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Portents Of Great Things To Come
on 3 April 2013
For me, this 1941 work by master director Alfred Hitchcock does not quite make it into his 'premier league' of films, although the stature of the film does improve with repeat viewings and, in particular, the quality of the casting really does shine through. Also, the film is something of an oddity in the director's oeuvre, its opening hour or so belonging firmly to the 'semi-comedic' category of Hitch's films (which would include the, for me, superior The 39 Steps and The Lady Vanishes), whilst it is only during the film's (superb) last half-hour that it is transformed into a more trademark suspense thriller. Of Hitch's other works, the film that Suspicion reminds me of most strongly is (for me, the superior) Notorious where Cary Grant also plays an increasingly (seemingly) ambivalent character and the female lead is (apparently) threatened with murder (by poisoning).
Casting-wise, Suspicion is just about perfect. This was Hitch's first encounter with the great actor Grant who plays incorrigible womaniser, habitual liar, gambler, con-man and (apparent) gold-digger Johnnie Aysgarth and whilst (for me) Suspicion is not in the same league as the later Notorious and North By North West, Grant's performance per se is up there with pretty much anything he ever did. Joan Fontaine was reunited with Hitch (after Rebecca) for the film and her performance as Lina, after some initial romantic histrionics (during which she becomes obsessed with Johnnie) becomes increasingly complex and effective. The initial comedic sections of Suspicion are (whilst obviously not in Hitch's more serious suspense vein of film-making) actually very funny. Nigel Bruce is hilarious as Johnnie's old school mucker 'Beaky' Thwaite ('Sorry old bean') as he openly exposes Johnnie's character flaws of lying and gambling to new wife Lina, whilst each of Cedric Hardwicke and Dame May Whitty as Lina's upstanding parents are suitably officious, looking askance as their daughter admits, 'I went for a walk.....with a man'.
It is, however, during the final 30 minutes that Hitch notches up the suspense meter, as Lina suspects that in order for Johnnie to make good his gambling and other debts, he is plotting rather more drastic action (yes, you've guessed it, murder). Now, the director includes a series of trademark scenes, including a game of scrabble at which the word 'murder' is revealed, a series of revealing missives are received by Lina (suspense levels being deliberately raised as she reaches for her reading glasses), a dinner party at which the guests discuss who might be capable of murder, the notorious scene as Johnnie carries a brightly illuminated glass (containing who knows what) up a chiaroscuro staircase and the climactic, perilous, cliff-edge car drive sequence. For these moments alone, Suspicion demands to be taken seriously as a Hitchcock thriller.
For me, therefore, not up with the director's absolute best, but a film that improves with repeat viewings and containing enough great moments to merit its place in the master's oeuvre.