(USA - 1941)

by Vanes Naldi & Mike Lorefice

Cast: Cary Grant, Joan Fontaine, Nigel Bruce, Cedric Hardwicke, Dame May Whitty, Isobel Sedbusk
Genre: Mystery/Thriller
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay: Samson Raphaelson, Joan Harrison, & Alma Reville based on Anthony Berkeley's novel Before The Fact
Cinematography: Harry Stradling, Sr.
Composer: Franz Waxman
Runtime: 99 minutes

"I'm honest because with you I think it's the best way to get results" - Johnnie Aysgarth

Vanes: It takes all of 30 seconds for the brilliance of Alfred Hitchcock to be displayed in this film. With only one scene, he generates a though and feeling, explains something about his characters, and reveals some information. When John and Lina first meet in the train, the man begins his first "con" trying to pretend he paid for a first class ticket and got a third class one. We instantly start to have our doubts about John, and such suspicions will come back to haunt us for the duration of the film.

Some people consider this as one of the "worst" Hitchcock films because of the finale, manipulated by RKO because they didn't want their "golden boy" Cary Grant as a killer. First of all, is it really fair to condemn Hitchcock's work after 90 minutes of brilliance just because the studio forced Alfred to change the ending? The ending's shock value, subtlety, and lack of convention balance off what the climax loses in tension (for the time).

Mike: I actually like the ending, at least in theory. It raises the movie from a very good tale of a conniver that went farther than you initially expected to one that puts the burden on both selfish parties. Johnny's actual intentions are kept so mysterious that you are left wondering if this was how Johnny envisioned their ride going. Perhaps he had a change of heart, perhaps he didn't, perhaps Hitch isn't even sure. In any case, while the studio's meddling doesn't help for the reason they meddled, the grey area is more compelling to me than I believe Hitchcock's original vision would have been. The problem with the ending though is it feels somewhat rushed and lacks the heart and energy you get from one of Hitchcock's own endings. That said, in retrospect the information building up to a different conclusion differentiates the piece from Hitchcock's other films like the brilliant Rear Window.

Vanes: The reason the ending makes sense, even if it could have been realized better, is that from start to finish we see the plot unfold through Lina's point of view. There isn't a single scene where we see plot advancement that does not include Lina.

Mike: It gives the movie about as much of a Rashomon quality as you can have without presenting the story from the other witnesses perspectives. Actually there are a couple scenes that aren't from Lina's point of view, and they happen to be a few of the most effective in the movie. They provide balance and give you insight into Johnnie, but are done in a manner that's so open for interpretation. Take for instance the early scene where Johnnie sees Lina for the second time, this time riding a horse. We get a close-up of her face that could be construed as establishing Johnnie's attraction to her. However, it could also mean that she's just been singled out for his next scheme. After Hitchcock has put the idea that Johnnie married Lina for her money into our heads, her father dies but only leaves Lina his portrait because he considered Johnnie a gold digger. Johnnie is obviously dismayed and immediately excuses himself saying, "I could do with a drink." After pouring himself one, he theoretically toasts with the old man's portrait and says, "You win old boy." One could take this as Johnnie's confession to the dead man's portrait, but what Lina's father wanted was for Johnnie to earn his own money to support them. By providing no additional revenue source, he's forced a realization on Johnnie's part that means the perpetual debtor must continue trying to find or create his own income.

Vanes: We don't get to see John betting on the races nor do we see him leave for London or Paris. We just see what Lina sees or wants to see, what she believes and SUSPECTS. We start having doubts about John with Lina, and come to her conclusions, but is that really the truth? Or is there any other facet, another side of the coin?

Mike: We get an idea of the way Lina pieces information together in the scene where she's playing scrabble with Johnnie and Beaky. She combines the information she has with the words they've made that lie in front of her - doubt, doubtful, and murder - to form an image of Johnnie's upcoming action. This image is Johnnie pushing Beaky off a cliff so he can keep Beaky's money that was going to be used for their real estate and development project.

Vanes: When Lina MacKinlaw (Joan Fontaine), a rich, unmarried young woman meets playboy John Aysgarth (Cary Grant), she's instantly captured by his charm. Not only she is captured, but WE are together with her. Cary Grant is perfect as the cocky stylish playboy who always gets what he wants through charisma and charm.

Mike: Grant is so smooth and quick on his feet. There's a lot to dislike about his totally irresponsible and untruthful Johnnie, but you can see why no woman can resist Johnnie because aside from his looks he always knows the right thing to say and the right way to act. He's sophisticated, suave, witty, and very personable; doing pretty much anything that'll work to his advantage. These characteristics are the kind of things Ian Flemming had in mind when he modeled the James Bond character after Grant. I get a kick out of the part where Beaky prods Lina to ask Johnnie what happened to her beloved heirloom chairs so he can see the best of Johnnie. "He doesn't need more than one second to invent the most howling lie you ever heard," says Beaky.

Vanes: Their second meeting happens on a hill with John trying to act his part and kiss Lina. In this simple scene, Hitchcock gives us a hint of what Lina fears. Instantly, as we see John coming close to her, the scene cuts to her hands, frantically closing her purse. What this smartly teaches us is that Lina hasn't found love yet because she's afraid men will take her for her money. She can't believe in true sentiments. Even if she's attracted by John, her first, basic instinct is to close the purse, to protect herself.

Mike: Her skepticism about her mysterious lover is quickly established, but counterpointed by scenes where she refuses to believe anything bad anyone else says about Johnnie. She makes little attempt to have interaction with Johnnie that will get to know the real person, perhaps because she fell in love with him immediately and fears he won't love her (at all then anymore) if she demands the truth from him. This does not stop her from seeking the truth; it simply prevents her from letting him or anyone else know about it. Her constant snooping is the only way she forms her truth. You can see why she does it, as Johnnie is one of those people you can never know when to believe, but in a way it makes her as deceitful as he is. All the "truths" she finds are just bits and pieces of things he did and didn't tell her about. This information is then filtered through her skepticism, paranoia, and so forth. Ultimately, the point the movie makes is that facts can add up to the truth, but certainly are not automatically equal to it.

Vanes: They eventually marry, and John chooses a splendid, almost haunting house for them. When Lina questions John on such a huge financial decision, he changes the context to take himself and his wishes out of the discussion. The first doubts start to evolve, is he able to afford such a beautiful, expensive house? He confesses, "Monkeyface, I've been broke all my life." He just wanted to give his loved one the best possible thing he could. When Lina asks him how he'd pay for it, he cringes at the words "find a job" and starts introducing the idea that Lina's parents could help them. What Lina and the viewer comes to understand is that John's just a lazy, dreamy big "kid" who doesn't want to grow up, doesn't want to take responsibility for anything.

Mike: I love Johnnie's response when the idea of him getting a job is brought up, "Work? What do you mean, put on old clothes, go out with a shovel?" The concept is not only entirely foreign, but also totally unthinkable. Johnnie's strategy in life is to start out on top and find some way to hold this position. Most people consider on top as the person that has the most money or highest rank, but for Johnnie everything is about perception and image. He's always had some prestige and notoriety, been able to maintain an aura of class through wit, charm, and even a bit of luck He may not be rich, but one way or another he gets what he wants. He's a master at trapping people. He seizes his opportunity and forces them to have the guts to knock him down if they plan to deny him. Take the opening scene where he grabs the stamp out of Lina's hand while she's looking through her pocketbook for money to pay the difference in his "first class" ticket and then forces it on the ticket taker (Billy Bevan) asserting that it's legal tender. Clearly, Johnnie is a man that doesn't plan to wait for tomorrow to get what he wants or even to worry about tomorrow.

Vanes: Life goes on for the Aysgarth family: John has finally found a job and Lina is happy thinking she found her love, a man that wasn't interested in her family's money, just in HER. They even get a gift from her family, a set of old and beautiful chairs, that seemingly are passed on generation after generation.

Mike: Grant does a good job in the scene where he finds out their wedding gift is chairs. Johnnie was expecting something he could blow, not something he could use. Grant is able to show us his dismay without making the extent of it overly apparent to Lina. She knows they weren't what he was hoping for, but thinks he'll come to value them when he understands how much they mean to her and her family. Meanwhile, we understand that he can't wait to get rid of these things.

Vanes: An old friend of John's nicknamed "Beaky" (Nigel Bruce) visits them, and starts talking about his buddy John to Lina. He says things she doesn't want to hear, talking about his betting habits that she thinks he forgot to dedicate his life to her and his new job and the fact he's got this incredible charm that makes people do what he wants them to. When she meets Beaky inside the house, she finds that the chairs are missing, and instantly Beaky reminds her of John's betting habit. The doubts start becoming facts. John did sell the chairs to pay for "one last" bet that would pay all his debts and probably make his wife happy. When Lina finds her precious chairs in an antique shop and discovers John had lied to her (saying he sold the chairs for a lot of money to an outside investor), she storms home enraged, starting to believe that John wasn't the man she thought he was. Between that and finding more out about John's gambling habit, she can't believe that he fooled her for so long. All of this information starts building up, forming John's character not only on Lina's mind but also in our mind. We start thinking that indeed John married Lina because of money, and now he is out having fun gambling and making a joke out of Lina's faithful love.

When John comes home full of gifts, saying that he won a big bet 10 to 1, Lina can't believe her ears, but John was smart enough to buy back the chairs that were so important emotionally and historically for Lina. While the doubts still remain, we still have a feeling that John's just a childish big boy, maybe egotistical in the way he does things, but we'd never believe what would happen next. There are still doubts, but they don't become something important until Lina finds out the truth, the real truth about John. She finds out he lost his job, and robbed his boss of 2000 £. She can't believe how John has lied to her, but at least we start understanding what's going on. While the story still remains focused on Lina's POV, Hitchcock gives us other hints, other information that helps generate tension.

Mike: What really makes our skepticism mount is the scene in the car where she traps him into giving her the reason he was fired by Captain George Melbeck (Leo G. Carroll). Johnnie claims they simply didn't get along, putting the blame on the "old fogy" for being too out of touch to deal with his daring ideas. Clearly, Johnnie is an irresponsible person who lies to maintain his image and avoid having to own up to his failures.

Vanes: When John starts talking about his new project that would make him a lot of money, Lina is happy but her happiness clashes with her doubts when Beaky is mysteriously murdered the same day he was supposed to be away with John. She starts believing HE killed him, starts asking herself and the famous local crime author Isobel Sedbusk (Auriol Lee) questions. The tension builds, but once again, still looking at the story with Lina's eyes, we find out John was innocent.

Mike: Grant is very cold during the earlier scene where we find out that Beaky has a condition where drinking too much alcohol can kill him. Lina is all worried, trying to help him out by undoing Beaky's collar, but Johnnie tells her not to bother. "It'll either kill him or go away by itself," he asserts…"some day it will kill him." Although he seems to love the man he later describes as a "generous, goodhearted fool," the scene makes us believe he's capable of doing the unthinkable to the old chap.

Vanes: The rest of the film focuses around Lina's belief that John would kill her. I won't delve into the story, so you can discover the brilliance of this plot for yourself. However, what really stands out is the way Hitchcock gives us information to create the suspense. There's a scene with John offering Lina a glass of milk where the camera focuses on the glass, which is lit in a manner (a white light tube was inserted in the glass to make it stand out) where we KNOW that glass contains poison. This is one of the many ways Hitchcock can portray and generate tension. The great use of lighting, the great directing techniques all help bring the plot home and build up to the final climax.

The ending is surprising to most of the people because seemingly everything directs to a different ending, but it's completely plausible since we've been seeing everything through Lina's eyes. We don't know if everything we had seen was the truth, it was what Lina thought it was. While the ending felt a bit hasty and could have been done with more subtlety (it mainly lacked Hitchcock energy, perhaps because it was forced), it's effective, and for once, even if the novel ended differently, made Suspicion a better film.

The acting is strong, from the leads to the supporting cast. Cary Grant is incredibly effective conveying Lina's suspicion. He's frighteningly cocky, can be at times warm, but other times he has that "spark," that look that generates tension. Fontaine gives a strong performance highlighting Lina's fears and suspicion, and Nigel Bruce is great as the old buddy who knows the truth about John.

Mike: Fontaine does a good job of showing her paranoia and insecurity, but Grant carries the film. The changes she makes in her character might have been good then, but if they were they didn't stand the test of time. Her reactions certainly aren't the most plausible, and make the film come off somewhat lame and sappy although the writers are at fault for strapping her with the absolutely undying love bit that conflicts with her quest to know everything he's up to. I don't see any reason for Fontaine to beat out greats Bette Davis and Barbara Stanwyck for best actress, but Citizen Kane couldn't even win best picture so the bogus academy was typically consistent that year…

Vanes: The directing is obviously excellent, and plotmeister Hitchcock adds his little touches, little hints throughout the film that make the whole experience something really intriguing. The use of lighting, dark and shadows is excellent. The house seems almost haunted. While never touching Bernard Herrmann, the soundtrack by Franz Waxman is quite effective.

Mike: The biggest and simplest point if favor of Hitchcock's brilliant direction is how much he got out of this plot, which is rather basic and standard. This was not one of his greatest technical films, but there are enough moments of brilliance to make it worth seeking out.

Vanes: This is not Hitchcock's best, but it's an excellent film highlighting the tension and suspicion by using half-truths and justifiable conclusions as plot devices to generate suspense. An entertaining, extremely well realized Hitchcock work. 

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