Suspicion (1941)

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by Samson Raphaelson & Joan Harrison & Alma Reville

Suspicion ! that is just a very Hitchcockian title for a movie, so it feels like we’ve arrived! Although very on the nose, the title certainly sets the tone for the story to come, which somehow feels like Alfred Hitchcock combined elements from his previous two films, Foreign Correspondent and Mr. & Mrs. Smith to make this mashup, and it largely works. In addition to finally arriving with a very Hitchcockian title, it appears he had arrived on the Hollywood A-list, as this film he trots out greats Cary Grant and Joan Fontaine in the leads roles, a true sign of great things to come for both the film and the rest of Hitchcock’s career.

Lina McLaidlaw (Joan Fontaine) is a very smart and beautiful young woman in the English countryside, who upon meeting the dashing and impressionable Johnnie Aysgarth (Cary Grant), bucks the expectations of her parents (Cedric Hardwicke and Mae Whitty) that she would be a spinster by marrying Aysgarth. But despite his outward appearance, Johnnie turns out to be broke, without a job to support the lavish lifestyle he hopes to give Lina. At her constant behest, Johnnie gets a job, but is found to be gambling away his prospects, which leads to a real estate proposal with his dear friend Beaky (Nigel Bruce). As evidence continues to mount, Lina more and more begins to suspect Johnnie may be up to no good, only out for her inheritance money.

What immediately struck me about Suspicion is that it very much feels like Hitchcock returning home to England, despite it presumably being one of his early breakout films in Hollywood. The setting is the English countryside, and even more the story feels very English. If it weren’t for Grant and Fontaine, I might even think this film did come from his British era of filmmaking. But that is certainly no dig, he had mastered that long before coming to America. Suspicion is an effective suspense that builds throughout. It even features what I would say an extremely Hitchcockian dream sequence, as Lina begins to dream about the supposed ill-intentions of Mr. Aysgarth. It’s filled with images that feel like only Hitchcock could have captured.

But my one major quibble with the film is the character of Lina and the very flimsy setup. Lina seems to be a very eligible bachelorette. Smart, pretty, good parents and some inheritance, yet she seems reserved to being a spinster because she reads books and wears glasses. It’s not until she overhears her parents suggesting she would never marry to want to marry to seemingly spite them. As for why Johnnie Aysgarth, sure he is a dashing, charming fellow, but very early on his interactions with Lina rubbed me the wrong way, as they should have her. He is kind of a jerk, and spite-marrying him seems a pretty poor idea. But even then, once she learns more about his ways (being broke, gambling habit, etc.) she should run away as fast as possible. All of this comes to the ending, which I can read neither has hopeful or dreadful. I think it’s a bit of both and quite frankly that’s part of the genius of Hitchcock. I feel sorry for Lina. Very sorry. She deserved better.

Suspicion is not the start to finish thrill ride that many of his later films are. It doesn’t near perfection, but as a study I think it certainly reveals some very Hitchcockian sequences and tendencies that he would very clearly master in later films. The sense of dread and suspense is palpable in this film in the third act. In addition, working with Cary Grant and Joan Fontaine appears to be a boon for his casting. He’s had familiar names before, but bringing Grant into the troupe will pay great dividends later, in addition to likely continuing the upward trajectory of Hitchcock in Hollywood. When I look back at the end of this journey, I won’t be surprised if I keep coming back to this film as an early indicator of what was to come. A flawed blueprint.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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