Movie Reviewed by Brian Ludovico, Disc Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 14, 2016)
After back-to-back viewings of Hitchcock “Signature Collection” members Dial M for Murder and Foreign Correspondent - and knowing Strangers on a Train waited in the wings - I startedto wonder when I’d encounter the inevitable stinker. Not that I wanted to find one, mind you, but no matter how great a legend may be, even the best flop occasionally. Heck, even Mickey Mantle hit .237 one year.
To avoid a clunker if possible, I decided to stick with what appeared to be a safe bet: 1941’s Cary Grant and Joan Fontaine vehicle Suspicion. Grant was fantastic in some of my favorite Hitchcock “hall of fame” movies like Notorious and North By Northwest, and Fontaine was fresh off the lead in Rebecca. So much for the safe bet, because folks, Suspicion is a stinker, especially in Hitchcock terms.
The film boasts a good premise. A woman falls in love with a man whom she knows very little about, only to make some disturbing connections about him in her own mind, and start to suspect that he might be a murderer.
It’s sort of Spellbound meets Shadow of a Doubt. Johnny (Grant) and Lina (Fontaine) become acquainted when a group of single women in a rural English town introduce them on their way to church. Lina has had her eye on Johnny for a few days, as he always appears in the society pages of the local paper, and they’d encountered each other a couple of days earlier.
Johnny hijacks her on the way to church. He takes her for a walk, where after what appears to be a violent struggle, they begin a flirtation with almost as much electricity as a wet noodle. It ends with a kiss that’s supposed to be passionate, but really just isn’t.
Johnny goes away for a while, leaving Lina to yearn for him and wait for his phone call. Because he’s a total player, he doesn’t ring her for three weeks.
When he does call, they reunite, and Johnny demands that she marry him. Mind you, they’ve spent all of a few hours together, and this is only ten minutes into the movie.
Because she’s a spinster, she agrees, and they go on a whirlwind European honeymoon. When they get back, they arrive at a palatial home, fully staffed with servants. Lina is thrilled…until a telegram arrives demanding that Johnny pay back a thousand pounds he borrowed to go on the honeymoon.
Lina gets a little unsettled, and starts to ask Johnny why he married her. More specifically, she wants to know if her father’s fortune had anything to do with it. Surprisingly, the brash, arrogant Johnny tells her that yes, it had a lot to do with it. This immediately raises Lina’s suspicions, and when her father passes away, she fears for her life. Is he a pathological liar and a murderer, or is she just a paranoid bookworm who reads too many mystery novels?
Sounds pretty promising, right? Perhaps that promise only contributes to how disappointed I was by the film. It’s like watching a super-talented wide receiver who takes plays off in the middle of the game. It’s ugly because of the limitless potential he has.
So what goes wrong in Suspicion? In Foreign Correspondent, the love angle was such a secondary story line that its hastiness was only a minor annoyance. It wasn’t the film’s raison d’etre. In Suspicion, a hasty love story is the crux of the entire story.
No matter how many movies do it, I will never believe that within fifteen minutes of screen time, two people can go from complete strangers to wedded bliss. Because of that, I can’t ever really get into the Johnny/Lina relationship. Because she doesn’t know him at all, she shouldn’t be surprised at anything Johnny does. The lack of chemistry onscreen completely undermines any possibility that Johnny is in love with Lina, which wouldn’t have been such a problem if it weren’t for the ending.
The original ending that Hitch wanted would have really helped this film’s shortcomings, but studios wouldn’t let it happen. Hitchcock was so convinced that he’d be able to get his way that he actually filmed much of the story without the finale completely done. He figured once he got there, the studio would say “go ahead.” Instead, he had to write an ending that just doesn’t feel like it fits a Hitchcock movie. It’s far too “happily ever after”, and it lets all the characters off the hook. To be frank, I absolutely hated it.
The ending and the relationships aren’t the only problems; they’re just the most obvious ones. There’s far too much soap opera technique here, with an overloaded swelling score and a ton of accompanying earnest looks from Lina that are meant to convey pretty much any emotion. The film takes a long time to really get rolling, and when it does, it ends inside of fifteen minutes.
The performances are uncharacteristically over-the-top, particularly Fontaine’s quivering Lina, which only makes it more shocking that she actually took home the Academy Award for this role. There’s little humor in the story, something decidedly unusual for this director.
To me, the film’s only saving grace is the injection of life that Johnny’s old school chum Beaky (Nigel Bruce) brings to the story. The film’s most ably played character is the main vestige of comedy in the film, and Bruce plays him with a perfect combination of British charm and ill-timing. His interactions with Lina are the best scenes in the film not involving a glowing glass of milk, the only moment in the film that feels uniquely Hitchcock. Otherwise, Suspicion is a forgettable entry that is best skipped over for its many superior brethren.