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That could have been Cary Grant's most chilling line in his long
Except RKO didn't have the courage of its convictions. Having bought the rights to Francis Iles' novel, and despite Hitchcock's insistence on sticking with the original ending, neither preview audiences nor the studio were ready to accept Cary Grant as a murderer. So its present ending was hastily written and shot. It completely subverts all the fine work that's gone before.
Joan Fontaine was a brilliant actress and valiantly, passionately, breathlessly tries to make the shockingly amateurish dialogue in the final scene work -- "Oh, Johnny! You were going to kill yourself instead of me, like the audience and I have thought for the last 90 minutes! Oh, Johnny! It's as much my fault as it is yours! Oh, Johnny! I was only thinking of myself . . . ," etc.
Cary Grant does his best with this final abomination of a climax. "Lina! Lina! How much can one man bear! When you and the audience thought I was in Paris murdering Beaky I was really in Liverpool!" Etc.
In other words, this beautifully produced, directed, acted and written psychological suspense thriller turns out to be about a charming lazy n'er-do-well who's sponged and embezzled his way through life, who marries a beautiful but neurotic aristocrat who, from day one, increasingly assumes the worst about her husband -- convincing herself (and us) that he's killed before and now is about to kill her?
"Just kidding," the tacked-on final scene says. "It was all innocent. You eating popcorn out there in the dark, and Lina, should be ashamed for even THINKING such things! Go home now."
It helps, out of self defense, to watch "Suspicion" with the original ending in mind. Yes, the milk is poisoned. Yes Johnny killed Beaky in Paris. Yes, he's a psychopath who lies, cheats, steals and kills. Yes, Lina believed him and loved him deeply -- the only man she's ever loved. Yes, her life is no longer worth living, now that she knows the truth about Johnny. Yes, she rightly suspects that milk is poisoned. So she writes a letter to her mother, telling the truth about Johnny's exploits, and that he is poisoning her as she writes -- and that she intends to die. She seals the letter and gives it to Johnny to mail. She drinks the milk. Johnny leaves and unknowingly drops Lina's letter into a mailbox, thus sealing his fate.
THAT'S a rewarding ending.
It also makes everything that's gone before (including writing, directing, performances and cinematography) plausible. It gives "Suspicion" a reason to exist.
But that's the novel's ending.
The film's "Lina and the audience are just paranoid" ending makes fools out of all the talent on display here. And of us.
Hold mentally to the original ending and you'll love it.
While in many respects one of Hitchcock's lesser films, "Suspicion" has some
good performances and a degree of suspense that is as sustained as in any of
his films. The movie gets quite a lot out of a relatively simple
Joan Fontaine gives an excellent performance as Lina, a quiet young woman who finds herself swept away by, and suddenly married to, the charming but irresponsible Johnnie, played by Cary Grant. Not long afterwards, she begins to question his behavior and his intentions, and soon she is terribly afraid, both of what he might have done and of what he might do. Whenever she manages to overcome one of her fears, no sooner does she do so than her husband gives her a new reason for suspicion. There really isn't much more to it than that, but Hitchcock gets a lot out of this basic premise. The tension keeps building, and Fontaine's performance allows the viewer to feel all of her fear and anxiety. Not everyone likes the way that it all ends, but it is worth seeing and deciding for yourself what you think about it.
The rest of the cast have mostly limited roles, but give good performances that add to the portrayal of the main characters. Especially good is Nigel Bruce, who provides a few lighter moments as one of Johnnie's old cronies.
While lacking the complexity and excitement of Hitchcock's best pictures, "Suspicion" is still a good example of his ability to keep the audience in lasting suspense. Most Hitchcock fans will want to see it.
Cary Grant (Johnnie Aysgarth) was 37 when this was released and perhaps
at the pinnacle of his sexual charm (but not at the pinnacle of his
career by a long shot); and Joan Fontaine (Lina Aysgarth--not "Linda,"
as the video jacket mistakenly has it), 24, was fresh from her very
fine performance in Rebecca (1940) alongside Laurence Olivier, also
directed by Alfred Hitchcock, for which he garnered his only Best
Picture Oscar. I don't think this film is nearly as good. It is saved
from being something close to annoying at times only by the star power
of the leads and a fine supporting cast, especially Nigel Bruce (best
known perhaps as Dr. Watson in a number of Sherlock Holmes films) as
Cary Grant's friend "Beaky."
The problem with the film lies partly with the casting of Cary Grant, although not in his performance as such. He was seen as such a valuable property by the studio that the proper ending of the film was considered inappropriate and so it was changed. Along the way we see a lot of mixed foreshadowing so it is impossible to tell whether his character is that of a loving husband who is a bit of a rogue or a cold-blooded murderer who married Lina for her inheritance and intends to kill her. We can see how the latter possibility might not work so well since she was only getting a subsistence allowance from the will of her father who disapproved of the marriage. And there are all those dark scowls that Grant manufactures, somewhat awkwardly I must say, to keep us in doubt. What is apparent is that Hitchcock had one ending in mind and then had to change it and wasn't able to redo some of the earlier scenes that worked better with the old ending.
At any rate, Joan Fontaine is very good, lovely, graceful and focused. With this performance she went one up on her older sister Olivia de Havilland by winning the Best Actress Oscar. And it is a bit of a spicy treat to see Cary Grant as something of a heavy, at least part of the time. For most of us, who have seen him in many films, his character has always been sterling.
I must also note that some of the production seems a bit unnatural. Grant wears his suit and tie all buttoned up even when visiting Fontaine in their bedroom (carrying the infamous glass of milk, which I understand was backlighted with a bulb inside the glass to make it almost glow). Fontaine's Lina appears mousey and bookish at the beginning (it is suggested that she was in danger of being an old maid!) but later develops a more sophisticated style. And I don't think Hitchcock or Grant really gave her enough cause for the sort of fear she experienced. The final scene with its quick about-face was not entirely convincing or conclusive either.
Contemporary audiences might wince at the plodding direction by Hitchcock. They might even wonder why he decided to make a movie from such a familiar and lightly plotted tale not far removed psychologically from a romance novel. But Hitchcock always erred on the side of giving the mass audience what he thought they wanted. What they wanted here was Cary Grant and Joan Fontaine together romantically with some mystery and doubt along the way.
(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it at Amazon!)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
If it weren't for the Code which did not allow murderers to get away
with it at the end, or the apparent miscasting of Cary Grant as the
ambiguous husband, SUSPICION would rank higher as a subtle masterpiece
of sheer, romantic suspense.
Over the years many critics have stated that Grant, in his first collaboration with director Alfred Hitchcock, doesn't quite convince much as a man who progressively seems to have ulterior motives with the people around him, most notably his wife. I personally believe that evil is best expressed under a facade of deadpan deceptiveness, such as the friendly neighbors in a similar thriller, ROSEMARY'S BABY. Of course, you might think: isn't this film completely different from SUSPICION? Not really. Strip away the Satanic plot and all you have is a growing sense of paranoia surrounding a similarly mousy wife who slowly realizes her husband and everyone around her is not what they seem. And we know how that film ended.
Grant is a perfect choice to play Johnnie Aysgard. He has the dark, handsome looks, that gleaming smile and loving charm and he literally sweeps spinster Lina McLaidlaw (Joan Fontaine, Oscar winner for this role) off her feet. His presence only vaguely suggests the menace hidden underneath and this is perfect for a convincing psychological, cerebral thriller. If Lon Chaney, for example, had played Aysgard, or Joseph Cotten, Orson Welles, or even Basil Rathbone for that matter, it wouldn't be hard to yell at the screen and pinpoint the villain in the story. Grant, however, is so completely at home in his ambiguousness that even in the climactic scene where he drives Fontaine to her mother's home, we still can't quite decide what his intentions are even though every added piece of evidence leads to the mounting horror that he is about to kill her.
And his presence is the reason this movie works as an excellent psychological thriller even if the ending is a letdown. Using an actor like Grant misleads the public into being sucked into the lighthearted tone of the first third of the story. Introducing the most trivial of incidents surrounding his playboy-like character, which gradually lead to more sinister ones does the tone darken and before we know it we're in the middle of a tense drama of wills between husband and wife and staring at that ghostly glass of milk, wondering if to drink or nor to drink.
For the very first time, we see a mysterious side to Cary Grant. Up until now, Grant played the Romantic Comedy actor with a few acrobatics roped in from his days on the stage. Even his tears in 'Gunga Din' and 'Penny Serenade' did not lift him into the category of a serious actor. In 'Suspicion' however, Hitchcock takes Grant's career to another level by setting up in the audience's mind the suspicion of whether or not he is a murderer. Although the plot is overly dramatic and revolves around the suspicion of whether or not Grant is a murderer, there are other redeeming qualities that lift it out of itself. Frank Waxman's score for one was nominated for 'Best Score', and was part of an early alliance with Hitchcock which led to him scoring 'Rear Window'. The all star cast of Grant with Fontaine, Cedric Hardwicke, Nigel Bruce fresh from the 'Sherlock Holmes' films. And the opportunity in Grant's career to be seen in a different light. Unlike 'Rebecca', this was not a Selznick or even a Hitchcock film, it was a Cary Grant film that gave him a depth of mystery in his profile which was beautifully articulated in 'Charade' 22 years later where you weren't quite sure whether or not he was a crook or a protagonist.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The story of Lina "Monkey - face" Aysgard and her husband Johnny is
from a novel by Francis Iles called BEFORE THE FACT. Hitchcock liked
Iles' novels, which were unusual because the heroes were actually
anti-heroes. Johnny is an upper class wastrel who is not unwilling to
swindle or kill if it benefits himself. He is responsible, actually,
for at least three deaths in the story. Interestingly enough, Hitch
always wanted to do Iles' "Black Comedy" novel MALICE AFORETHOUGHT, as
a film - possibly with Alex Guiness - wherein the anti-hero Dr. Bickley
(based on Dr. Crippen and Major Herbert Armstrong) poisons his wife and
several others in a charming little village in the English countryside.
Unfortunately, Hitch never got to do MALICE AFORETHOUGHT (but it has
been done on BBC television once or twice).
He had just pocketed the "Oscar" (for the only time in his career, by the way) for REBECCA - his first American film. Hitch apparently thought he could do anything. He was now to discover he could not do everything.
To begin with, Iles' novel ended with Johnny facing the loss of his wife (but in a curious switch - Lina willingly takes the poison he brings her, and actually destroys him emotionally because Johnny was secretly ashamed of this crime - he really loved Lina and she kills herself to help him out). If the Hays and Breen offices had any imagination they would have realized that the film would have been so far better and more moral if they had left the ending alone. Johnny would have been too cowardly to ever kill himself, and would have gone to his grave realizing what he threw away. It would have been a worse punishment than if Johnny had been hanged.
But the censors would have none of it. If Lina died Johnny must be punished. Hitch played around with changing the ending (he did this frequently in his adaptations of novels). He would have had Lina write a note to her mother, explaining that she knew Johnny was going to kill her, but she loved him and would let him. Johnny would poison her with her evening milk, and then (while happily whistling) post the letter to her mother (Dame May Witty).
Here he came acropper with another portion of the Hollywood scene: Cary Grant's agent and RKO Studio. Both were very image conscious, but that image was comic or dapper or likable - but not murderous. Grant himself would have enjoyed the change (ten years later he might have tried to do it with Hitch that way*). But in 1941 too many interested parties were opposed. As a result, Grant's part had to be rewritten.
(*A few years later, Grant appeared in MR. LUCKY, as a gambler who decides to commit a fraud regarding a war effort charity. He does use violence several times in the film, but he reforms against his partner in the fraud - though he violently kicks him in a fight - and ends up enlisting in the army. That and his role as Ernie in NONE BUT THE LONELY HEART were the two closest negative parts he had after SUSPICION, and neither is a total villain.)
Johnny remains a charming wastrel, who loves gambling, and who depends on others to pay for him. But he is struggling to try to go legitimate, and in his best scene in the film (when he is trying to get financing from Nigel Bruce for a building project) he shows a sense of reality that is just missing from most of the film. He turns on Joan Fontane, who thinks Grant is planning something crooked at the expense of his friend Bruce and begins "gumming up the works" of his business deal. Actually one sees there what the film might have been like, but it was a rare moment of real juice in the movie.
Grant does as well with the part as he can, as does Fontane (who won the Best Actress Oscar award). But it is a hollow victory in the film. Best are Nigel Bruce as Beaky Thwaite, Johnny's close, doomed friend (and in the novel his victim). Also in a brief role is Leo G. Carroll as Johnny's cousin and employer who is swindled by him. Carroll only has one brief scene, but is memorable as one of the few outsiders who calls Johnny's character correctly.
In later years, after he showed his box office success, Hitch would be able to make his central figures negative ones. As pointed out elsewhere on this thread, Joseph Cotton would be "Uncle Charlie" the murderer in SHADOW OF A DOUBT within two years. Later on he would do THE PARADINE CASE, where defendant Alida Valli was guilty, and STAGE FRIGHT, where suspect Richard Todd lies partially about the crime to the audience at the start.
I have one particular complaint. Johnny borrows a volume from the Notable British Trial series from a neighbor who is a mystery novelist. It is the trial of a 19th Century poisoner who once killed a victim by betting the victim that he could drink a bumper of brandy without stopping for breath. This (when Fontane hears of it) resembles the death of Bruce. This actually happened in the 1850s to a notorious poisoner who was a gambler. He was Dr. Palmer of Rugeley. And there is a volume of the Notable British Trial series about Palmer. But it was Dr. WILLIAM Palmer historically. In the movie the volume is clearly labeled THE TRIAL OF RICHARD PALMER. Somebody did not do their research properly
This is a Hitchcock thriller from 1941, early in his American period,
and earned its star, Joan Fontaine, an Academy Award for Best Actress.
She's excellent in the leading role, though her performance isn't quite
so fine-tuned as the one she gave in the previous year's Rebecca, which
this one in many ways resembles. As her gregarious and engaging gambler
of a husband, Cary Grant overwhelms her in the acting and charisma
departments. This is more or less Fontaine's movie, but Grant steals it
with his charm.
The story is is old one about a woman who marries a mysterious and handsome gentleman who's up to his ears in dark secrets. There's not much more to it than that, aside from the little issue of whether or not he's going to murder her for her money. When a close friend of the husband dies under mysterious circumstances, the wife's suspicions begin to literally enshroud her, enveloping her in a haze of nervous expression. Hubby's strange behavior and dark glances don't help matters.
Adapted by Anthony Berkeley and Samson Raphaelson from a novel by Francis Iles, the movie suggests rural England better than most American films; and the supporting cast, which includes Dame May Witty, Cedric Hardwicke, Leo G. Carroll and especially Nigel Bruce, are all fine. Bruce plays Grant's old school twit of a friend, and the scenes of the three of them,--Grant, Fontaine and Bruce--have a rare intimacy, as we really believe that these characters care for one another. The movie's ending was controversial at the time, for a number of reasons. It works well enough for me, but then again Hitchcock generally does.
Hitchcock's 'Suspicion' starts off as a slow moving silly romantic comedy before switching to a thriller. Hitchcock's style of narrating the story as the events unfold is brilliant as usual. Cary Grant turns on the charm button but it is Joan Fontaine who steals the show. Lina's increasing suspicion, confusion and despair as she discovers Johnnie's deadly secrets are skillfully displayed. Hitchcock maintains the element of suspense and increasing tension very well. However, it is the ending that is a let down and the only reason I can think of why such a closing was chosen was to fulfill the Hollywood 'happy ending' standard. 'Suspicion' could have been an excellent dark thriller had the ending been more plausible and made sense of all the preceding events. Yet, it remains a good job mostly because of the crafted way Hitchcock builds tension throughout the movie.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In earlier comment I speculated on the difference between the ending of the film itself and the novel on which it is based, "Before the Fact", by Francis Iles. According to the eminent film historian David Shipman, the book was about a woman who gradually realises that her husband plans to murder her, but who is so much in love she does not mind. He quotes Hitchcock as saying the inappropriate ending of the film came about because the producers, R.K.O., would have refused to let Cary Grant be a murderer. See David Shipman, "The Story of Cinema" (1984) at p.582.
Charming and entertaining Hitchcock thriller notable for the genre
The film starts out as a romantic comedy, rich girl falls for likeable rogue, but gradually the plot gets darker as Johnnie (Cary Grant) lies and swindles to cover his gambling debts. Eventually Lina (Joan Fontaine) begins to suspect that he is planning to murder her for money....
My only criticism of this film would be the idealised Hollywood version of pastoral English countryside complete with huntsmen, dogs and an eccentric mystery writing spinster. All a little bit too picture-postcard perfect for my taste.
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