Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Suspicion (1941)

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Too much has been made of the fact that Hitchcock changed the ending of this film because the studio didn’t want it’s star, Cary Grant, portrayed as a murderer. It’s true of course, but it’s strange then that RKO was comfortable with the rest of the movie, in which Grant plays a complete shit.

In “Suspicion,” Joan Fontaine (in the only Oscar winning role in a Hitchcock film) plays “Lina,” a shy spinster who falls for “Johnny,” a charming playboy (Grant) and gradually learns he is a penniless gambler, using her family fortune to fund his habit. She believes he is planning to murder her to collect a life insurance policy. Yes, Lina could be suspicious of Johnny because he keeps stealing her money, but really, shouldn’t she be suspicious simply because he is expressing interest in her -- and she is a complete wet blanket? Lina is the friend who, when you’re packing a cooler, uses up all the room with fruits and vegetables ("I just want to make sure we have some healthy choices.") Thirty minutes into this, I'd kill Lina for free, Oscar notwithstanding.

The reason RKO showed about as much savvy as Lina going on a picnic is because Cary Grant is exceptionally watchable in this because it is such a different role for him. Grant, whose long, distinguished career featured role after role playing Cary Grant, should have played more murderers. Or at least problem gamblers, or whatever. Nigel Bruce plays Beaky, the dopey but lovable best friend, who is allergic to brandy. What, does that seem too trivial to mention? You'd think, but hoo-boy, when that groundwork is laid it’s about as subtle as a Hitchcock cameo (which, by the way, happens at a mailbox).

The ending that Hitchcock wanted would have been better and made a hell of a lot more sense. Based on his famous 1967 interviews with Fran├žois Truffaut, Hitchcock seems to have gone to his grave feeling like he caved in to the studio on the whole thing. However, as a melodrama, "Suspicion" works because the acting is directed well, not because of the plot. The regret was Hitchcock’s to carry, not ours. Fuck RKO, but still...recommended, even with the shitty ending.

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