vernon Downing, Rex Evans, Edward Fielding, Gavin Gordon, Lumsden Hare, Alfred Hitchcock, Gertrude Hoffman, Kenneth Hunter, Doris Lloyd, Aubrey Mather, Nondas Metcalf, Hilda Plowright, Clara Reid, Maureen Roden-Ryan

Alfred Hitchcock liked to work with the same actors. For example, Grace Kelly has been his leading lady three times (in ‘Dial M for Murder’, ‘Rear Window’ and ‘To Catch a Thief’) and had she not gone to Monaco to marry Prince Rainier there, she would have no doubt played in many more of his films. James Stewart was also a favorite of Hitch. He has starred in no less than four of his films (“Rope”, “Rear Window”, “The Man Who Knew Too Much” and “Vertigo”). Preferably, however, the master of suspense worked with Cary Grant, in whom he saw everything he did not have himself. And where other filmmakers saw Grant mainly as the charming adventurer who was cut out for comedy, Hitchcock also tried to bring out the dark side of the actor. Grant played in his last two collaborations with the British director, “To Catch a Thief” (1955) and “North by Northwest” (1959), when he was already older, the role that was known of him. But in the first two films that made the legend of the silver screen together, “Suspicion” (1941) and “Notorious” (1946), Grant portrayed characters that are much less easy to categorize.

In “Suspicion,” Cary Crant plays the young whistleblower Johnny Aysworth, a man who is very successful with women and does not take his responsibilities in life too seriously. One day he meets Lina McLaidlaw (Joan Fontaine), a wealthy wallflower who her parents fear will be left alone forever. When it turns out that the spark is flying, Johnny doesn’t bother and marries Lina. In a hurry, he takes her on a luxury trip through Europe and buys a closet from a house for both of them. However, Lina soon finds out that her new husband is broke, has huge debts and also has a gambling addiction. Johnny promises to improve, but every time she catches him in new lies. When Johnny’s friend “Beaky” (Nigel Bruce), with whom he has planned to build homes, mysteriously dies, Lina fears her husband is behind it. He seems to do anything to get out of trouble, even murder. She also fears that she is his next victim …

Although “Suspicion” is one of the first films Hitchcock made in the United States, the film is very British. The setting, the actors (not only both protagonists are originally English, but also almost all supporting actors) and the social context in which the story takes place have a British feel. “Suspicion” starts out as a light-hearted romantic comedy, but turns into a psychological thriller before you know it. Hitchcock makes full use of his well-known tricks with which he manipulates the viewer. In several ways he suggests that Johnny is indeed capable of the most terrible crimes. Typical is the well-known scene in which Grant steps up the stairs with a glass of milk. The substance almost seems to emit light (Hitch placed a light bulb in the glass for the right effect), which makes you as a viewer think that it almost has to be poisonous. The director tried to stay as close as possible to the novel “Before the Fact” by Francis Iles, on which the film is based. However, he eventually gave in to the pressure of the producers and production code that prevailed at the time and drastically changed the ending of the film at their request. As a result, the last few minutes of the film do not correspond at all to everything that preceded it. Although even now the lock can still be interpreted in several ways.

The involvement of the producers certainly does not detract from the quality of this film. Both Joan Fontaine, who received an Oscar for her role, and Cary Grant are in great shape. In fact, Fontaine is in fact repeating her cast-iron role in “Rebecca” (1940), also by Hitchcock. Lina is a vulnerable, reserved woman who suddenly finds herself in a world full of danger because of her lightning marriage. Cary Grant plays one of his better roles as the charming freebooter who doesn’t dream of getting his money in a “normal” way. Hitchcock plays with the audience by having the immensely popular Grant, whom everyone loved, play a man with a dubious reputation. And the actor shows here that he was much more versatile than everyone else always thought of him. As usual in Hitchcock’s films, the supporting roles are also perfectly filled, with the most notable actors the ancient British Nigel Bruce (also from ‘Rebecca’ and also Dr. Watson in a whole series of films about Sherlock Holmes from the 1940s), Dame May Whitty (‘The Lady Vanishes’, 1938) and Cedric Hardwicke (‘Rope’, 1948) in small but very effective roles.

“Suspicion” was nominated for three Oscars, including best picture, and eventually took home one (for Fontaine). And rightly so, because this is one of the best films Hitchcock made in the 1940s. Because of his unique combination of humor, romance and suspense, Hitchcock knows how to captivate the viewer right from the start. As tension mounts, the same viewer is constantly put on the wrong track, a technique that the director would further perfect in his later films. It’s a shame he was forced to adjust the ending, otherwise this film might have been even better.

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