First Time Watch: Suspicion

SuspicionThroughout 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.

 

Alfred Hitchcock's Suspicion 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.

  • Cappy

    This is a great movie. It is one of my favorites. A must for any cilection. Enjoy.

  • Michael Witt

    I agree. As a fan of Hitchcock movies, I was so disappointed in this one the first time I saw that I’ve never watched it again. I found myself wanting Fontaine to get killed and when she didn’t,I felt duped. All that suspense for this kind of ending? Near the bottom of my list for Hitchcock movies.

  • Steve in Sacramento

    Three out of five stars sounds about right. Just not as tight or compelling a screenplay as it could have been, and the ending is VERY disappointing.

    For perspective, my favorite Hitchcock movies, in no particular order:
    “Notorious”
    “Rear Window”
    “Vertigo”
    “Pyscho”
    In fact, those are among my very favorite movies of ANY director. A very close second place for “Shadow of a Doubt,” if mostly for atmosphere and Theresa Wright’s extremely appealing performance. (Following Shadow would probably be “The Birds” and “Strangers on a Train.”)
    I would suggest “Spellbound” as sort of similarly disappointing in a way as “Suspicion”–but Ingrid Bergman’s fantastic, and I’m still quite fond of it despite the slightly weaker concept.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1191621365 Patty Schneider

    The ending ruins Suspicion for me. It just does not work or fit with the rest of the film. I’d give it 2 and 1/2 stars. My favorite Hitchcock’s are pretty much the same as Steve’s (also in no particular order): Shadow of a Doubt, Notorious, Strangers on a Train, Rear Window, Vertigo, Psycho…tho I tend to favor Vertigo as Hitchcock’s ultimate tour de force…

  • David Kirby of San Juan Capistrano, CA

    Did you know that the scene in Suspicion where Grant is ascending the staircase toward the end was intensified by having a light bulb inside the suspect glass of milk? And yes, too bad Hitch was not allowed to give it his more satisfying and creative ending (but such was the power of censors and studio heads during the ’40s.

    My picks for unacknowledged Hitchs’ (availiable on dvds) would be the lesser known Foreign Correspondent 1940, 120 min. (nominated for 6 … count ‘em 6 … Academy Awards including Best Picture), the crackling good Saboteur with Bob Cummings, Priscilla Lane and Norman Lloyd (110 minutes) and Lifeboat (1944, 96 minutes a claustrophobic little thriller confined to survival in a container adrift in the Atlantic during World War II … and it garnered 3 Academy Award nominations)!

  • Mick

    Are you kidding? Neither Brian nor any of these other dummies even mentions “North by Northwest!” What gives??

  • Ellen Kent

    I am a huge fan of hitchcock, but “Suspicion” is not one of my favorites. I really love “Shadow of a Doubt”, “Rebecca”-love that Mrs. Dandridge! Also, I think my favorite is “Notorious”-Ingrid and Cary are almost incredibly too good-looking and I love every Claude Rains movie I’ve ever seen.

  • Phil Salsbery

    What? no mention of Rope by any of you supposed Hitchcock fans? Truly a masterpiece of tension and suspense all set in one room. James Stewart and Farley Granger at the top of their game. My favorites are Notorious, Rebecca, Dial M for Murder (brilliant Ray Milland), Strangers on a Train and Vertigo.

  • em

    I was not aware that Hitchcock was made to change the ending. I’m not totally surprised, however, as the novel on which the film was based, Before the Fact, does end more darkly. I do like the ambiguity in Suspicion, and the performances are top-notch.

  • holymolypink

    Well I have seen Cary Grant’s version of the movie but actually preferred the version done by Anthony Andrews, a British actor. He is much more compelling in the role. Enjoyed his version much better….check it out. Cher

  • Trippy Trellis

    “Suspicion” is blessed with an outstanding performance by Joan Fontaine but its preposterous ending makes it a second rate Hitchcock.

    About a dozen of Hitchcock’s films are among my 100 all time favorites. Here are my top ten:

    1. “North by Northwest”
    2. “Notorious” – Ingrid’s best performance of all time.
    3. “Dial M for Murder”
    4. “Family Plot” – An underrated gem.
    5. “Vertigo” – James Stewart’s best performance of all time.
    6. “The Man Who Knew Too Much” – great film; dreadful song.
    7. “Psycho”
    8. “Rear Window”
    9. “Strangers on a Train” – Hitchcock’s best set piece: the strangling reflected on the glasses.
    10 “Foreign Correspondent” – His only film with 4 incredible set pieces!

    3

  • June

    Of all Alfred Hitchcock films, I consider “Spellbound” to be his best. The background music of Miklos Rozsa helped make it one of the most unforgettable films I have ever seen……and I grew up in the “Golden Age of Movies.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/kenneth.m.henderson Kenneth Henderson

    Ellen Kent if you were such a great fan of Rebecca you would know it was not Mrs Dandridge. I guess you need to watch the film again.

  • John

    I also agree that Joan Fontaine not only gave a better performance in Rebecca, it was far superior to her performance in Suspicion! I want to comment also on an e-mail from holymolypink, that said they preferred Anthony Andrews a”British actor’s” performance more than Cary Grant’s in a different version of the movie. I want to point out that Cary Grant is VERY much English as well! Unless they ment to say Anthony Andrews, “another” British actor.

  • Richard

    To mention Halle Berry, Charlize Theron and Hilary Swank in the same league as Joan Fontaine is a joke! She didn’t have to strip naked and use foul language to prove she was an ACTRESS. She had CLASS, something that is lacking in the so-called actresses of today.

  • Name Shane

    SUSPICION suffered from the fact that Hitchcock was actually working for David SELZNICK at the time. The shooting script was good but Selznick had it changed a lot. The biggest changed being the fact that SELZNICK refused to have Grant established as a murderer. Even though that made the only sense for the piece.He felt the audience would reject Grant that way and he invested too much to get him as he was not under contract to SELNICK. HITCHCOCK had to give in, but the only thing he was able to get away with was to plant a light bulb in the milk served to Joan Fontaine in the end. He wanted the milk to glow and the audience to know there WAS poison in the glass, and Grant was guilty as in the book.

  • Michael Klossner

    I think Nigel Bruce gave the best performance of his
    career in Suspicion. He was not a stereotype sad
    clown, but he showed the pathos behind his buffoonery.

  • Jon DeCles

    It might be worth noting that Vertigo was not well-liked when it appeared, and had to be rediscovered years later.

    Changing tastes and fashions tend to influence people a little too much. Today’s actresses are working in a very different performance environment than those nearly 70 years ago. Who knows what the fashions will be in another 70 years? Maybe Charlize Theron will be idolized, and maybe she will be looked down on because the tastes have changed, especially among the members of the Academy. –I mean, really, Annie Hall winning Best Picture in the same year as Star Wars? But hey, in those days they didn’t give Oscars to Science Fiction.

    It took waaaay too long for Jessica Tandy to get a little gold statue. Does anybody remember that she was the original Blance du Bois opposite Brando on Broadway?

  • Jon DeCles

    Whoops!

    Forgo to mention that my favorite Hitchcock is Lifeboat. He manages to pack into a film the kind of tight performance that we expect from life theater. And there are far too few film appearances of Tallulah Bankhead to acquaint the modern world with her outrageous legend.

  • Nubia775

    Who the heck is charlize theron?

  • Hitchfan

    As a Hitchcock fan(atic) I have seen the majority of his work and agree Suspicion was not his best. Many great ones have been mentioned and I would like to add Sabotuer with the great climatic scene on Lady Liberty.

  • Debbie

    I also adore Alfred Hitchcock movies my favorites being Rope one of his earlier ones 1948 and the three movies that Grace Kelly made: Dial M For Murder, Rear Window and To Catch a Thief. Hitchcock did not make movies for himself, or for the studio he made them for the audiences and he did an awesome job and succeeded most admirably.

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  • lucia

    the original ending would have made this a great film. hitch should have stayed firm.

  • NameFrank DeCavalcante

    Suspicion is not among Hitchcock’s greatest, but it still is a wonderful movie. I disliked the criticism of Joan Fontaine. She was outstanding in her Hitchcock roles. Please remember that the performance was consonant with the behavior of the times. To compare her to Halle Berry and Charlize Theron is ridiculous.

    By the way, one of the most maligned Hitchcock movies, The Paradine Case, is one of my favorites. It has a briliant cast, Peck, Ann Todd, Charles Laughton, Charles Coburn, Ethel Barrymore, Louis Jourdan and…Alida Valli! Valli is not the typical Hitchcock heroine, but she is truly mysterious and sinister. The mood of the movie is chilling, and the black and white photography and the soundtrack add to the suspense of the work. I know the movie is flawed, but I honestly think it is a misjudged masterpiece.

  • El Bee

    Why even pay any attention to the Oscars when the studios were the big boys? Joan Fontaine won for this movie because she didn’t win for “Rebecca” the year before. That’s also a Hitchcock film. With a brain the size of a pea, a thinking person would know that Bette Davis in “The Little Foxes” or Barbara Stanwyck in “Ball of Fire” should have won. But the Studios made the difference back then. The Oscar history is loaded with consolation prize winners.

  • Christine Harrison

    Talking about the best Hitchcock films, I’m surprised that no-one has mentioned “Frenzy”, one of his last works. It has a superb British cast (Anna Massey, Billie Whitelaw, Barry Foster, amongst others), and the story is typical Hitchcock – innocent man suspected of being a murderer who has to prove who the real killer is. There are loads of twists and turns, and an interesting emphasis on food (the Covent Garden setting, the policeman’s wife subjecting him to rather dodgy “gourmet” cooking, etc). It’s often overlooked when people are listing their top Hitchcock films, but it’s always been one of the very best for me.

  • Clyde

    I just watched Suspicion for the first time also. I must say that I AM TOTALY IN AGEEEMENT with Brian.
    I LOVE HITCHCOCK. I have been a fan for yaers. I was a little surprised by the overall tone of the movie,especially the conclusion.I would never have guessed this was a Hitchcock film. However I was happy for Joan Fontaine. She was so much in love and so patient.I was glad to see her rewarded for her dedication to Cary Grant.With all due respect, even though I ENJOYED THE MOVIE VERY MUCH AND I LOVE JOAN FONTAINE, my initial reaction was “She won an oscar for that”

  • Tom Sanchez

    Shane:

    “Suspicion” was produced at RKO, not at Selznick International, although Selznick, if left to his own devices, would’ve interfered with the script, another studio’s project notwithstanding. Both Hitchcock and Fontaine were loaned by Selznick to RKO for the film.

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  • Michael T

    Brian,

    Yet another typical “criticism” about the acting “styles” of today made by someone of your age-group and comparing them to the acting styles of the past.

    Why don’t you make another brilliant observation and state that the film would have been better if it was only filmed in color…or perhaps contained some nudity. What a lousy, dim-witted generation you belong to.

    And, as for the the person who had the audacity to complain about Annie Hall winning the oscar over Star Wars!?!

    Of course, it won the Oscar it’s a far superior film with brillaint performances from everyone and not one “gimmick” in the film. Certainly, Star Wars is a good film and very influential in the sci-fi department but really….George Lucas more talented than Woody Allen…not during this lifetime or any other, for that matter!

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