|Index||10 reviews in total|
The was the biggest budget film ever for Monogram Pictures and it is evident in this very well produced nightclub noir from 1946. British skating star known as BELITA was the queen of Monogram for a few years and the money spent on her 40s musicals LADY LET'S DANCE and SILVER SKATES proved what an asset she truly was. The reviews for LADY famously declared: "Mega budget time on poverty row" - with half a dozen extravagant big band music sequences with herself zipping about in all sorts of incredible costumes. SUSPENSE made in '46 is almost the same story as GILDA made the same year at Columbia. However Rita couldn't skate and Belita wasn't Rita. but, in it's own way SUSPENSE is an excellent thriller with some of the most bizarre and creepy scenes I have seen in a 40s noir drama. The best of which actually occurs in a dance-skate number which I can only describe as: set imagery from Salvador Dali mixed with a quite obvious S&M costume design (spangly scimitars on Belita's bosom, black hot-pants, cape and stockings (!) and a horror stunt involving a doorway of jagged wiggly iron swords (yes the jaws of death) that our gorgeous lead actress must skate towards and jump through..... backwards! All to a pulsating kettledrum gonging away. Imagine being in the front row for that! Producers, King Bros were rewarded at Monogram by massive ($4m+) USA rentals from DILLINGER in 1945 and the head office put up a handsome budget for this film. It cost $1.1m, a record spend for Monogram and put the studio in the A league for a while. Following a stream of noir successes like THE GANGSTER Monogram stepped up a few rungs on the Hollywood ladder and changed their name to ALLIED ARTISTS. They used these strong profits to make IT HAPPENED ON 5TH AVENUE, FRIENDLY PERSUASION in '56 and in the 70s, went on to produce CABARET and THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING. The skating dance shows in SUSPENSE are very spectacular and it is a quite a surprise how big and crowded the nightclub sets are. the penthouse scenes are 10 years ahead of Forbidden Planet in their snazzy moderne style. This is a good film, unjustly neglected. And Belita deserves to be rediscovered before she skates off into the sunset: apart from being a genuine astonishing beauty, she can act, skate and give lip service in that most attractive slovenly way that saw Bacall snare Bogey. Belita can do that and skate too. What a doll! For fans of all things kitsch, the nightclub is the same one seen in 1980 in XANADU ooooooo-h-oooo.
Suspense doesn't promise to live up to its generic title until its last
half-hour, when director Frank Tuttle (This Gun for Hire his only other
noir) turns up the voltage and generates some, yes, real suspense. A
Monogram release with a big budget (for Monogram), the movie casts the
unlikely Belita an ice-skating 'novelty' star like Sonja Henie
against Barry Sullivan; they would reunite the next year in The
Gangster. Albert Dekker and Bonita Granville fill out the other
Dekker's the impresario of The Ice Parade, a revue in which his wife Belita stars. A peanut vendor (Sullivan) offers a suggestion for sprucing up the act (a ring of swords through which Belita will jump) and gets offered in turn a management job. Dekker can't help but notice the sparks between his wife and his new hire, especially when Sullivan turns up uninvited at their mountain lodge. When they're off frolicking in the winterscape, he takes at shot a Sullivan but triggers an avalanche, which buries him.
Or does it? Back in her Los Angeles penthouse, Belita senses his presence. Sullivan, meanwhile, copes with another specter from his past Bonita Granville, whom he ditched in Chicago (he has an unsavory background which she threatens to divulge though never to us).
What with all this baggage, the romance sours, and Belita begins to suspect Sullivan of having killed Dekker, if in fact he's still among the living....
With Suspense, you have to take the bad with the good. The skating numbers, while eye-popping (a left-handed compliment), bring the action to a halt every quarter-hour or so. On the other hand, Tuttle anticipates by a year Anthony Mann's basement light in Desperate, swinging like a pendulum from glare to shadow. Still, he plays fast and loose with a key plot point Dekker's reemergence. The dance of the seven veils he performs adds a supernatural touch to the spooky atmosphere, but it falls short of success: there's information missing that by every right ought to be included.
One last note: Suspense marks the last movie, out of well over two hundred, for portly, bassoon-voiced Eugene Palette, a welcome and all but unavoidable presence through the 1930s and early 1940s. In this, his swan song, he shows himself once more to be every pound the pro.
Super-aggressive Joe Morgan tries to take over impresario Frank
Leonard's ice show and his girl, for good measure, resulting in some
With all the interest in 40's noir, I'm not sure why this genuinely exotic little number is too often overlooked. Maybe it's because its pedigree is not the best, (cheap-jack Monogram), or because its cast is non-movie star, (Sullivan, Belita, Dekker), or the fact that it doesn't turn up on cable (to my knowledge). Nonetheless, in my book it's one of the best examples around of the lost art of b&w cinematography.
Consider, for example, what Belita's surreal, death-defying skating number would look like in color, or that distance shot of the noirish mountain bowl where Frank stalks his prey, or the big neon panel blinking through the fog. In fact, consider the values that would be lost if the entire film were in color. I think one reason many of us return to 40's noir is because of those dream-like shadings,(among other values), that simply can't be duplicated in reds and greens, etc. Then too, these b&w shadings are a perfect complement to the ambiguities pervading the best noir.
But it's not only the photography in this movie, it's also the art direction (Paul Sylos) and the set decoration (George Hopkins). Thanks to them, the spooky ice rink plus the cavernous apartment and lodge interiors achieve real visual distinction with their attention to artistic detail. And even after multiple viewings, I haven't figured out how they did that eerie mountain bowl with its rink at the bottom. That tableau remains unlike anything I've seen in film. All in all, these elements add up, in my book, to a superior slice of visual exotica from noir's golden age.
To me, the most notable part of the story itself is how basically unsympathetic Joe (Sullivan) is with his overweening aggressiveness as he cuts in on everything Frank (Dekker) owns or values. At the same time, I don't buy the climax that looks like some version of the Hollywood Code in action, even if only in diluted form. Nonetheless, it's a great cast from the gimlet-eyed Sullivan (he doesn't look like anyone else in movies) to the commanding Dekker to the froggishly likable Palette. And must not forget Belita's eye-catching wardrobe or the deglamorized Granville getting jilted every five-minutes. And please tell me when ace screen-writer Yordan ever drew a breath away from the typewriter since his name pops up on just about everything from this period.
Anyhow, in my book, the movie remains a real sleeper and visual treat, and TMC would do well to slip it somewhere into their evening schedule.
Monogram threw some money at this one and produced a nifty noir
starring Belita, Barry Sullivan, Bonita Granville, Albert Dekker, and
Eugene Palette called "Suspense," a 1946 film directed by Frank Tuttle.
Figure skater Belita plays Roberta, whose skating show is produced by her husband Frank (Dekker). Frank hires down and out Joe Morgan (Sullivan) to sell peanuts, and Joe starts working his way up to more important things, such as falling for Roberta. Frank catches on and, while he and Roberta are relaxing at their lodge, Joe drops in with papers to sign. Frank has him stay the night. The next day, Frank takes a hunting gun and intends to kill Joe, but the gun report starts an avalanche, and Frank is presumed dead. Presumed...but is he? Joe keeps Roberta's shows going after a fashion, all the while rejecting an old girlfriend (Granville) who has the hots for him. She doesn't like his attitude, and wants to know why he left New York in such a rush.
A few minutes shaved off of this film might have helped the pace, which is stopped cold every once in a while by a big skating number, several of which (particularly the first) are really wonderful. Belita of course never had the popularity of Sonia Henie - at the age of 12, she placed 16th at the 1936 Olympics, one of Henie's gold medal years. Belita didn't stay an amateur long and eventually entered films as poverty row's answer to Sonia. Strangely, Belita, with her background in Russian ballet, comes off as more modern and frankly a more exciting skater than Henie. Her lines are gorgeous and she enters her spins faster.
There are some interesting shots in this film, particularly the technique of the overhead light swinging back and forth, taking Sullivan and Belita in and out of the light as they are talking.
Highly entertaining with a good performances by the always solid Sullivan and the imposing Dekker. This was Eugene Palette's final film, as he retired after this. It's a fitting ending - he does a great job as Frank's and then Joe's assistant. It's really a good cast, very un-Monogram like, as were the production values.
Great entertainment. If you like film noir and figure skating, this is the film for you.
... but then things began to gel.
A down and out guy from out of town, Joe Morgan (Barry Sullivan), asks for a job at Frank Leonard's (Albert Dekker's) Ice Palace. Frank gives him a job for $25 a week selling peanuts. Meanwhile Joe lays eyes on the star attraction and the boss' wife, Roberta (Belita) and likes what he sees.
The boss notices the attraction between the two from the start, but oddly offers Joe a job assisting Harry (Eugene Palette) after Joe comes up with a great gimmick for Roberta's act. Then Frank leaves town and leaves Joe in charge of the operation. What WAS he thinking? Why didn't he get rid of this obvious social climber (and wife climber too if he could manage it) when he was just selling peanuts? When Frank returns, he decides to separate Joe and his wife for awhile and he asks Roberta if she would like a few weeks in the mountains at their cabin, and she is enthusiastic.
So what does Joe do? He goes to the cabin on a silly business pretext so he can see the wife that looks exactly like a silly business pretext so he can see the wife...in an isolated cabin...full of hunting rifles...with a husband whose jealousy is slowly turning to rage. I will tell you no more specific plot points. Watch and find out what happens.
What comes next are a bunch of occurrences that are, on their own, pretty good noir plot points and touches, but put together don't make much sense. In particular I was expecting more from the ending. You wonder how much is real and how much is imagined, by all parties. Was Eugene Palette's character just OK with having a peanut salesman replace him as boss? Was Joe's old girlfriend - who shows up completely unwanted and rejected by Joe and vowing revenge - having anything to do with what was going on? What was the talented character actor George E. Stone even doing here since he had so little to do?
Some touch ups on the hanging ends of the plot points and this could have been a classic noir - maybe an 8 or even a 9. But add what I just told you to what I thought were excessive musical numbers by mediocre talent as part of the Ice Show and I have to settle for a 7. Not bad considering its poverty row roots.
1946's "Suspense" was another step toward respectability for Poverty Row's Monogram Pictures, soon upgrading its higher budgeted films with the new Allied Artists emblem. Moving up the Hollywood ladder (his eighth feature), Barry Sullivan is well suited for the part of sleazeball Joe Morgan, who lucks into a managerial position for an ice show run by Frank Leonard (Albert Dekker), starring Leonard's beautiful wife Roberta (top billed Belita). Morgan immediately takes an interest in Mrs. Leonard, and when her husband finds out, tries to shoot his rival in the snow covered mountains of the High Sierras, resulting in an avalanche that seemingly buries Mr. Leonard. Although seemingly widowed, Roberta is reluctant to continue the ice show, convinced that Frank may not have died after all (only his cap and gun were found in the snow). Belita, whose career was unfortunately brief, proves herself a capable actress, and would again co-star opposite Barry Sullivan in a similar title, "The Gangster." Eugene Palette completed a Western for Republic ("In Old Sacramento") before retiring from Hollywood, while former Nancy Drew Bonita Granville threw in the towel after six more films, confining herself to television thereafter, going on to produce the popular LASSIE series ('Bonita' is Spanish for 'beautiful'). Other familiar faces abound- George E. Stone, Leon Belasco, Nestor Paiva, George Chandler, Byron Foulger, and 7 year old Billy Gray ("The Day the Earth Stood Still," FATHER KNOWS BEST), in one of his earliest roles. Definitely a noir, occasionally slowed by its numerous (if well done) skating scenes and romantic entanglements, a curious non horror title to appear four times on Pittsburgh's Chiller Theater: Mar 14 1970 (followed by 1969's "It's Alive!"), May 8 1971 (followed by 1967's "Those Fantastic Flying Fools"), Apr 22 1972 (preceded by 1965's "The Eye Creatures"), and May 18 1974 (followed by 1965's "Night Caller from Outer Space").
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
If this is indeed an example of film noir, it is definitely "noir lite"
- tastes crappy, less filling. What's next? Will The Wizard of Oz
become the next noir sleeper? Suspense is more of a chick flick where a
budding romance can't happen because the woman is married. The main
problem I had with this movie was the juvenile script. It is a slap in
the face to any normal adult. There were too many preposterous,
unbelievable things that happened in this film. Where do I begin?
1. How the hell does Joe Morgan (a dirty, abrasive, unlikeable man) be allowed to enter the office of the Ice Follies without knocking and get a job instantly? Then, because of ONE idea, he gets promoted to be Harry's assistant. Then, he makes a pass at the owner's wife. Then, he takes over the business while Mr. Leonard goes to Chicago. Then, he takes over Mr. Leonard's wife. Huh? What!?! It's absolutely ridiculous. It's an insult to any paying customer. There is no way this could EVER happen in real life. It's just too unbelievable. Plus, Joe is just an ignorant jerk that runs roughshod over everybody. In normal life, he would be shunned and sent packing.
2. Why do the Leonard's allow Joe to come in and take over their lives? They have everything - a gorgeous and modern penthouse, a cabin in the mountains, fame, and prestige. Mr. Leonard didn't get all this by being stupid and letting people control him (especially a greasy nobody like Joe). It just doesn't make sense. It's too unbelievable.
3. Some dame from Chicago amazingly hears about Joe's success in L.A. and comes to see him. She gets a room across the hall from Joe. When she sees him, he gives her the brush off, but she continues to stay in the room pining away for this grease-ball. He repeatedly pushes her away, but she stays! What?! Never - no way. It would never happen. Plus, where does she get the money to stay there all this time? She doesn't work, and the film doesn't address this.
4. Near the end, Mr. Leonard comes to see Joe in Joe's office, which used to be Mr. Leonard's office. Joe kills him and stuffs him into a roll top desk (pretty amazing that he could fit in there - maybe he was one of those Shriners that come piling out of that little car at the circus). Anyway, Joe has the desk chopped up by the janitor and burned in the basement furnace. Huh? Did I miss something here? If the janitor chopped up the desk, he would definitely see Mr. Leonard's body. Later, we see the furnace and the door is too small for the desk to fit through, so the janitor must've seen the body. It just doesn't make sense and it is never addressed in the movie. Also, Joe tells Roberta that he murdered Mr. Leonard because Leonard was "needling me from behind a gun". Huh? You're telling me that Joe with NO gun overpowered and killed somebody that has a gun? Sorry, can't believe it. Having achieved what he has in life, there is no way that Mr. Leonard can be the bumbling, stupid, incompetent fool he is in this movie. It just doesn't happen that way. Again, it's just too unbelievable.
5. Joe's old flame who is now living across the hall from him gets some dirt on Joe in the form of a letter. She confronts him with it and he slaps her around. This damning letter is never mentioned again. It was supposed to contain info on why Joe left NYC in such a hurry, but it's never revealed why. Then, this dame puts a round of slugs into Joe at the end of the movie. What!?! Why didn't she use the letter against him? Why was this letter ever brought into the film? It makes no sense. Joe's mysterious past hinges on this letter, and we're left high and dry. All the shots talking about Joe's past and this letter are absolutely useless - just like the script - USELESS!
6. At the end, when Roberta is going to jump through the circle of knives, Joe loosens one of the screws that holds one of the knives in place. The only problem is that there are thousands of people in the audience that can see him do this! WHAT!?! Give me a break! It's so ridiculous, that it's insulting. Maybe if Joe was in the dark while Roberta was lit with a spotlight, I could deal with it. But, just like in most of this flick, the lighting is too bright and even.
Anyway, I could go on and on, but I'm starting to get carpal tunnel syndrome. The title is Suspense, but there isn't much (any) suspense here. The script is atrocious and unbelievable. The sets are nice, and for a Monogram film it looks pretty good. BUT, if you want to see real noir, go watch Kiss of Death, Detour, Kiss Me Deadly, Murder My Sweet, etc.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The noir love triangle is similar in someways to James Cain's "The Postman Rings Twice" in this well produced and directed movie. Belita's skating numbers are choreographed by Nick Castle who worked on many a spectacular MGM musical. Barry Sullivan plays a heel down on his luck who gets promoted from peanut sales at Belita's ice skating show to Vice President of the whole production when he invents her daring stunt of leaping through a ring of knives. The only obstacle is his boss who is Belita's husband. A girlfriend from his past also doesn't like his romantic involvement with the star skater and might be the key to his undoing when the skater's husband, thought to be dead in an avalanche, comes back to be the victim of a perfect murder. The ending was a real surprise I couldn't have guessed. It seems too many clues are given at the start, but no one could have guessed the end before seeing it.
Joe Morgan (Barry Sullivan) drifts into town and rather unconvincingly
lands a job at a theatre where he works his way up the ladder in an
extraordinarily short space of time. The owner Frank (Albert Dekker)
goes away on a business trip leaving Joe in charge of the ice shows
starring Roberta Elva (Belita). Roberta is Frank's wife and love sparks
begin to fly between her and Joe. What will Frank do when he discovers
what is going on?.....
A couple of problems with the film: 1) - the way Joe is just handed promotion after promotion for absolutely no reason: 2) - the casting of Barry Sullivan. I thought he was a 3rd-rate Franchot Tone.
These points aside, the film carries you along with musical ice-skating interludes that are entertaining and quite tense on a couple of occasions as Belita performs a jump through a ring of swords. The sets and lighting are good and the story keeps unravelling right to the very end of the film. With the exception of Barry Sullivan, the cast are good and Eugene Palette deserves a mention as "Harry", the manager that Belita can always trust. There is also a funny moment where some Cuban clown called Miguelito Valdes introduces one of Belita's ice dance numbers by singing a song with a big drum. He's rubbish. At the end of the day, it's Belita's film and it's a good story to watch again.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Down on his luck Joe Morgan (Barry Sullivan) is given a job as a peanut
vendor at the Ice Parade show. Just in time to see the beautiful
Belita, as Roberta, strut her stuff in "Side Walk Sadie" - sort of a
"Slaughter on Tenth Avenue" on ice! Belita was just so poised, so
elegant and there was nothing Sonia Heinie could do that Belita
couldn't. Sonia was at the end of her career and you would have thought
there was enough room in movies for Belita and the vastly underwhelming
Vera Hruba Ralston but apparently not!!
"Suspense" could have done with some tighter editing - at 100 minutes it was just too long even for a Monogram special. Bonita Granville added more glamour and proved, with the right part, that child actors could come back but her character served no purpose. She played slinky Ronnie, an old girlfriend who wants to rekindle her past romance with Joe but is miffed by his preoccupation with Robert. Along with another extraneous character (George E. Stone) she decides to delve into Joe's murky New York past but the audience is left none the wiser except that Joe takes on some sinister characteristics. Before this he comes across as a "good Joe" and Frank, Roberta's husband and manager of the Ice Parade, is the unbalanced one. (You always know the loopy ones in 1940s movie - they are the ones stroking cats and refusing to shake hands because they are afraid of germs!!) When the three of them are at a remote mountain lodge, Frank decides to take a few pot shots at them from the safety of a mountain but the gun's reverberations start a landslide and Frank disappears. Everyone thinks he is killed in the avalanche but Roberta senses his presence everywhere. Now Joe becomes the ruthless one, letting no-one stand in his way to the top - and it is here things become implausible.
Barry Sullivan is suitably menacing with his icy demeanour. Monogram must have thought it had a good team on it's hands as they were immediately paired in "The Gangster". The film does slow down for the ice sequences but they are very welcome and dazzlingly done. Obviously Monogram spared no expense for the ice show - there is a sensuous "Ice Cuba" with Belita looking very fetching in a south of the border sarong and spinning and gliding to the beat of bongos. Not to mention a macabre routine which has Belita, in a black and white ensemble, skating through a skull as she leads up to the dangerous "Ring of Knives" number.
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