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Michael Curtiz plays a sly game in The Unsuspected a marvelous mystery
that manages to preserve the venerable trappings of the English
weekend-at-the-country-house murder (with some of the gimmickry that
implies) while setting it amid a nest of Manhattan smart-mouths. He shows
us who the murderer is in the first few minutes of the movie (and echoes his
revelation several times) but does it so glancingly that it fails to
register. And even if it did, The Unsuspected proves such a banquet of
writing, acting and visual detail such as the neon sign on a hotel in
Peekskill flashing only its four last letters to a room inside that it
wouldn't be spoiled at all.
Looming shadows stalk through the baronial upstate manse of Victor Grandison (the ineffable Claude Rains), host of a wildly popular true-crime radio show. Next thing, his loyal secretary is hanging from a chandelier (an apparent suicide, but we know better). This ghastly occurrence doesn't faze the house's other occupants his gold-digging niece (Audrey Totter) and her boozehound husband (Hurd Hatfield), possibly because Totter was on the phone with the victim as she uttered her last scream but never bothered to report it. Or it could be that everybody's still in shock over the loss of another niece (Joan Caulfield), who has perished in a ship's fire while crossing the Atlantic.
Into their lives strides a Mysterious Stranger (Ted North), claiming to be Caulfield's widower. He's received variously: Rains treats him with cordial suspicion, Hatfield with glum distaste (he had a thing for Caulfield, too) while Totter throws herself at him, `vibrating.' And then who should turn up, safe and reasonably sound, but Caulfield herself. The plot is admittedly a little complicated (made more so by the resemblance between North and Hatfield, with their bland, unhappy faces, and between Totter and Constance Bennett, who could pass as her older sister (playing the Eve Arden role of the wise-cracking spinster helpmate). But it's nothing that a few more homicides can't clear up....
With Casablanca and Mildred Pierce behind him, Curtiz was at the height of his powers for The Unsuspected, and Warners plainly gave him full rein for this lavish production. He's matched every step of the way by the wondrous Woody Bredell, who supplies richly detailed, always evocative cinematography (it's a smashing-looking movie). Nor does the script falter: Every line gleams with witty malice. Though Caulfield unfathomably gets top billing, she pales next to Rains and Totter in top form, with Bennett a close runner-up. The movie boasts just about everything.
Why, then, isn't it better known? Usually labeled film noir, it's really more of a high-style 40s sophisticated mystery, as was Otto Preminger's Laura (and, like Laura, it hinges on a beautiful young woman, presumed dead, who unexpectedly re-emerges). But while Laura receives reverent homage as an evergreen classic (`They don't make em like that anymore'), The Unsuspected remains relatively unknown except to fans of the noir cycle. Yet it's every bit at good a movie certainly no less plausible and honed to an even finer level of elegance. Go figure.
Bravo, TCM, for showing this. I haven't seen it since I was in my teens thirty years ago. It is similar but in many ways superior to Laura. The major flaw of Laura is that it is impossible to believe that Clifton Webb has a great, overriding physical passion for Gene Tierney. There is no such nonsense in The Unsuspected. This is a highly atmospheric, evocative and literate noir set in the sophisticated world of radio and literary circles. We have a powerful, understated performance from Rains alternating between the likeable and sinister. He was one of the very few actors who could pull this kind of thing off (i.e. Notorious, Deception).I take great exception to a previous comment here about a "throwaway cast." Throwaway? Audrey Totter? Constance Bennett? Hurd Hatfield? The too little seen Fred Clark? Hardly throwaway! Totter's performance is etched in acid and this, with her job in Tension, is the best of this fabulous lady's career! She and Bennett here play both sides of the bitch coin. Totter is the nasty side, Bennett the amusing and brittle side. Both of theses dames bring life to dialogue that even on paper would be smart. If you love Warner Brothers, Rains, Totter, Bennett, or noir in general, this is a tasty treat.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Claude Rains is the smoothly cultured radio narrator of murder mysteries,
who turns to murder out of a consuming greed for possessions, including his
niece's mansion. He is like the Waldo Lydecker character portrayed by
Clifton Webb in 'Laura'--a witty, decadent murderer trapped in a world of
his own dark machinations.
This is one of those forgotten gems of film noir from the '40s. Director Michael Curtiz adds some stylistic touches to the proceedings, as does Woody Bredell's photography of handsome interiors. There are vivid performances from Constance Bennett as a wise-cracking producer, Joan Caulfield as his frightened niece, Audrey Totter, Hurd Hatfield and Michael North (who for some reason had a brief screen career).
Handsomely produced and based on a Charlotte Armstrong novel, it benefits greatly from classic low-key film noir lighting and the expert performances of an all-star cast. For some reason, it has fallen between the cracks as far as visiblity goes, shown only occasionally on cable TV.
Years ago I actually saw a paperback version of the novel by Charlotte
Armstrong that this movie is based on...and foolishly I did not buy it.
That was before I saw it on television (about 1979). It rarely is
shown, possibly because it's excellent title is overshadowed by two
other excellent films THE UNINVITED and THE UNFORGIVEN (not to mention
the television series and Kevin Costner film THE UNTOUCHABLES).
Victor Grandison (known to his admirers, friends, and loving family as "Grandy") hosts a radio program which retells classic true murder cases from America's and Britain's past. He is based (like Waldo Lydecker, Sheridan Whiteside, and - to an extent - Addison DeWitt) on Alexander Woolcott, the critic and member of the Algonquin Set and radio host ("The Town Cryer") who loved to discuss old murder cases too (in THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER Woolcott/Whiteside meets Lizzy Borden/Elizabeth Sedley). Grandy is the guardian for two nieces, Audrey Totter (married to the frequently drunken Hurd Hatfield), and Joan Caulfield. Caulfield is presently abroad, but word has come back that she was killed in a fire. On top of this, Grandy's secretary has apparently committed suicide - although Totter is not quite sure it was a suicide. Shortly afterward, a man shows up (Ted North) claiming to be Caulfield's husband (and, if she is dead, heir to her estate being handled by guardian Rains). Then Caulfield shows up - back from the dead as it were - and she can't recall marrying North!
The film's villain is not difficult to fathom - Rains has no real rival figures to play against here for that honor. Jack Lambert gives good support as Rains' criminal assistant.
Several comments are made about the very witty screenplay, particularly Constant Bennett's lines. But there are other moments of humor for some of the other characters, including one for Rains which caused me to momentarily feel some compassion for him. In one of his schemes, he has to isolate a potential victim in his country mansion. His butler Kent (Harry Lewis) will probably be upstairs in his apartment that night. With his kindest looking face, Rains goes over to hard working Lewis and says that he needs to relax and gives him two tickets to his radio program on the night the mansion has to be empty. Lewis is speechless for a moment, but then says something "unexpected". "Thank you Mr. Grandison," says Lewis/Kent, "but I have to admit that I don't think I'll take them." Rains is amazed. "Why not?", he asks. "Well, you see Mr. Grandison, I know it sounds odd but I have never listened to your program at all." Rains face is beginning to redden up a bit. "The fact is Mr. Grandison," says Lewis/Kent, "Your murder stories scare me too much!" Rains has heard enough by this time. This is more than just clearing his house for his own private murder plot - it's his reputation at stake here. "Let's put it this way Kent." Rains says with white pursed lips, "Do you like your job here?" Kent took the tickets, and Rains looked satisfied if a bit less than amused.
Good film this.
Nice atmospheric thriller with excellent black and white photography and
with chilling use of shadows! The film is inspired by both "Rebecca" and
"Laura", and maybe "Suspicion" i suspect...
The murderer is obvious but it is still entertaining with a good
Loveley performances by Hollywood pros like Claude Rains, Constance Bennet and the underrated Audrey Totter always worth seeing!
This was my first Joan Caulfield movie, apparently a starlet at the end of the 40s, a good actress but a bit forgettable. I love these film noirs from the golden age of Hollywood. Golden age of filmmaking, actually...
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Claude Rains plays Victor Grandison--a mild-mannered man who tells spooky tales over the radio and, in his spare time, kills anyone who stands in his way of an inheritance. Good thriller opens with a really scary murder and keeps right on going. The script is sharp and tight with many twists and turns. All the acting is good--especially by Rains and Audrey Totter as a bitchy niece. The cast also includes two of the handsomest men in Hollywood in 1947--Hurd Hatfield (who made films into the 90s) and Michael North (who completely disappeared after this film). Director Michael Curtiz uses shadow and light very effectively and reflection of people (especially Rains). Great climatic chase too. Well worth seeing. It seems that this movie has been forgotten which is a real shame--it's one of the best film noirs from Hollywood.
To answer the question, "Who is the unsuspected?" the viewer must wait
until the very end of the film. In reality, the unsuspected is revealed
toward the beginning of the movie. So though there aren't any real
surprises--this is not a mystery--there is a big helping of suspense
and thrills along the way. The viewer also gets a glimpse of old time
radio just before television took over. Victor "Grandi" Grandison
(Claude Rains) is a big time radio personality whose main claim to fame
is telling creepy, murder stories, read from a script he helped write,
to a large radio audience. Several scenes take place during the
broadcast inside the radio studio. The viewer gets to see all the hand
signals and day to day activities involved in a live broadcast in those
days. Many radio shows were transcribed (recorded on huge record discs)
both for posterity and for possible re-broadcasts. Grandi makes these
for nefarious purposes also. How they are made is shown in great
With lines such as "We missed you while you were dead," this is one of the best film noir screenplays of the 1940's. One of the great femme fatales of the era, Audrey Totter as Althea Keane, gets some of the wittiest lines, which she delivers with élan. So listen carefully when she speaks. She dominates every scene she's in. The only one in the cast who comes close to her acting talents is Claude Rains. In some ways his part closely resembles the character he played the year before in the Hitchcock classic "Notorious," the master spy Alexander Sebastian. While Althea's husband, the tipsy Oliver (Hurd Hatfield), also shines, his role is fairly cut and dried with only brief appearances. The others in the cast are more than adequate, in particular Jack Lambert as Mr. Press, a violent, shady character who is blackmailed into doing dirty work for Grandi.
Michael Curtiz knowingly directs in noir fashion with crisp black and white photography surrounded by rainy, spooky nights making the audience believe that danger lurks in the shadows. Curtiz makes sure the film is fast-paced. There is even an exciting chase at the end involving Jack Lambert recklessly driving through traffic in a pickup truck, attempting to destroy evidence at the city dump before the motorcycle cops catch up with him.
The music blends in with the story. For example, when Grandi comes home unsuspected, his birthday party is in full swing. The piano man fills the room with "Someone To Watch Over Me." Grandi is unnerved by the tune and makes a snide remark to Matilda Frazier (Joan Caulfield) to the effect that he would like to fire the piano player. Neglected for years, critics and noir fans are just now discovering this intriguing movie.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
You just can't beat Claude Rains.....no matter how insignificant a film
may be, Rains can be counted on to give a dynamic performance. This
film is a showcase for his talents. Although not a handsome man, he has
great charm and elegance. He doesn't disappoint here as a popular radio
star whose public persona hides a very dark side. He is intent on being
the recipient of the inheritance of his niece and ward, played by Joan
Caulfield. A rather complex and somewhat overwrought plot leads us
through his machinations to the end which doesn't come out exactly as
The cast in this film is top drawer, although Caulfield is a bit colorless as the put-upon niece. Audrey Totter is magnificent as an acid tongued member of the family who wouldn't mind getting her hands on some of the loot as well. Hurd Hatfield (Picture of Dorian Gray) is her alcoholic husband but unfortunately doesn't have a lot to do. Jack Lambert does his "I am so evil" turn as Rain's henchman and as usual does it well. Fred Clark makes an all too brief appearance as a detective. Constance Bennett, past her days as a star, is appealing as the secretary on a mission.
"The Unsuspected" is a tight little film, which might stretch credibility just a bit but is still quite enjoyable. Hey, it's got Claude Rains as the star so how can you go wrong?
One of the fine mystery thrillers from 40's and near the top of the film noir lists. The Unsuspected is a showcase for one of Hollywood's real accomplished actors of that era, Claude Rains. Though more widely remembered for "Casablanca", "Notorius", and "Mr. Skeffington," Rains gets to show off his versatility in a starring role. As the charming but malevolent lead, Rains comes up with a very professional turn as the respected radio announcer and suspect. Pairing with him is a "femme fatale" from that time, Joan Caulfield. The bosomy, sexy blonde is more convincing here than in the light comedies she played during her career. This film dates well and will keep your interest. It's one I would like to see once more. Any readers know where a VCR copy can be purchased?
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I watched this movie because it had Claude Raines in it. And I was rewarded - this is a goody. Claude Rains, who never gave a bad performance in his life, is a smooth, sly, delectable scoundrel who pretends to be a loving Uncle; but before the movie is over kills one of his Nieces and tries his best to do away with the other - not to mention knocking off his Secretary and his Nephew. I think the reason it has been overlooked is that it seems like a "Laura" knockoff - the one by Otto Preminger starring Clifton Webb and Gene Tierney - and there are great similarities it even has the portrait of the beautiful "dead" girl hanging on the wall. But there are great differences in the two movies and therein lies the fun. Joan Caulfied plays the heroinewho has an amnesia - or does she? Or has someone caused Joan to think she has amnesia? But the pies de résistance is Audrey Totter who plays an amoral woman with such delicious gusto you really enjoy every scene she is in. It is fascinating to watch her be nasty as she does it with such panache. She very nearly steals the movie from Claude Raines - I know I sure missed her when she got killed - the movie wasn't nearly as exciting with her gone. All in all it is a good noir. In fact, very good for a "Laura" knockoff.
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