A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Monday, September 4, 2017

Suspicion (Alfred Hitchcock, 1941)

Cary Grant and Joan Fontaine in Suspicion
Lina McLaidlaw Aysgarth: Joan Fontaine
Johnnie Aysgarth: Cary Grant
General McLaidlaw: Cedric Hardwicke
Mrs. McLaidlaw: May Whitty
Beaky Thwaite: Nigel Bruce
Mrs. Newsham: Isabel Jeans
Ethel: Heather Angel
Captain Melbeck: Leo G. Carroll

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay: Samson Raphaelson, Joan Harrison, Alma Reville
Based on a novel by Anthony Berkeley as Francis Iles
Cinematography: Harry Stradling Sr.
Music: Franz Waxman

"Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you," as Joseph Heller put it in Catch-22. Considering how many plots of Alfred Hitchcock's films are variations on that theme, he might well have had the phrase posted on his office wall. Suspicion is one of the purest explorations of that premise: A woman thinks her handsome rotter of a husband is out to murder her, and the evidence keeps piling up up that she's right. Of course, she isn't, but it takes an hour and 39 minutes to reach that rather anticlimactic conclusion. Suspicion was Hitchcock's fourth American film, and it shows that he was still getting used to working in a rather different studio system than the one he had in England. After the micromanaging of David O. Selznick on his first, Rebecca (1940), he had a comparatively easier time with producer Walter Wanger on Foreign Correspondent (1940) except for the difficulty of making a film about impending war in Europe while the United States was still officially neutral -- so the bad guys could never be explicitly identified as Nazis, for example. But his third film, Mr. & Mrs. Smith (1941), his first set in the United States, was a dud, in large part because Hitchcock had yet to master American idiom: The prissy character played by Gene Raymond, for example, was supposed to have been the best fullback at the University of Alabama. I doubt that Hitchcock knew what a fullback was, let alone one from Alabama. So for Suspicion he retreated to familiar territory, England at a time when there wasn't a war going on, and some actors he had worked with before: Joan Fontaine, Nigel Bruce, and Leo G. Carroll from Rebecca, as well as May Whitty, who had starred in The Lady Vanishes (1938). The chief newcomer was Cary Grant, who would become, along with James Stewart, one of Hitchcock's most reliable leading men. But Grant's presence in the film presented its own problems: He was known as a charming actor in romantic comedy. Would an audience accept Grant as a potential murderer? One story, reportedly verified by Hitchcock himself, holds that the studio, RKO, didn't want to mar Grant's image and insisted on a change from the novel's original ending, in which Johnnie Aysgarth really is guilty. Biographers, however, have disputed that story, claiming that Hitchcock really wanted to focus on Lina's paranoia and not on Johnnie's villainy. In any case, the film's ending feels wrong, mostly because it resolves nothing: Is Johnnie's fecklessness really curable? The chief problem is that Lina herself is an unfocused character, improbably wavering between shyness and passion, between common sense and paranoia, between tough determination and a tendency to faint. Fontaine did what she could with the part, and won an Oscar for her pains, but the film really belongs to Grant. Hitchcock was the one director who could really bring out Grant's dark side.* He did it more brilliantly in Notorious (1946), but in Suspicion Hitchcock effectively exploits Grant's ability to turn on a subtle, cold-eyed menace.

Turner Classic Movies

*A possible exception to this statement is George Cukor, who first explored the "other" Cary Grant as the Cockney con-man in Sylvia Scarlett (1935).

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