March 3, 2008
Suspicion (1941)
Grade: 90/100

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Stars: Cary Grant, Joan Fontaine, Nigel Bruce

What it's about. Beautiful heiress Joan Fontaine is courted by charming ne'er-do-well Cary Grant. They are wed, but it is quickly revealed he is financially irresponsible. She gradually suspects that he is trying to murder her, to collect on her life insurance. Her suspicions are only increased when Grant's best friend, the affable Nigel Bruce, dies in a mysterious accident.

How others will see it. Suspicion is one of Hitchcock's ten best films, but it ranks considerably lower among fans of the director. This may be because Fontaine's character dominates the movie, and is so similar to (yet somewhat less convincing) than her character in Hitchcock's Rebecca, made the year before.

Undoubtedly, if Hitchcock had been allowed to turn Grant into the complete monster he was in the source novel, the film would be more popular today. But 1941 audiences might not have been ready for such a movie, and that could have had a negative impact on Hitchcock's later, laudatory career.

That said, classic film fans have much to cherish, including every moment that Grant, Fontaine, or Bruce is onscreen. Which is to say, essentially every shot in the movie. It may be difficult for some to accept Fontaine's lovely yet timid and breathless character. Yet she was so good at playing it, which is why she won a Best Actress Oscar for Suspicion, and why she played yet another knock-off of the character in Jane Eyre (1944).

How I felt about it. Suspicion was the first outstanding film that Hitchcock made after Rebecca, and while it was not quite up to the phenomenal quality of the latter film, it proved that Hitchcock had little need for hands-on producer David O. Selznick. Although Hitchcock's productivity included a number of misfires, he also directed many good and great films, through Psycho in 1960.

Hitchcock has to be considered the greatest film director of all time, although he receives stiff competition from Stanley Kubrick, particularly in terms of variety. Many of Hitchcock's films share common plot elements, especially the Wrong Man accused of a murder. This theme is present in Suspicion, as well. Fontaine suspects Grant of murdering Bruce, and of plotting to murder her. With good reason, since Grant's character did murder her in the source novel by Anthony Berkeley Cox, "Before the Fact."

He would have killed her in the film as well were it not for RKO Radio, which did not want to sour Cary Grant's formidable box office prowess by portraying him a killer. Although such a character never seemed to hurt Humphrey Bogart's career. The cop-out ending, from the point of view of Hitchcock, may have hurt its appeal with classic film fans. But it has little effect on the quality of the movie, which after all runs for 99 minutes and has only one final minute that changes the film's perspective.

One curiosity about Suspicion is the age of the actress who plays Fontaine's mother, Dame May Whitty. She was born in 1865, just two months after Lincoln's assassination. She was 76 in 1941, 52 years older than Fontaine. Fontaine's on-screen father, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, was a more reasonable age of 48.