Feb. 25, 2008

The Unsuspected (1947)
Grade: 67/100

Director: Michael Curtiz
Stars: Claude Rains, Joan Caulfield, Ted North

What it's about. The Unsuspected is a murder mystery. The film opens with the murder of Claude Rains' secretary. Rains is a velvet-voiced radio personality who specializes in murder mysteries. He lives a lavish lifestyle in a mansion owned by beautiful heiress Joan Caulfield. Caulfield adores the eloquent Rains, unaware he is spending all her money.

He is joined in this activity by two other freeloaders, obnoxious socialite Audrey Totter and her alcoholic husband, Hurd Hatfield. Michael (Ted) North shows up as a mystery man who claims to be Caulfield's husband. Constance Bennett rounds out the cast as Rains' show producer. Fred Clark is a police detective, and a friend of Mr. Rains.

How others will see it. Michael Curtiz, of course, directed Casablanca, which is widely (and deservedly) hailed as among the finest movies ever made. The Unsuspected doesn't rise to the same level, but it is great fun, especially when it looks like the murderer really is going to get away with it. Don't worry, though, nobody ever gets away with anything while the Production Code is on the job.

Classic film fans are in for a treat. Rains is as diabolical as he is polite. Caulfield enjoys one of her best roles. The only folks who will turn away from this film are those who won't give it a chance. It is, after all, filmed in black and white.

How I felt about it. The Unsuspected is a bit like Laura (1944), a better and better known film noir mystery. We have a beautiful dead woman who isn't dead, and an aging radio personality who goes around killing people who interfere with his plans for her. She is rescued by a heroic, romantic stranger. The difference in this movie is that Rains isn't motivated by love. He's just greedy.

A few things don't quite work. The first murder, of Rains' secretary, seems unnecessary. And Rains can't possibly expect to get away with five murders, three of which [would] occur in his own house. Rains' penchant for saving incriminating recordings is Nixonesque. And Caulfield seems easily led for an adult woman who must have been fending off passes since she was in middle school.

The Unsuspected is notable as the one big movie for Ted North, billed as Michael North in the film. His opening credit reads, "And Introducing Michael North." Michael who? Well, it turns out it that the Audie Murphy lookalike was at the end of his career. The Unsuspected is his very last film. Although introduced here, this was actually his 21st movie, which included bit parts in two great movies, The Mark of Zorro and The Ox-Bow Incident, as well as many lesser projects.

North made movies steadily through 1944, presumably enlisted or was drafted, then returned to make two 1947 releases. The same year, he divorced his wife, then went into complete obscurity. Ted or Michael North, where are you today?