The Hitchcock Haul: Suspicion (1941)

3_SuspicionAlfred Hitchcock has a famous hang-up concerning the Academy. His films have been nominated over and over for Oscars, but he never won for Best Director. Suspicion was able to earn the only Oscar for a performance in a Hitchcock film ever when Joan Fontaine won for Best Actress that year. I find her portrayal of Lina severally lacking, and think she should’ve been awarded the honor for her performance in her other Hitchcock: Rebecca.

MV5BMTUyNTM1MDcwNl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwMjI3ODQ2._V1._SX337_SY450_I was horribly disappointed by this film. Based on the Francis Iles (Anthony Berkeley Cox) 1932 novel titled Before the Fact, Suspicion chronicles young Lina McLaidlaw’s spiraling paranoia that her new husband has committed a ghastly murder to cover his gambling debts, then ultimately fears for her own life. The progression is done well, establishing Johnnie Aysgarth (Cary Grant) as a dishonest yet charismatic and handsome fellow partial to the fast and easy life. It is made clear that he hoped to live off of any inheritance Lina was awarded (and was sorely disappointed to find that there was none), and has no intention of working an honest job.

The seed of Lina’s distrust is planted when she discovers that he sold some antique chairs passed on to her as family heirlooms in order to bet on the races. She then finds that he was fired from his job for embezzling, but his boss has given him a chance to pay him back. Lina becomes more weary of her husband’s intentions when he goes into business with his old friend Beaky (Nigel Bruce, who is also in Rebecca) to develop some seafront property. It is then that Lina starts connecting the dots.

She notices Johnnie’s increased interest in murder mystery and crime novels. She visualizes Johnnie pushing Beaky over a cliff and collecting the money from his investment. She gets nervous when he starts asking friends about the existence of an untraceable poison. And when Johnnie begins to act hostilely toward her when she tries to help with his business with Beaky, she’s almost certain something is up. And then Johnnie suddenly decides to call off the partnership with Beaky. Lina relaxes, realizing she was being silly, but her fears spike through the roof when Beaky is found dead in a Parisian hotel during a trip to formally dissolve the partnership. Johnnie had accompanied him on part of his trip, but claims to have never gone with him to Paris.  Frankly, I was happy Beaky was dead. That character could NOT have been more annoying. He was like the Jar Jar Binks of Hitchcock.

There he is on the right, being annoying I'm sure.

Nigel Bruce as Beaky on the right, being annoying I’m sure.

If I were Lina I’d be running for the hills! I tend to be a very paranoid person. I’ve been trying to tone it down, as it’s gotten me into trouble with the people around me, but for some reason I always think people are mad at me. I can definitely get down with why Lina thought she was Johnnie’s next target, I mean come on! He’s rude to her when she asks too many questions, he sells her shit to fuel his addiction, he asks about untraceable poison! HE IS GOING TO MURDER YOUR ASS!!

Suspicion.carUltimately, it all ends up just being a product of the mistrust of an anxious woman who basically married a stranger after having a fun time at a ball and got nervous when his true self was revealed. In the end, she insists he drives her to her mothers and he begins to speed (50mph is speeding, guys) on a dangerously winding cliff-side road. Her door flies open and she nearly falls out of the car. At this moment it’s not certain if Johnnie is reaching over to push her or to grab her. Turns out, he was trying to pull her back in. By the end of this sequence Johnnie is absolved of all suspicion, and the happy couple drive off to face the future together.

I saw this film going so many different ways. At first, my boyfriend and I were certain she was an undercover spy, stalking him and working to get in his good graces (odd, but the first ten minutes of the film strongly suggested this). Then, we suspected he was a gold digger who let things spiral too far and planned on killing her, like in the novel. I WISH it was that faithful to the book. I WISH it culminated with a cat and mouse type sequence. I WISH Johnnie was really the deplorable character he was in the source material.

Apparently, a more faithful adaptation was Hitchcock’s intention. RKO forced Hitchcock to change the ending to a happy one because they couldn’t bear seeing two stars like Grant and Fontaine depicted as a murderer and victim. In fact, it seems that a lot of juicy details from the novel were left out of the film. Johnnie was a great adulterer and had affairs with Lina’s best friend and the maid, among others. The maid even bore him an illegitimate son! The novel sounds SO MUCH BETTER than the film.

At the end of the novel, Johnnie serves Lina a poisoned drink that she knows is poisoned, yet she drinks it anyway. We do have a scene in the existing film that shows Johnnie serving Lina some milk before bed during the height of her paranoia. It is strongly implied that the drink is poisoned (it’s literally glowing), but that is just a projection of her own fears. She leaves the milk untouched, so we will never know for sure.

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Hitchcock had proposed a different ending to the film where Lina writes a letter to her mother voicing her concerns about Johnnie and predicting that he will try to poison her. At that moment, Johnnie walks in with the poisoned drink, but before she drinks it she seals and stamps the letter, asking Johnnie to mail it for her. She then drinks the poison and dies. Johnnie actually mails the letter that, unknown to him, incriminates him in her murder. SOUNDS LIKE A MUCH BETTER ENDING TO ME!

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Suspicion never reaches its fullest potential. Even with the complete butchering of the character of Johnnie from novel to film, the character of Lina could have been really meaty (and maybe actually something worth the Oscar Fontaine was awarded). She could have spun into the depths of a psychological break, but it never got that far. I felt like there were so many false starts, so many things that I thought would come back and mean something, but it turns out I was just reading far too much into it.

The film took what was literal in the book and made it all figments of Lina’s imagination. It might be interesting to analyze Suspicion in a deeper way, examining the extent of Lina’s psychosis and where it could be rooted. I only wish they had committed more intensely to that idea throughout. As it is, it basically just chides women who think poorly of their husbands, instead of blindly trusting them even when they clearly can’t be trusted.

4972Of course, there were moments where I felt the adrenaline of well crafted shots and building suspense, but over all it was lackluster and truly let me down. What is more exciting is the story about how Joan Fontaine snubbed her sister, Olivia de Havilland, when walking up to the podium to receive her award. Olivia was also nominated for Best Actress that year for Hold Back the Dawn. Olivia would do the same to Joan when she won for To Each His Own in 1947.

I give Suspicion a B-, and suggest it only if you like one of these things: Hitchcock, young Cary Grant, annoying old Englishmen saying ‘old bean’ every two seconds.

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