Saturday, July 23, 2011

Suspicion (1941)

Joan Fontaine wonders if her husband (Cary Grant)
is trying to kill her in this Hitchcock classic.
For her performance in this Hitchcock classic, Joan Fontaine received an Oscar, considered to be an apology from the Academy for snubbing her the previous year in Rebecca - also directed by Alfred Hitchcock. In reality, if there were a make-up Oscar to be awarded for Suspicion, it should have gone to Cary Grant, who also got snubbed by the Academy the year before for his performance in The Philadelphia Story  (the Oscar went to his co-star James Stuart, a move that is almost universally regarded as a mistake). Ironically, Grant would not only get passed over again in 1941, but he would also be denied the statuette again in 1942 after giving one of his most powerful performances in Penny Serenade.  Of the three films, however, perhaps this one best showcases his great versatility as an actor.

As good as Fontaine is in her role of protagonist in this film, it is Grant who sells it for us.  For this movie to work at all, we must feel that Fontaine's suspicion of Grant is warranted, and thus Grant must appear to be equally guilty and innocent, and intriguing mixturn e of good and evil. Fortunately for the audience, Cary Grant can be menacing just as well as he can be charming and the result is an oft-overlooked gem in the Hitchcock cannon.

Part of this brilliant ambiguity, however, stems both from Hitchcock's great directing prowess and the fact that the film producers honestly didn't know whether or not to make Grant's character a murderer. This resulted in the need to shoot the movie in a manner that would support both endings, a ploy which, as I intimated, keeps us guessing along with Fontaine.

From the very first scene, we are aware along with Joan Fontaine's character that Grant is a bit of a bounder, but we can't help liking him anyway for his roguish impudence and charm. A shy bookworm with no marriage prospects, Fontaine soon falls under his spell and decides to elope with him despite her parents' disapproval. Soon after the honeymoon, however, Fontaine learns that her new husband is drowning in gambling debts and mortgaging their future away in order to maintain the upper-class lifestyle they've both been used to. More disconcerting still, he seems to have counted on Fontaine's fortune being larger than what her parents want to give her, and upon her father's death, cannot hide his disappointment at her small inheritance.

Things become only worse when Fontaine learns that Grant has lost his job on account of embezzling a large sum of money, and he must either repay it soon or risk jail - all of which he had been concealing from her. Then there's the matter of his best friend's suspicious death right after they pooled their money into a corporation - and an Englishman matching Grant's description at the scene of the crime. And when Fontaine finds out that Grant has been checking into a life insurance policy on her, she fears that she will be his next victim.

My only real complaint about this movie is that despite great characterizations by Grant and Fontaine as well as a splendid supporting role by Nigel Bruce as Grant's ill-fated friend, we never really feel the same sense of danger that we do in Hitchcock's other movies. Like Fontaine, we can't figure out if the Grant's threat is real or imaginary, so we end up discounting some of the drama.

I give this film a 7.8 out 10, a solid Hitchcock outing, but not one of his finest works.

Buy it from Amazon:
Suspicion, Penny SerenadeThe Philadelphia Story (Two-Disc Special Edition)Rebecca

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