Sunday, May 13, 2012


I decided to watch Alfred Hitchcock's Suspicion for a few reasons.  First and foremost, I enjoy Hitchcock's work.  Not far behind that, I have come to the conclusion that it's never a poor choice to watch a Cary Grant film.  Thanks to the seemingly infinite supply of movies available to me (my own massive collection, Netflix by mail, on-demand streaming, etc.) I have been primarily watching films I have never seen before, often with very little in the way of foreknowledge.  That is fine most of the time, but I've had some bad luck with picking random Hitchcock movies to watch (read: they weren't classics) for this blog.  Will Suspicion break that trend?

Lina (Joan Fontaine) is well on her way to spinsterhood.  Yes, her case is hopeless, since she has no suitors, appears to not want any suitors, and she has reached the ripe old age of mmmaybe twenty-five (and that's pushing it).  Oh, and did I mention that she reads a lot and wears glasses?  Who would want to marry someone so repellant?
Disgusting!  I think I just puked in my mouth a little!
One day, Lina is singled out by the irrepressible cad Johnnie (Cary Grant), an infamous playboy.  For reasons that Lina is unclear on, Johnnie finds her abrasiveness appealing.  Very soon, Johnnie is courting Lina --- despite her family's misgivings --- and he finds all sorts of ways to woo her; he compliments her lower neck, he grooms her, and he nicknames her Monkey Face.
Johnnie, checking Monkey Face for delicious lice
That proves too much for Lina to deny and the two elope.  After a luxurious honeymoon, the pair move into a fancy new home together.  All of this would be wonderful, if not for the fact that Johnnie doesn't have a pot to piss in.  Somehow, the subject of money never came up in their courtship, and now both of them are unemployed without being independently wealthy.  That's not strictly true, I suppose; Monkey Face is the daughter of a wealthy old man (Cedric Hardwicke), so she should inherit some money someday.  In the meantime, though, Johnnie spends money he doesn't have quickly and frivolously, dodging creditors and lying with a smile whenever the subject of money comes up.  But when Lina's father dies under suspicious circumstances and doesn't leave Lina any money (not as long as she's married to that cad!), a darker side of Johnnie starts creeping in.  There is nothing concrete to indicate that Johnnie is up to no good, but Lina soon begins to piece together circumstantial evidence to arrive at a disturbing conclusion --- Johnnie is trying to kill her!
Literally spelling it out?  Subtle.

Hitchcock films are not famous for the acting performances, but Suspicion features the only Oscar-winning acting role from any Hitchcock film.  Joan Fontaine won Best Actress as Lina.  Personally, I don't get it.  Fontaine spent a good portion of the film making tragic faces away from Cary Grant.
Now, repeat thirty more times
I also didn't like the overall message of the character, but I'll touch on that in a bit.  From a performance standpoint, Fontaine was pretty good, but a touch melodramatic.  I've read a few opinions that her Oscar win was a belated award for her work in Rebecca, though, which does help explain this a bit.  Cary Grant being excellent definitely balanced out the unevenness of Fontaine's character.  Grant was his normal charming self for the most part, but it was interesting seeing him shift into the more serious moments.  The screenplay doesn't go as far with that darkness as I might have liked, but it's a good example of Grant's depth.
Shifty eyes, sinister milk
The rest of the cast was made up of character actors.  Cedric Hardwicke and May Whitty were okay as Lina's parents.  Heather Angel was fine as the pretty maid and Isabel Jeans was okay as one of the local gossips.  The only supporting character that really stuck out to me was the pleasantly dim chum to Johnnie, Beaky, played by Nigel Bruce.  It's difficult to play a clueless character without resorting to base physical humor or Dude, Where's My Car? idiocy, but Bruce was convincing as a man who could be counted on to always say the exact wrong thing.
"A toast: to whores --- a husband's best investment!"

As for the direction, Suspicion shows Alfred Hitchcock refining his craft.  There are a lot of clever bits in this movie, and most of them are extremely subtle.  The most memorable shot is of the possibly poisoned milk Johnnie brings Lina; the way it stays so brilliantly white while Johnnie is in shadows played perfectly into the tension of that scene.  There are other, less striking, examples of Hitchcock's craftiness, though.  I really liked how the plausibility of Lina's suspicions were handled; the point-of-view in this film was so definitely Lina's that the audience never sees Johnnie in a scene without her.  Who knows what he was up to when he was off-camera?  There was also the technical feat of superimposing Lina's face over an imagined tragedy, which looked very good for the time period.  Perhaps the greatest feat by Hitchcock in this film was how much he let the film rest on the shoulders of the main actors.  This is easily the most character-driven film of his I have seen and it was interesting to see him allow two flawed characters the room to grow.

The flaws in Suspicion are not just with the characters, though.  The ending is pretty terrible.  There are dozens of articles online about the supposed original or proposed alternate endings to the film, but I just want to focus on what made the final cut.  If you take the explanations given at face value, you are left with a huge anticlimax.  To say it is out of left field would be generous; I immediately drew comparisons to the end of Poochie from The Simpsons
If you choose to disbelieve the explanations given --- and that would be going against the obvious intent of the filmmakers --- then the ending's tone was off to an unsettling degree.  Whichever way you interpret the ending, I think it can be agreed that it is underwhelming, at best.  My larger problem with the film is the condescension that underlies the story.  If I was a woman, this movie would seriously piss me off.  Even if you choose to ignore Lina's willingness to turn a blind eye to just about everything with a passiveness that defies logic, there is still the whole concept of SPOILER: everything suspicious about Johnnie being her own fanciful imagination.  Really?  That's the explanation that ties up this plot with a little bow?  She's a woman and women are batshit crazy?  If that's the argument that the filmmakers want to propose, I'm fine with that --- it could be hilarious --- but it shouldn't be the key component to a twist ending.  The film seems to be building to such a promising end that the actual finale is incredibly disappointing.  The movie's not bad, but that ending nearly ruined it for me.

Check out this Belgian movie poster I found online for Suspicion!  Is it just me, or does it look like a dead Hitch next to Mr. Rogers?  Stick to beer, Belgians.  Movie posters are not your forte.

1 comment:

  1. Good call on Bruce's performance. I never really thought about how difficult it is to pull off that role.

    While not ideal, I was not as terribly disappointed by the ending. (It is almost the opposite of the typical 1970's ending.) SPOILER: I think is was more that Johnnie is definitely a shady character, but she read into his dealings a but much. I do not think it was meant to make her look insane, as much as it was to show that when you are married to a shady huckster, your imagination can grow (an insane amount of convenient circumstance certainly does not hurt either).

    But if he was going with the whole "chicks are batshit crazy," then I can get behind that as well.