SUSPICION - 1941
Cary Grant, Joan Fontaine
Fontaine plays a similar role to the one that won her an Oscar nom in Rebecca, the new wife swept up in love that blinds her to the truth of her husband. In my opinion, she does a better job in Rebecca, given the material. In Rebecca, her character has more of an ebb and flow of emotions about her husband, first love, then doubt, then support. In Suspicion, it is more of a gradual build up of doubt until the films conclusion. There are a few moments where her fears are allayed, but they are more brief moments of misunderstanding.
Cary Grant is perfect for the role of the suave playboy with something to hide, but his role was handicapped by reasons I’ll mention in a moment.
Hitchcock amps up the suspense in several masterful ways, as when the couple plays scrabble with Grant’s friend, the words spelling out “doubt” and “murder.” Fontiane pieces it all together when she sees a photo of the high cliffs where she suspects Grant will murder his friend and can only faint in shock. The suspense rises further at a dinner party where Grant discusses with his favorite mystery author the uses of poison to murder someone. You see, Johnnie likes to read up on books about perfect murders, poisons that are untraceable and such. “If you're going to kill someone, do it simply,” he says. That scene is followed closely by the couple going home, where Grant takes a long walk with a glass of milk. Hitchcock placed a battery operated light inside the milk so that it glows eerily in the dark.
As great as the acting in this film is (Fontaine would be the only actor in a Hitchcock film to win an Oscar), the movie is inherently flawed by the fact that the ending was changed. Originally Fontaine’s suspicions were confirmed, that her husband was indeed a murderer, but like Rebecca, Hitchcock was forced to change the ending. Whereas the studio could never portray Lawrence Olivier as a murderer, they told Hitchock that he had to do the same for Cary Grant’s character. Supposedly they even tried to cut out every scene that Grant seemed evil, before realizing that cut of the film was only 55 minutes. They put most of it back, but the ending is a cop-out with Fontaine realizing that Johnny wasn’t going to murder her, in essence, her “suspicions” were unfounded, which makes the film more a study in paranoia than in actual terror. While it is still enjoyable the way it is, I can’t help but wonder how it would have been if her suspicions had some basis in fact. All that fear and paranoia building up to a scene of them driving home with their arms around each other. Not how a Hitchcock film should end.
As a side note, Will Smith has expressed a desire to remake the film, taking Cary Grant’s role. He ruined Richard Matheson’s I am Legend, I hope he doesn’t ruin Hitchcock too. “Welcome to Earph.” I hope Will Smith dies of Ghonorreah and burns in Hell.
Tomorrow’s film… 1942’s Saboteur…