Throughout the entire span of one’s own movie-watching career (for lack of a better word), there are always going to be films that get missed by individuals. Some of these celluloid efforts that escape a person’s experience are even considered “classics.” It’s just the nature of the beast. Considering all the releases that have been produced throughout history, it’s impossible to see everything, especially when one’s age is taken into consideration. Of course, I’m referring specifically to myself. I was born well after what would be considered Hollywood’s Golden Age, so it’s only natural that I’m a touch behind the viewing curve when it comes to the entire breadth of classic cinema (though, in my defense, I feel I’m way ahead of many folks my age). However, in researching a piece for “anti-Valentine’s Day films,” it dawned on me that I have never seen Alfred Hitchcock’s Suspicion. So, I recently set aside some time to view this supposed masterpiece. Here are my thoughts:
Now, first of all, don’t get me wrong. I don’t consider myself to be completely oblivious to the genius of Hitchcock, and I agree that he certainly was a master. Of course I’ve seen The Birds and Psycho. I’ve also been lucky enough to delve a bit deeper into the catalog with Spellbound, Rear Window, Vertigo, etc. They’re all fantastic, and quite frankly, Suspicion is pretty good, too. However, I’m not so sure it’s quite the “classic” many purport it to be. It’s at least far from Hitchcock’s best.
OK, first the good stuff. Everyone is well aware of Hitchcock’s incredible ability to manipulate his audience, and no one needs me to wax poetic about the director’s talent. Suffice it to state that this particular methodology is in full force here. The story revolves around Joan Fontaine’s growing paranoia regarding the actions of her new suave husband, Cary Grant. It seems that Grant may or may not be up to some nefarious dealings, and Fontaine eventually comes to suspect that her spouse (who she actually knows very little about) is out to murder her for insurance money. Naturally, Hitchcock keeps everyone unsure of the truth until the climax of the film. Who knew that a simple glass of milk could be so sinister? Grant also deserves much of the credit for making the film work. I’ve always maintained that he was one smooth operator. People most often use the word, “ambiguous” when describing his performance in Suspicion, and they couldn’t be more right. Grant plays the part so brilliantly and stoically right down the middle that the most enjoyable part of the movie is trying to guess which way he’s leaning.
Conversely, Fontaine is reduced to a blubbering mess as a woman at her wit’s end. Fontaine garnered the 1941 Best Actress Oscar for her performance here, and she definitely did a fine job. However, her turn was certainly indicative of the era. I’m not going to judge Fontaine harshly just because her popularity as actress occurred during a time that has long since passed (discounting her numerous TV appearances during the ‘80s), but looking at her character portrayal in Suspicion with some distance and perspective, it does come off as a bit hammy, especially considering the Oscar-winning performances of more modern times by fellow actresses such as Halle Berry, Charlize Theron and Hilary Swank. Many also consider Fontaine’s golden statue to be a consolation prize for not winning the previous year for her turn in Hitchcock’s Rebecca. This makes perfect sense, because as proven throughout history, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has done this many times.
Furthermore, it’s necessary to discuss the studio interference Hitchcock encountered during the making of this film to properly see this film objectively. Outside influences and the powers in authority just couldn’t stomach Hitchcock’s original (and more diabolical) ending and made him change it to something much safer. While the climax of the movie that we are all stuck with isn’t completely horrible, it certainly isn’t very “Hitchcockian.” It also turns the effort into something a little too simple and anti-climactic, negating much of the suspense that has been built up to that point. In summation, Suspicion is without question a solid movie, especially considering the year it was made, but it’s perhaps time for film buffs to start viewing it with a touch of perspective and ease up on all the gushing. I’ll give it three stars out of five.