US Release Date: 11-14-1941
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
- Cary Grant, as
- Johnnie Aysgarth
- Joan Fontaine, as
- Lina McLaidlaw Aysgarth
- Cedric Hardwicke, as
- General McLaidlaw
- Nigel Bruce, as
- Dame May Whitty, as
- Mrs. McLaidlaw
- Isabel Jeans, as
- Mrs. Newsham
- Heather Angel, as
- Ethel - Maid
- Auriol Lee, as
- Isobel Sedbusk
- Reginald Sheffield, as
- Reggie Wetherby
- Leo G. Carroll as
- Captain Melbeck
Cary Grant and Joan Fontaine take a fateful drive.
Suspicion was the first of four movies that Cary Grant starred in for director Alfred Hitchcock. Notorious, To Catch a Thief and North by Northwest are the others. It is also the weakest and least remembered of the quartet. This was just the 2nd American movie for Hitch and the second that starred Joan Fontaine as his female lead.
She had been nominated for an Oscar the year before for that movie (Rebecca) but lost out to Ginger Rogers in Kitty Foyle. The Academy made up to her by bestowing the award on her for this movie in what is an inferior performance. Ironically, Fontaine beat out her sister Olivia de Havilland (the only time two sisters have been nominated against each other) who was up for Hold Back the Dawn. This was the beginning of a family feud that continues to this day. For the record Bette Davis should have won for The Little Foxes.
Fontaine plays Lina, the daughter of a wealthy British General, who is well on her way to spinsterhood when she unexpectedly meets the handsome and debonair Johnnie (Grant) on a train. After a whirlwind courtship they marry and almost immediately Lina begins having regrets.
Johnnie, it turns out, is a compulsive gambler and liar. He sells two antique chairs, family heirlooms given to Lina as a present from her father, in order to pay off his debts and spend some time at the track. Eventually things grow more sinister as Lina begins to suspect that Johnnie is responsible for the death of his best chum and finally that he is plotting to kill her to collect the insurance money.
There are some trademark Hitchcock touches such as the use of the shadows cast by the crisscrossing bars of the windows in Johnnie and Lina’s mansion that evokes a spider web and symbolizes Lina becoming entangled in Johnnies’ trap. And Hitchcock must be credited with giving Cary Grant the chance to play against type here.
This is certainly the darkest role he had played up to that time. And while he brings his usual suave self to the part the way it is written seems contrived. The famous ending, where Johnnie and Lina take that fateful drive along the road on the edge of the cliff overlooking the sea, is patently ridiculous.
Spoiler Alert: The book ends with Lina’s suspicions being confirmed. Preview audiences couldn’t accept Grant as a psychopathic murderer. Their reaction caused the studio to insist on a pat happy ending against Hitchcock’s wishes. It ruins what should have been a masterpiece.
Cary Grant and Joan Fontaine in Suspicion
I agree Patrick. What a horrible ending! Had Hitchcock kept the original ending it may have flopped during it's initial release but over time would have made this all the more classic.
I have long been a Cary Grant fan. What movie buff is not? He plays this role perfectly. Even when lieing through his teeth he remains charmingly dishonest. Early on we see hints that he is, among other things, a gigolo, appearing in newspapers with socialites and wealthy women. Whenever he is at a gathering of the upper class, women flock to him. I bet the novel went into further details that the Hayes Code likely did not allow on screen.
He is really the only actor at the time who could have played this part so well. Clark Gable had the charm but not the refinement to be convincing in high society functions. James Cagney was too rough. Spencer Tracy too common looking. Jimmy Stewart too nice. The boyish charm of Errol Flynn may have worked but he lacked the screen presence of Grant.
Joan Fontaine was exquisitely average in looks. She is beautiful here but lacks any uniqueness. She did not have Jean Harlow's chutzpah or Rita Hayworth's hair and smile. Her skin looks flawless and her cheek bones chiseled in granite. She is nicely slender and gives good face. She is adequate in every way, but not exceptional. She is a fine enough actress but not all that memorable.
Suspicion hurries through the early part of the film, where Grant and Fontaine fall in love after only a couple of conversations. I get that she is a middle aged virgin but all she needed was one man to talk to her to get her interested? Early on Grant stops her from going to church and takes her for a walk. The scene then skips to them alone on a hill as if they are fighting. Her jacket comes off, and it truly seems as if something was edited out. See picture.
After they get married, Fontaine discovers Grant is unemployed. It never occurred to her to ask until after the honeymoon, that lasted for weeks? She then gets miffed that he is in debt, yet rents them a large home with a maid. She never even considers letting the maid go and clean the house herself. She even keeps a horse for riding. She thinks of Grant as irresponsible yet she keeps getting an allowance from her father even though she is now married. She never even contemplates employment herself, yet spends money she herself says they do not have.
Once she becomes suspicious of Grant the film becomes slightly tense, but also a little ridiculous. While playing Scrabble with Grant and a friend, she starts to think that Grant is going to kill his friend because she coincidentally spells "MURDER" with her letter pieces as Grant tells his friend they have to go out to their property the next day that has foreboding looking cliffs.
Suspicion starts as a simple film about a woman marrying beneath her only to have her opinion of her husband get lower with every passing day. She learns of his employment problems and his gambling addiction. She mostly just keeps a stiff upper lip and rides it all out. I never felt too sorry for her. She saw all the clues and hints along the way but chose to ignore her suspicion.
Cary Grant keeps to the shadows in Alfred Hitchcock's Suspicion.
Joan Fontaine's Academy Award for this part turned out to be the only Oscar ever won by an actor in a Hitchcock film. It's a pity as she didn't deserve it for this over the top, fairly hammy performance. Perhaps as you say Patrick, it was merely the Academy's way of paying her back for skipping her the year before. In any case, she certainly didn't deserve it for this, as Eric describes, merely adequate performance.
The biggest problem with changing the ending of the story is that the identity of the protagonist becomes muddled. Fontaine's Lina has a hyperactive imagination who lets her suspicions run away with her and Grant's Johnnie is a bounder and a cad at the very least. He professes his unending love for her, but then keeps secrets from her and sells the chairs, even though she has just told him that they were two of the most precious items her family ever owned.
I'm a huge Cary Grant fan and while I was glad to see him have the opportunity to branch out into a different type of role, I definitely prefer him in lighter fare. He had such an easy going charm and style about him that there's no problem in seeing him as a likable rogue, but then the story takes a darker turn. It was very odd to see him in a sinister light and the ending is a complete betrayal of that, rendering all that suspicion meaningless.
Both Grant and Fontaine were English born, but had spent time in America learning to lose their accents, but were cast here as English characters. Ironically they still weren't permitted to use their real accents. Grant talks in that accent of his that doesn't sound like any accent heard of before or since, while Fontaine just sounds sophisticated.
I might have been able to forgive more of the movie's faults if it wasn't so extremely melodramatic. The music swells on cue whenever something dramatic happens and there are plenty of closeups of Fontaine as she reacts to something that she thinks is horrible. It is these types of moments that exemplify the worst aspects of old movies to me.
With Grant in the lead and Hitchcock behind the camera, there are a few moments of enjoyment in the film, but not enough. Thankfully they would work together again on much more entertaining projects.
Photos © Copyright RKO Radio Pictures (1941)